India in India
(Volunteer - Internship experience as Project Manager, Sports Empower Girls Project in Harike)
I arrived in India on 2nd of September, nervous but excited for what the next month and a half would hold. The first stop was Naddi, where the induction took place. So high up in the mountains, the view was beautiful. Once I got there, Shirly showed me to my homestay family. Although only anticipating to stay there for three days, the other interns had to register, which in an Indian fashion took longer than expected. I was delighted to stay with this family for nearly 10 days, they were so welcoming and loving. The food was delicious, every night sitting around the home made stove on the floor and chatting to Milan, her brother and her sister. The mother of the family, although she didn’t speak a lot of English, was so delighted to have us there and joined in as much as she could. She really felt like my temporary mum for the time I was there, doing my hair and even leaping out of bed at 4 in the morning on the day I left to give me a kiss and tell me to come back soon. Finally we set off for Harike, Janus, Marc, Ankur and I. We left Naddi at 4 in the morning and a few buses and 7 hours later we arrived.
The heat was something new, from raining in Naddi to sweating every second in Harike, but I think we got used to it pretty quickly. The day after we arrived I jumped straight into the Girls Sports Club project, meeting all the girls and playing an exhausting 2 hours of football. The girls were amazing with so much energy and excitement.
The girls and I from the last sports session
Since then we started to incorporate other activities, although football is fun for the girls they don’t go away having learnt much. We started relays, which were amazing for team building and the girls loved it. But most importantly we started self-defence in sports club. I think this is a vital skill that all girls should be taught in order to protect them selves, especially in the world they live. We did this by demonstrating each move, then put the girls into pairs and got them one pair at a time to perform each one. When any mistake was made I would show them again and get the girls to repeat it until they got it. This week they were so into it that the girls were correcting each other and I was so happy to see this.
Every class we finish with meditation and the girls are improving so much, concentration coming much more easily to them as the weeks go on. I really hope this carries on and the girls incorporate it into their lives, because especially as they grow up, this tool could be an amazing way to help them deal with stress and frustration.
Khushbu and I demonstrating the self-defence
The girls practicing self-defence
Self-defence demonstration using the girls, Manpreet in pink is the local resource person
Meditation at the end of sports club
During the first week Ankur, took us around the community for chai at different houses and I loved this experience. It really felt like we were moulding into the culture and community, every house we went to, we were met with friendly faces and unbelievable hospitality. I think without Ankur, the whole community engagement experience, would not have been the same. He took us straight in and because he speaks the language and has built up a relationship with the community, immediately we could connect with them. Adi’s family were some of the most welcoming people and really made me feel at home. The village leaders house also, the whole family is so smiley and warm. The two sisters I see every week, Manpreet and Sahit are his daughters, so I am there frequently. We were all invited for dinner one night and the food was delicious!
Dinner at the village leader’s house
Loveleen’s mum also is fantastic and the woman I have been trying to collaborate with for the yoga. I can now go to her house alone for a cup of tea. She is making me a Punjabi outfit for before I leave, which I am so excited about.
Beautiful Loveleen has come out of her shell with me and it is so nice to see her confidence. The husband/father of these two is very orthodox and has been a cause of great frustration for Ankur and I because of his unwillingness to allow Loveline to participate in any activities. This is due to the belief she must learn the skills encompassing a good housewife. Ankur and I have accepted that we can only help who we can and the thought ‘pick your battles’ was our resolve.
The next activity for the first week in Harike was Saturday’s girls club. On Wednesday I told them to come at 4 o’clock on Saturday. I really wanted to get a chance to see them more than once a week and have a go at acting. My first session I found slightly challenging; it was an idea I had really wanted to experiment with when I arrived here. Luckily I had Ankur to translate and explain the task. I gave the girl scenarios for them to play out. Firstly splitting them into two and assigning one group, a girl wanting to be a police officer to make her town safer and the challenges she faces and the other a girl wanting to be a doctor and the challenges she would face. The girl responded really well and most made a real effort to act and be serious. Let me tell you, gosh they have improved since this first session. I also adapted it slightly so that each group before they perform must tell the audience (me and the other girls) their message. From this has come really strong association with problems and how to approach them. For the most recent session I told the girls that to their play (domestic violence and violence towards women in the public sphere) they must include one of the self-defence moves I had taught them in sports class. I was so happy with the outcome because they had really taken on what we had taught them and remembered the moves correctly.
At the end of every girls club we do some dancing and this makes me laugh so much. The girls and I even tried some Punjabi freestyling to ‘Single ladies’ by Beyonce.
I was keen to teach the girls about meditation. Although slightly skeptical in the beginning due to their huge energy, they surprised me from the get go and really made an effort and engaged with me. After this I finished off each week’s session with 10 minutes or so meditation time. I have become so connected to the girls and see such potential in all of them.
Meditation at the end of girls club/acting class
For the Women’s health club in the first week Ankur and I spent time engaging the women and in the second week, on the Monday it began. For the first session Loveleen and her mum came, a few friends of hers and Manpreet and Poonam (the local resource people). To start off, I explained the foundations of yoga and meditation and Ankur translated. We then did Chakra chanting, pranayama and meditation, finishing off with the asanas.
For the first week I had definitely entered expecting a little too much from their fitness, believing we would be able to complete the modified primary series of ashtanga (with a few extra modifications). But this was overly optimistic and I adapted on the spot to massively simplify the sequence, while also cutting it down to about 7 asanas over all.
I had hoped for a stronger response from this health class, because I can see how much it would truly help these women but this is where you see the effects of the culture. The women are the homemakers and because of this they very busy either cooking for their family, making tea for guests, washing, cleaning etc. This issue had made it hard to ensure attendance every week for yoga. I have not lost hope however, as I have written in my project manual, I really believe this project still has great potential. More time is definitely needed and I am sad to not have longer, but this time could be used to explore the best time in the day and day in the week for women in the community. Once there is some consistency then this project will build momentum even if the regular group is only 6-8. Starting small is okay because then once these women start to feel the benefits, they can tell others.
Living in the center has been a great experience. It’s such a nice open plan house that has really come to feel like home. Including our pet buffalo, which was a bit of a surprise when we first arrived, but she has now come to feel the same as a normal house pet, although a lot larger and more horned.
One of my goals coming here was to learn some Indian dishes.
Ankur and I
Thanks to my Siamese twin, Ankur, I’ve actually managed to. We spent pretty much every day together, cooked most meals together and annoyed each other as much as possible, in the most sibling way. But really, I am so thankful to Ankur, who has taught me a lot about the community, the culture and also introduced me into my projects.
So on the 10th of October I say goodbye to EduCARE India and I can definitely say I will miss the whole experience, the girls, the intern house and everyone in it.
India Timms (UK)
Sports Empower Girls
ViKAA Centre, Harike