IHP Social Entrepreneurship – India

Our journey continued from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to New Delhi, India, where we discovered a much different landscape – both in the field of social entrepreneurship as well as in our daily lives. Delhi is a hectic and colorful place that assaults the senses, and through our homestays, city adventures, classes, and site visits, we once again faced challenges, excitements, and discoveries…

We lived in homestays, which allowed us to properly immerse ourselves in Indian culture by participating in all family activities. It was more authentic and the food was amazing; I went vegetarian and I didn’t even miss meat. I find Indian people to be kind, warm, and gracious. I love how easy it is to make friends here with Indian women in restaurants, on the trains, or anywhere really. They’re so friendly! I also had the chance to hang out with some Indian people my age, which allowed me to participate in conversations about caste, culture, arranged marriages, and religion. I learned so much from them.

India is a very unsettling place at first. There are so many people, so many cars, so many animals walking next to the cars, so many loud and unfamiliar sounds and smells. It almost seems remarkable that New Delhi is able to function properly when people operate in a way that seems to follow no order. But what at first is an unsettling feeling evolves into admiration for the collective effort with which people in New Delhi function —despite everyone having very different objectives for where they want to go and how fast they want to get there, everyone works in a way the reveals the notion that New Delhi is a joint effort. What seems as though continuously selfish acts of swerving, honking and driving bumper-to-bumper, is actually a mutual commitment to helping each other achieve what they want to achieve as quickly as possible. When you observe India with this perspective, culture shock becomes a lot more manageable. As our Country Coordinator said, ‘In India, things always get done. They might not get done in the way you expect or at the time you expect, but it will be done.’

Sometimes it was necessary to escape Delhi’s chaos…
One of the most tranquil and relaxing places in Delhi is Lodhi Gardens. One Saturday, several of us walked to the park and sat down in the grass, surrounded by old, beautiful buildings and tombs that we could walk through. We just ate fruit and relaxed. Finding this oasis and sharing this experience with friends was a wonderful highlight of my time in Delhi.

As part of the Delhi programming, we took a week-long excursion to the city of Jaipur and examined the themes of scalability and sustainability through multiple site visits. Jaipur provided a unique opportunity to see organizations at unprecedented depth and also led to some spontaneous group bonding for all…

I’m in Jaipur now! Jaipur is a much smaller, more digestible city, and today we went to a rural village to visit Barefoot College. It was honestly one of the most comprehensive and incredible programs I’ve seen yet. Most of the people who attend are illiterate and they learn a variety of skills like how to make wooden toys and clothes. The largest program is the solar program! They call them the Solar Mamas — illiterate grandmothers from all over India and the world learn how to make solar panels that they can then bring back to their home communities. Their international program had women from twelve countries, which was insane to see, especially when they did a role call and they all were so excited to represent their countries. They all speak different languages yet they all learn from and with each other. Barefoot College also teaches other things like puppetry as a tool for spreading acceptance of lower castes. They have a radio station for the local villages to share their music. The list of programming goes on. It was moving to hear our guide speak about the mottos of the college, because he was from the untouchable caste. He spoke of how before he couldn’t even enter a temple, but at Barefoot college there are no caste barriers, no gender barriers, and no economic barriers. It was very heart warming.

Jaipur offered new insights into Indian culture as well..
Dandiya is a traditional folk dance from western India that uses Garba, which are basically big, sparkly sticks, as part of the dance routine.  We, of course, had no idea what we were doing and just followed the general moves and rhythms of our fellow dancers and sometimes just created our own moves too.  The craziest part of the whole experience was that we had no idea who anyone was.  We were on our way home one night after dinner, when our auto stopped near a big venue with loud music and people dancing.  Curious as to what was happening, we hopped out, wondered over, and peeked in.  Almost immediately, a jolly, middle-aged man dressed in traditional attire spotted us and ushered us in without hesitation.  We learned that the event was basically a giant family reunion and the whole family was extraordinarily welcoming. We were given lessons on how to dance with the Garba and we all tried our best, with varying success. We danced and danced for probably an hour and half with dozens of different family members before finally calling it quits once our feet were sore and our shirts sweaty. Of course, we couldn’t sneak away without first having a small photo shoot with about a dozen different family members. We walked away physically tired yet spiritually invigorated by this wonderful Indian family’s hospitality, warmth, and exuberance.

In Jaipur, we also continued to eat…
We went out to dinner all together nearly every night. We left the restaurants filled with Rajasthani food, so so content. One night, all eight of us piled into one auto rickshaw, the ride was filled with laugher as we sat on each others laps.

We made friends with some young men who took us to the highest point in the city called Tiger Fort. We enjoyed dinner atop a circular stone patio and tried to point to where in the night-lit city we had driven from.

Without a doubt, spending time in India enabled us all to grow and surprise ourselves
At the beginning of my time in India, I was extremely overwhelmed by everything—from transportation to walking the streets to interacting with locals to even bathing (two words, bucket showers). Over the few weeks I have been here, however, I feel that I have definitely grown to enjoy and embrace these discomforts. Bargaining to me was especially foreign and awkward. In India, though, this is what you do—this is what you must do—to get what you want. My peers helped me realize the fun in negotiating with locals for rickshaws, for clothes, for postcards, or street food. I truly learned to embrace the craziness that can be India at times, and I have gained immense confidence and adaptability here that I believe will serve me well in any endeavor I pursue in the future.

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