We went to bed early last night because we had a 5am wake up call this morning. A PhD student at Newcastle gave us a contact and through the friend of a friend, we had a trip planned to an organization called iRisee; 70km from Delhi in a rural farming community called Merwat. We woke up before the sun and took the metro to the furthest stop out on the yellow line where we met a program manager and taxi that drove us the last hour to Merwat. We arrived in the small town around 9am. Again we experienced amazing Indian hospitality. They brought us tea and a spread of food, which we promptly stuffed our faces with. Us three girls are big breakfast eaters!
Over breakfast, Amir, the founder and brains behind the organization called Tarraqi I Foundation gave us an overview of the work they do. I am always impressed when I meet people like Amir who have a passion that is genuine and contagious. I walk away from meetings like that with an unwavering belief in the goodness of humans. For all the bad in the world, there are people who make it their life goal to do good. It’s a beautiful thing to see and to be consistently reminded of.
With our knowledge of the foundation more clear, we made our way to two of the five schools they currently partner with. The first was called Country Day Grammar School.
From there we went to Al-Hasan School. Amir had arranged for us to give our surveys out with the kids and teachers, which I am so grateful for. By the end of today I will have almost 50 student and teacher surveys. My dissertation may have just been saved by this community! It was a bit tricky because the kids clearly had less knowledge of English than the kids at school in Delhi. Amir and one of the teachers affiliated with the foundation volunteered to translate for us and the teachers were helpful as well. It literally would not have been possible without them. I will be forever grateful for that.
We had initially planned to only be in the community until around noon because we were under the impression that they needed to end our meeting early because of afternoon prayer. However, once we arrived they really wanted us to stay longer and go on a community tour. We were supposed to pick up some paperwork at Kunskapskollen but we gave them a call and arranged for the documents to be left at the front desk for us so we could stay in Merwat a bit longer.
Amir and a couple other staff members did need to leave us in order to go to afternoon prayer, but he left us with Muhammad; a man from the community affiliated with the organization. He took us up into the rural hills and invited us into his home. A basic clay and brick structure with 4 woven cots placed in each corner. He invited all of his neighbors in and of course kids were EVERYWHERE. We felt a bit bombarded, as this huge audience of people was not anticipated, but we sat for a bit and talked with (all) fathers about education and the options available to their children. No women in sight, other than the young girls. It was heartbreaking and frustrating to hear them talk about their concerns for their children. You could see they genuinely wanted us to tell them how to educate their children, how to give them opportunity, where to take them to improve their English. There was a distinct air of desperation. Hearing the way they talked about the Indian government made it very apparent that they feel disregarded and unimportant. They asked us about education in our countries and what role the government plays there. The whole conversation didn’t last more than twenty minutes, but I think it will be one of the experiences I remember most vividly from this trip. Mainly because we didn’t have answers to the questions they so desperately want answered.
On the way back to the main office, we asked about the very obvious lack of women in that meeting. Muhammad told us that it is primarily the women working in the fields. When we asked what the men do, he responded with a hearty laugh, ‘We drink tea and relax. Sometimes men find work driving.’ He also told us that most of the men have 5-7 kids, even telling us about one neighbor that has 24 children. Cue my heart breaking. Hard labor is what these young girls have in their futures, and for many, that will be a survivable reality. It means they’ll be able to feed themselves and their families; but what about the kids in this community with untapped potential that never even have the opportunity to see more of the world because the nearest school is too far, too expensive, poor quality, has no resources, etc. Merwat, more than any other experience on this trip, has reinforced for me the importance of educational opportunity. It may not mean entire communities come out of poverty, but it is certainly a promise that these young people, especially the girls, will have the choice for a future different than one of fieldwork and childbearing.
I can’t imagine a better experience to end this trip with. My only wish is that we had connected with this organization sooner. We will definitely be recommending them for future Newcastle placements. The four of us, Pau, Steph, Darren, and I have reached the end of our placement and have gathered all the data we can for our dissertations. Tomorrow another friend from uni is joining us and we are going to spend 10 days traveling for fun and unwinding before heading back to Newcastle. I look forward to sharing what other lessons India has in store for me, it certainly has not disappointed so far.