Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reflection: Alyssa, BSILR'13

Regular reflection is intrinsic to the global service learning (GSL) process.  The students taking part in this pilot SVYM GSL program are submitting weekly reflection exercises, from which we will share excerpts. 

Week 1 Reflection, Alyssa:

Alyssa with students at the Viveka School of Excellence in Saragur.

"Ultimately, I am just so thankful for this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity. My colleagues have pushed me intellectually to be more questioning, think deeper, and apply what we learn outside of the classroom. The field visits to the factory and the shelter will be experiences I will never forget. I also loved seeing the palace and all of the cultural sites that we were fortunate enough to see the “VIP” rooms, as they call it here. There is so much to say about my Indian adventure that it is hard to capture but I think the most important  is the change it has left in my soul. When humans see something that is true, it compels them. SVYM is one of the most true, humble, and grounded organizations I have ever heard about or been lucky enough to work with. This is why I am so compelled to get as much out of this trip as possible. I am pushing myself in the classroom, on field  visits, with friends here, with locals here, pushing myself to be a constant learner, pushing myself to identifying my comfort zone and then running the opposite way. I have been able to come to realizations about my life and make decisions that I had been pondering for months. They now seems so simple and clear, maybe because I am so far away from home that it is easy to take a couple steps back, or maybe because this has been such a humbling experience. Either way, I am so thankful to SVYM and Cornell for making this possible, it is something that I will never forget."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

An Indian Wedding

By Aminatta, BSILR’13

This past weekend, the 10 of us (along with 3 graduate students from the University of Iowa) were very lucky to have been invited to an Indian wedding. One of the employees working at the SVYM Memorial Hospital in Saragur is the sister of the bride so she acted as our host at the wedding. She was very kind to us all and made sure we had a good time. All of us girls were very excited to wear our sarees to a ceremonial Indian gathering. When we arrived at the wedding we were treated with a breakfast that was full of many varieties of Indian breakfast foods. It is traditional for guests to eat on banana leaves; this was a great experience for many of us because it was the first time we were eating on these great banana leaves. It was a challenge at first but we were all successfully able to keep our food on the leaves. After breakfast, we were all blessed with mendi, which is a red powder dot that is placed on the forehead.

Then we watched the ceremony begin where the bride and groome performed a series of rituals that tied their marital bond. We were each given the chance to individually go up on the stage and bless the bride and groome by pouring what looked like water, turmeric and milk on their hands, which were full with a mound of bananas and leaves. I am sure I can speak for us all and say that it was great to have been invited to this wedding because not only was it great to leave our project sites, but it gave us a chance to reunite and witness a piece of Indian culture in this great wedding season.
From left to right: Shannon, ILR'13; Aminatta, ILR'13; Samrawit, HE'13; Alexandra, ILR'13; Aarti, HE'13; and Chelsea, ILR'12.
From left to right: Kevin, ILR'13; Marko, ILR'13; Aarti; Aminatta; Samrawit; Shannon; Chelsea; Iowa grad students (3); Alexandra; Jessica, HE'13; and Henry, HE'12.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Namaste from Hyderabad! Alyssa and Marissa here! We spent our first day exploring the big city of Hyderabad and were again impressed by the beauty and history that our new home holds.

We started off our day going to Charminar (left) which was built in 1591 and translates to "Four Towers" in English. The famous structure was built to commemorate the elimination of a plague epidemic from this city.

Hyderabad is famous for a lot of things, one of which is BANGLES! Again, perfect for the two of us. We haven't bought any yet, but we are getting a good feel for prices. The famous place to get the best selection and best prices is right by Charminar.

After Charminar, we headed off to the Golkonda Ruins. If you look closely at the picture you can see the ruins in the bottom half of the picture, and part of the city above them. We remember being so confused because people kept clapping at the bottom of the ruins. At first, we thought they were trying to scare the birds off. It turns out, people were clapping because the clap and even talking can be heard at the very top of the ruins (where Marissa is in the picture). Apparently, the King would know when visitors had come because the servants would greet them at the right spot so that the noise carried directly to the top of the ruins. Below are more pictures from Golkonda.

Although we both greatly enjoyed exploring the wonders of Hyderabad, starting our first day of work was definitely the highlight of our time thus far. We are working for a public-private partnership called the Centre for Persons with Disability Livelihoods (CPDL). CPDL is an organization set up by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) and the Wadhwani Foundation which enables people with disabilities to hone in on their skills and attain long-term sustainable employment. Most students go through 2-3 months of training during which time they also receive room and board, counseling, encouragement and inspiration. Between the government-run SERP and the privately-owned Wadhwani Foundation, all training and living accommodations come free of charge to these students.

We were honored to be able to meet all 40 students currently training at the center on our first day. We had the opportunity to sit down and ask questions and were so moved by hearing all of their dreams and aspirations. Many of these students come from families who live below the poverty line and freely express how thankful they are for this amazing opportunity. The program is intended for students between 18-32 years of age and has specialized training based on the students age, experience, educational level, and skill preferences. The ultimate goal is to place these individuals in sustainable careers where they can not only earn a living, but create a life. We learned so much just by sitting down and conversing with the students which really ignited our motivation and vision as we start our projects.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Willingness to Learn

Arriving in Hosahalli on June 11, Marko and I were greeted with open arms. Located on the outskirts of two wildlife reserves, the area is relatively untouched and consumed with natural beauty. However, with the strong willed nature of the folks at SVYM, they have managed to build and maintain an outstanding school for students of all ages.To the the left is an image of some of the classrooms of the primary school, fully furnished with desks, chairs,and chalkboards. It truly was amazing to see a school with such great resources existing in such a remote area!

However, where I would be teaching Spoken English for the next two weeks is at the Vivekananda Teacher Training Research Center, a school comparable to a college in the United States. My students were between 19-25 years old (me being 20 years old myself!) so connecting with them on a personal level was a little bit easier. On the right is a picture of my students in the classroom, where they were all more than eager to learn both English and about the rest of the world. For the next two weeks, these will be my students. As much as I have to offer and teach to them, I know that I will learn just as much (if not more) from them!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Trip to Reid & Taylor

By Chelsea, BSILR'12

On Tuesday we had the opportunity to visit the Reid and Taylor factory in Mysore. It is the brand’s only fabric production plant in the world and runs around the clock every day to meet their customer’s demand. The factory is a prime example of a top run manufacturing plant in India with a reputation for its efficiency and on-site waste disposal technology. For us ILRies, this field trip was the perfect way to connect the business practices we learned through courses in Ithaca with how a company in the organized sector in India has applied them.

As we walked through the factory, the plant manager (I’m not sure of his proper title) explained the various stages of the production process to create their suiting fabrics. We saw everything from how wool and polyester is dyed and spun into thread, woven into sheets of fabric, checked for quality and finally washed and prepared before being distributed to customers. For all of us, this was our first time being exposed to the extensive production process required to make the material for dress suits—some of which may be found in our own closets.
Everybody from the line workers to the women mending minor flaws in the fabric was content with their working conditions. They are part of the select 8% of the population employed in the organized sector in India who has the ability to join Trade Unions, be provided with on-site day care facilities for their children, and a mechanism for Indian labor laws and regulations to be enforced.

Leaving the site, we were in awe of the sheer size of the plant as well each individual unit of work and coordination it required to maintain its output capacity. As students learning more about labor relations and working conditions throughout India, we left contemplating some of the challenges and questions facing Indian policy makers: What can be done to improve the working conditions for the 340 million people still in the informal sector?
Although we were unable to visit a work setting in the unorganized sector, the magnitude of its presence hasn’t escaped us. Being in India has magnified the difficulty any government or society will face when attempting to address and improve the working conditions of a population of this size with limited resources. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

We're Not Sorry for Saris

by Chelsea, BSILR'12  

For the past week, we have been on a journey becoming Indian to experience southern India as authentically and thoroughly as possible. This meant learning about the culture, practicing speaking the language, eating local foods and considering life through a different lens. However as we made our own attempts to dress in local clothing, we needed SVYM Deputy Director Sindhu's guidance to truly embrace traditional Indian dress--the sari.  

Sindhu kindly took us to her favorite sari shop so we could look through an amazing array of colors and prints to pick a sari that matched each of our personalities. The shop was owned by a husband and wife who gladly showed us different types of fabrics we could choose from as well. 

As we tried to select which sari we would like to get, we also learned how integral the sari was to an India women's wardrobe. Darker muted colors and larger prints were usually worn by older women, while younger ones preferred smaller vibrant prints. In addition, a woman could have a collection of 30-40 saris, which could have a price range of 300 rupees for an everyday sari up to 8000 or more for a sari for a special occasion like a wedding. Regional differences could also be discerned from the way a woman wraps her sari. Unlike putting on a simple t-shirt, there is no one correct way to wrap a sari. Where the pleats fall or how it is wrapped around your shoulder indicated what part of the country or state somebody comes from.

While most of the girls were happy to find a sari, the store didn't carry any dhotis for the guys. The dhoti is a traditional Indian men's wear that is wrapped around the waist and folded up in informal settings. In addition to our saris, we left the store having experienced more Indian hospitality and a step closer to a deeper understanding of Indian culture and life.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Our First Days at SVYM

By Marko, BSILR'13

Marko meeting with students at the Viveka School of Excellence in Saragur.

First and foremost the food here is amazing! Everyone at SVYM is so amiable and hospitable. We had our convocation in to the program on Sunday. The staff orchestrated a beautiful ceremony, and we heard from a lot of prominent members of SVYM including its founder Dr. Balasubramaniam (or Balu as we call him) speak. It was really intriguing to hear about the life of Swami Vivekananda (I got pointed toward some great books). After convocation we went for a walk in the city; checking out several small shops and a market place, and just immersing ourselves in the city of Mysore. During the first leg of our mini adventure tons of people waved to us and said hello, but when the girls decided to stay in a clothing shop Henry, Kevin, and I decided to continue on and explore, and the waving ended. It was interesting to notice that once the girls were gone we still received the same amount of looks on the street but were not getting any of the friendly hellos.. curious. Over the course of our explorations we have all managed to get our hands on traditional Indian attire although we still stick out, hah.

Before dinner we went out and played volleyball with some local kids who work at SVYM, and let me tell you they are pros. I was on the winning team but my skills paled in comparison to these guys and gals. Oh, and while playing the game the sun was setting and the sky was the astonishing. It was like rainbow sherbet but colossal and glowing. It also gets dark really quickly here, I guess I’m still not used to the sunlight at this latitude.

The classes are so interesting and are all so intertwined. Indian Culture and Philosophy is taught by Professor Rao who is so knowledgeable has been very involved in archaeology and historical research in India. He was the person whose name got us in to the VIP rooms of Mysore Palace! Professor Shanthi is teaching our class on gender relations in India. Her class has opened my eyes to the reality of gender inequality in this country and to the struggle that millions of Indian women face. I find her really inspiring. Us ILR students then take labor econ, while the global health students are taking a global health class (in the context of India). We had our first Kannada class today and it was a blast! We learned a bunch of basic phrases and our Professor is a riot, and is superb at engaging the class! Also Yoga classes started on Monday which is conducted before breakfast. If you haven’t tried yoga before I recommend doing so. It is such a great way to start your day!

We are sharing the SVYM hostel facilities with Students from other schools and organizations. There are about a dozen undergraduate students studying at SVYM for the semester  from Mount Allison University (New Brunswick, Canada). We haven’t had any formal time to get to know one another so we are planning some sort of community event (still working on the specifics). There are also four graduate students who are interning with UNICEF. They are working as a team to study/ research the education of girls in India. We are also expecting some students from Iowa State University somewhere in the near future.

So far India has been a wonderful experience. Pretty excited for the rest of our time hear at SVYM’s campus. I just hope it doesn’t go by too quickly.

Dr. Shanti and the GSL students.

The Kannada language professor and Sindhu showing ancient script written on palm leaves.

                                                             SVYM Hostel Hallway. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Students arrive in India!

Greetings from India! The first group of ILR and Global Health students arrived at the Bangalore International Airport after midnight on May 27.  After completing the immigration process and customs, they found the SVYM driver waiting to transport them to the main campus in Mysore--a 3 hour+ drive.

After months of preparation and visa stresses it was a relief to finally arrive in country! The following morning, SVYM Deputy Director Sindhu Suresh met with group to provide an informal orientation (the lovely formal orientation was held over the weekend), arranged for cell phones and sim cards (a great deal at $27 for a basic cell phone and card), and brought in a money changer who gave the students an excellent exchange rate of 44 rupees to the dollar.  SVYM has made the group feel welcomed and comfortable--thank you to all!