Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Environment & Development in the Himalayas: A description of the study abroad program

Hello, friends! Welcome to the journal of my endeavors in India! Before I get started, I am compelled to note a few disclaimers - I apologize for being cheesy, sentimental, stupid, whimsical, naive, and all other emotions that I foresee being evoked while in India. I am, after all, fulfilling a dream that I have been building on for a long time and my emotions will get the best of me. I decided that it would be appropriate for my first entry to write the nuts and bolts of what I will be doing with in India. In February, I was accepted to be a part of the study abroad program titled, Environment and Development in the Himalayas 2009. Below is a wordy description of the two courses and three internships that will be keeping me busy for three months.

As a geography major, my concentration is focused on Regional Geography and International Development, Urban Social and Political Process, and Society and Environment, all of which the India program caters to. Along with the internship, I will be taking two courses. One course, 'Political Economy of Indian Development', considers how local people interpret, appropriate and resist a variety of development initiatives without losing sight of the broader social, economic and political factors shaping the experiences of ordinary Indians. The second course, 'Work, Gender and the Environment', considers the working lives of Indians with particular reference to ethnographic research on children, women, and the rural and urban poor. I will be mainly doing ethnographic work, which entails me writing my observations down constantly.

These courses and internship provide a trans-disciplinary framework for me to join researchers and area residents in their collaborative efforts to identify their ideas, practices and experiences of sustainability and development. Each week scholars in forest ecology, development, health, education, cultural studies and the arts will present seminars and lead hands-on field study. To draw together these varied & unique learning opportunities, I will work as an intern with the Indian non-governmental organization, the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG), based in Orakhan, Nainital District, Uttarakhand. People ask me if I’m nervous at all to go, and this is the area of which I think of, and reply with a slight smile, “yeah...” My first choice in internships, of which I will be graded on and will be spending the majority of my energy on, is focused on the region’s agricultural sector. I will be conducting case studies of the impact of CHIRAG’s insistence that payment for procurement of fresh fruits and vegetables will only be made in the hands of women. Specifically, CHIRAG wants to know whether this makes a difference to women. I am worried that I am so under-qualified to perform this study that my lack of, well, competence, will render me completely useless! However, I am so excited for the opportunity to learn more of what I’m passionate about hands on - the politics of food and the global food network and working with women.

A second internship that I am very excited to be involved with is conducting a survey of parent’s understanding of “quality” in education and their expectations from schools. Here is where I will learn about how western ideals clash or coincide with eastern ideals in the classroom.

I will be involved with a third internship, but I couldn’t decide between three programs, so I left it up to the director of the NGO to place me where I can best be utilized. I will either: Interview women on their livelihood and household responsibilities; or conduct a study to identify and analyze community perceptions of leadership. I would classify the different kinds of leaders in select community based institutions and the different training/support needs to foster this leadership.