Jeff Ball :: India
It’s amazing to think that it’s already been a little over three weeks since I stepped onto the plane leaving from Seattle. Those weeks have been a whirlwind of getting situated here in Bolpur, exploring the neighborhoods, picking up tidbits of Bengali, meeting a host of hospitable and interesting people, and of course getting my projects off the ground.
The first two weeks were over much faster than I expected. Loren and I stayed in a hotel for the first six days, and had plenty of time to explore much of the hustle and bustle surrounding the main roads around us. We even had an opportunity to explore Santiniketan, which is the geographical area in which Visva Bharati University is situated. Visva Bharati is known world wide as Rabindranath Tagore’s greatest work. It is an epicenter of knowledge in science, the arts, agriculture, and other mainstays. It simultaneously preserves and nourishes Indian culture and traditions. Furthermore, it happens to play a major role in one of my two projects, which I will touch on later.
Being in the midst of this busy little city of Bolpur has offered challenges I can’t say I was completely prepared for. The first big issue is that Loren and I are automatically the center of attention when out in public. Sure, it was easy to imagine that before coming, but nothing really prepares you for it. Whether it be walking through cramped neighborhoods or visiting one of the zounds of tea shacks, it feels like all eyes are on us. Being without prior exposure to Bengali, it can be a bit disheartening trying to communicate with people, as well as never knowing what’s really going on. Everyone wants to know who we are and what we are doing here, so we’ve been forced (happily) picked up a few helpful phrases. Overall, it has made me appreciate the fluidity of conversations at home and inspires me to keep learning.
Besides that, another challenge has been planning. It has been very difficult to keep any of my plans so far; even the very simple and mundane ones. Access to the internet is quite limited, which acts as a stumbling block to research. Also, I’ve had a hard time following through with plans to meet with friends we’ve made; friends who are important to my emotional health and my scope of work. So much is happening with the Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) right now that I feel like our direction can change at any instant. Therefore, I count my blessings frequently and cherish the progress made on projects so far.
Out with the bad air, in the good. With all that pouting behind me, I must say that this has been a remarkable experience so far. Frequently, the map of the world jumps into my head and I remind myself that Loren and I are halfway around the world hanging out with some wonderful, beautiful, hospitable, caring family that I could never have imagine existed only a month ago. My manual for international interns/volunteers is coming together nicely. The more time I spend marketing, riding our bike, housekeeping, working, eating, and conversing, the more robust the manual becomes. Also, I’m making inroads with folks at Visva Bharati. The other project is to organize some international students into something like a university club or forum with the foundation of service and justice. I’ve found a popular little cove where students go to get tea and meals, and am building my presence there.
Anyway, that’s it for now. All the other IDIPer’s are in my prayers and thoughts. Everyone’s blogs have been so very inspiring and exciting, and reading them makes me feel like we’re all back in the Pigott building. Love and blessings to all.
It is certainly sobering to hear that the internship has only two weeks left. The internship has flown by and I hope these next two weeks will be thoroughly productive.
Do I think it is possible to eradicate extreme poverty? How?
First we must determine what an acceptable quality looks like. Ghandi was convinced that villages are, and should continue to be the core of India. He argued that urban environments will never be able to support the country’s entire population. At the heart of his philosophy was an anti-materialist worldview. He strongly believed that poverty was more a description of one’s interior than external circumstances. To conquer ourselves, he argued, is what it means to be truly human. So I ask, what does it mean to be in extreme poverty? Stepping away from Ghandian principles, if it means to live with an absolute lack of access to adequate nutrition, health care, education, and livelihood options, then yes I do believe it can be eradicated. If it means a world of spiritually enlightened citizens – I’m not so sure. Consumerism and materialism are gaining ground here. This does not mean everyone will be living like we do in the US, but Ghandi’s ideal of conquering the passions for the sake of humanity’s enlightenment seems to be taking a back seat in the development process.
So, it seems a balance must be struck between the two. Help people raise themselves out of destitution first by educating them. Of course, this must be in conjunction with affordable nutrition, fair wages, labor protection organizations, low cost health clinics, and sincere protection from governments.
Mud huts or wooden boxes with corrugated roofs may still be a part of the equation forever, but that doesn’t mean people must suffer every day to eek out an existence and eventually die young.
All of this is so much easier said than done. India is a vast and densely populated country with a unique political history and one of the world’s largest bureaucracies. Ethnic and religious tensions run rampant, escalation of food prices come with a deadly prices among the most vulnerable, corruption and abuse of power are common and accepted practices, tribal and scheduled classes have difficulties building a vision of a better life, disputes with Pakistan and China reroute resources to defense systems, and so on.
So what can we do to eradicate extreme poverty? Globally, it’s not the lack of resources or funding. I have only spent $250 living here for a month and a half so far, and much of it was unnecessary spending. Millionaires have enough to live humbly for a thousand and one lives.
It simply needs to become THE priority of all nations’ governments if it is ever to be erased. Unfortunately, altruism is not the way of the world. But things may change. Humanity is still adjusting to technology and its constant evolution. It is impossible to predict the long term impacts of more and more sophisticated avenues for information sharing. Climate change presented a threat with the potential to unify the world, but it seems to have been largely discredited after the IPCC scandal. Fundamental capitalist views cannot take precedent if we are to eradicate poverty. I strongly believe that Ghandi was right about controlling our passions. Again, a balance must be struck. As our ability to harness this planet’s resources grossly expands, a complimentary global system that allows more people to access those resources must continue to be devised. This structure must be built nation by nation, guided by principles of justice and equality that most world religions espouse.
Please forgive me for straying so far from the technical side of development, but the changes must start with people and not government programs or currency distribution schemes or buildings we have decided to call schools. Thanks for reading, and all the best.