Thursday, June 14, 2012

GSL Courses at VIIS

By Karen, ILR'15
Discussion, notes, and learning most certainly doesn't stop at the Cornell campus. The first week of India has been filled with just that, both in and out of classrooms. All students have the pleasure of learning about Indian history and culture. Simply being in classes themselves have been a learning experience. While the requirement for students to sit straight with legs uncrossed initially seemed cold, strict and unwelcoming, the classroom experience has been just the opposite. The instructors all encouraged class participation and spoke with such passion on their subject matters.
Gender Relations in India has been an incredible class. For the most part, this class has been taught by a woman named Dr. Shanti. During our pre departure course, we learned about the possible cultural baggage we may bring from the United States on gender equality and relations. Not only has Shanti brought new perspectives and educated us on women in India, but has also demonstrated the real possibilities of women in India gaining political, personal, and societal space.

Dr. Shanti's Gender Course
Another notable experience has been a discussion with Mr. Purushotham, a labor lawyer who represents employers and taught a few of our labor law class, and Mr. Sheshadri, a leader in the All Indian Trade Union Congress. The hammer and sickle on Mr. Sheshadri’s notebook did not deter the two leaders from becoming friends; instead the interaction demonstrated how management and workers have worked collaboratively to benefit business and uphold labor standards across India.
Professor Purushotham (L) and Mr. Sheshadri (R), the Mysore leader of the
All India Trade Union Congress.
Mr. Sheshadri chatting with ILR students during the tea break.

Finally, students have been taking daily Kannada classes with Dr. Swamy, a gregarious speaker with a passion for teaching. His stories, enthusiasm, smile, and sometimes unconventional methods of teaching have all kept us on our toes and awake, even though his class is the last class of the day. Thanks to him, we are all equipped with some basic Kannada when we head off to our project sites!

Classes have been a great experience. We are eager to expand beyond the classroom to apply our skills and knowledge at our project sites!

Dr. Sumanth leading a field trip to a local primary healthcare center.
Abby ILR'15 demonstrating the high-tech biometric time clock for staff at the center.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Visit to Coffee Plantation in the Coorg District

 By Olivia, Global Health '13

India has been known for it's agriculture since the green revolution of the 1960s, however not many people have seen the agricultural sector in action while visiting this amazingly diverse country. We were lucky enough to get to have this experience with SVYM when we visited a coffee plantation in Coorge,  a mountainous district west of Mysore district in Karnataka. This spectacular 125 acre estate was diverse in plants, animals, crops, labor and people who lived and thrived there. We got to see and even taste the beautiful mountainous terrain of coffee plants, trees covered in pepper vines, ginger, green oranges, avocados and even coconuts.

Women coffee workers talking to the students about health and labor issues.
(Picture above: Kelsey, GH'13 and Ashley, ILR'14, showing avocados for the farm)

Olivia '13, Marion '13, Adriana '14 and Kelsey '13
drinking fresh coconut water from the farm.

Mary, ILR'14, Karen, ILR'15, and Sindhu, Director of VIIS, in the truck for the farm tour.
The labor laws in India cover tea plantations and the coffee plantation workers here were covered as well the owner explained, minimum wage and health benefits were guaranteed to them along with housing. We were able to ask the women anything we wanted and the health risks visible to us seemed to be climbing trees and possible snake bites in the monsoon season. One of the interesting things we learned was that all of the women we spoke to gave birth at home to all of their children instead of in a primary healthcare facility, this is one of the underlying causes of maternal mortality in developing nations and although programs are in place in India for women to have birth in medical centers it is not widely done. The hope of these women for their children to be educated and have a better opportunity than they had was inspiring and we left the coffee plantation feeling hopeful for the future and excited to continue our Indian adventures. 
Students meeting the workers' children.
Workers's homes are well maintained by management in an effort to attract laborers,
 who are leaving the region to work in the cities.
Citrus from the farm.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dubare Elephant Training Camp

By Mary ILR '14 and Ashley ILR '14
On one of our various field trips, we got the amazing opportunity to visit Dubare Elephant camp.  The camp is home to nineteen elephants and allows visitors to observe, interact, and learn about these incredible creatures in their natural habitat. At certain parts of the day, visitors can view the elephants being bathed and fed. We were lucky enough to get there right before feeding time, so we had the chance to really interact with the animals.  
Karen (ILR '15) and Mary (ILR '14)

Mother and baby elephant
congregate to greet Dubare's visitors!

Even baby elephants gather around
for feeding time, giving visitors plenty
of  opportunities for photos.

During the visit we learned that several of the elephants that live at the camp take part in the famous Mysore Dasara, an event we had learned about it our Indian Culture and Civilization class. The Dasara is a ten day festival celebrating the victory of truth over evil, concluding with a grand procession of decorated elephants, the royal family, and an idol of the chief Goddess of Karnataka state. Interacting with such esteemed elephants was an awesome and memorable experience for us!

Ashley (ILR '14) shows how
close visitors can get to the elephants

Friday, June 8, 2012

Yoga at SVYM

By Dipabali ILR'14

In the United States, I could never imagine waking up at 5 am to do yoga. At school, we are so caught up with our daily lives that we forget to stop and think about our bodies. We forget to think about ourselves and the state of mind that we’re in. More than often, we exhaust our bodies to the point where we no longer have any energy to be cautious. Thus, we become detached from ourselves and the world around us. We forget to appreciate the little things and sadly we forget to appreciate life.

Yoga, in literal definition means union. Coming from an Indian background, I’ve seen many of my family members seek the benefits of this ancient discipline. Various Hindu texts and religious figures depict yoga as a practice that leads to a higher state of being. Though I’ve had exposure to yoga, I never had time to practice it. Therefore, I made it my goal to attend every yoga session in India and see what this magic was all about.

On the first day of yoga, I woke up at the crack of dawn, as the sun was just about to bloom to prepare for the first day of what would
begin my spiritual journey. I’ve always known yoga as a form of Indian exercise. However, today, I learned that this practice goes beyond just healing the body. Practicing yoga harmonizes the mind, the body and the soul. It is a practice that helps you take control over your body and delve deeper within yourself.  Every yoga session is commenced by humming “Om.” “Om” means peace. By starting the class with this humming, we are preparing to rid our bodies of negative energy and polluted thoughts.  It helps to assure that the body is at ease.  As I sat there and hummed “Om”, I found it difficult to concentrate. My mind was filled with countless thoughts and I could not focus. This just made evident that the life we live in America is one dominated by stress. There is never a moment where I’m not thinking about what I have to do next.

Yoga made me realize how simple it is to become relaxed. Deep breaths and concentration can help loosen nerves and alleviate tensions. At school we are overwhelmed with an immense amount of responsibilities and work that we forget to take care of the most important aspect of life- our body.  We become less aware and more lethargic. Yoga is an art that heals this detachment from reality. The first session, though challenging taught me a lot. I learned that I have a lot to work on, in terms of learning how to focus and building perseverance. Many yogis can hold yoga postures for hours while many of us are shaking after 30 seconds. I look forward to this amazing opportunity and hope that by the end of this journey I have a deeper understanding of myself and my body.

Opening Ceremony and Courses at VIIS/SVYM

By Olivia, Global Health '13

Dr. Balu (L), the founder of SVYM, Sindhu Suresh (R),
the Director of VIIS, lighting the ceremonial fire. 

After a wonderful ceremony at the Vivekananda Institute for Indian Studies (VIIS) where each of us were welcomed to Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM), we began our courses without really knowing what to expect. Little did we know that world experts and scholars of Sanskrit, Ancient Indian culture and Indus civilization, feminists that evolved with the movement itself, health professionals and labor lawyers would be sharing their extensive knowledge with each of us.

Olivia '13 taking part in the VIIS opening ceremony.

  After experiencing the two weeks of classes, we all feel truly blessed to have been able to be apart of the classes where we tried our best to open our minds to new opinions, expert opinions and accounts of history and culture that we could not have heard anywhere else in the world. Lectures of development of Indian society to stories and sanskrit songs of the Ramayana, an ancient Hindu scripture, helped us to be inspired by India and understand more about the context which we would be working in for the next six weeks. Dr. Balasubramaniam's open question sessions allowed for all of us students to hear his fascinating opinions about the Indian and US Health Care Systems and his willingness to discuss even particularly sensitive topics of today's society made us all feel comfortable to continue exploring our curiosity while in Mysore. The different aspects of gender, labor and health were highlighted to meet all of our interests and gave space for cross curriculum learning that may not always be possible when trying to finish requirements during the fall and spring semesters. 
Dr. Shanti delivered the lectures on Gender in India
This group of seventeen students has gotten quite close over the past two weeks and as we separate to work on our various project sites we will definitely miss one another, but our experiences together and the things we have learned in each lecture will help us contribute to achieving SVYM's mission this summer. 

A Walk in India's Streets is a Walk in Her Shoes

By Danny, ILR '13

Simon purchasing a jasmine garland from a street vendor. 

When we arrived in India, I knew the place was different than anything I'd ever seen or experienced before in my life. The difficulty for me, however, was quantifying those differences. Where my home in Cincinnati smells of fast food and cut grass, Mysore smells like black diesel exhaust and jasmine flowers. Where Americans generally trust unfamiliar sources of food and water, I could afford no such luxury in Mysore. While SUVs in Ohio thump out one of forty top record hits while cruising from strip mall to strip mall, rickshaws in Mysore hobble over uneven pavement to the tune of sitars mixed with synthesized bass. Nothing matched up with my home, and the most interesting, subtle, and yet entirely obvious difference between Indian and American life is the cultural conceptualization of the most basic element of any city: the road.

Dr. P. K. Misra, one of our lecturers at SVYM, first pointed out to our group the way in which Indians view the utility of the fifteen feet of paved space between buildings. America, he stated, builds streets with the express purpose of channelling traffic from point A to point B in the most efficient manner. On the other hand, Indian roads serve as a gathering space for all types of transport and interaction. When I first walked with several of my friends to Hebbal, our local shopping district, I noticed a lack of street signs, traffic lights, and road signs, and an abundance of motorcycles, rickshaws, buses, cows with owners, cows without owners, sheep, stray dogs, and people. Instead of driving on the left or right side of the road, all forms of traffic meander peacefully through the obstacles created by the presence of others. While it remains somewhat unclear to me how exactly pedestrians are not killed by any of the aforementioned vehicles, I have found that simply by walking through any place along the edge of the street without making any sudden movements nearly guarantees safety against the whirr of zigzagging traffic. For me, a street is a place where people wait in an airtight metal box until they've reached their destinations. For India, the street is still not the destination, but it doesn't attempt to water down the journey with air conditioning and a backseat DVD player. It's a culture that doesn't try to escape its realities, harsh as they at times can be. That's the real ground between India and the America with which I'm familiar, and I'm glad to be navigating it – rickshaws, farm animals, stray dogs and all.

Friday, June 1, 2012

2012 GSL Students Arrive in India!

The first enthusiastic batch of ILR and global health students arrive at the Bangalore International Airport after midnight on June 1.
Waiting outside the terminal for the later flights from Frankfurt and Dubai.