I grew up just north of Seattle in the city of Lynnwood. After graduating from Lynnwood High School in 2008, I came to Seattle University on a volleyball scholarship where I now pursue a degree in Liberal Studies. As I enter into my fifth year at Seattle U, I have seen how it has shaped me into the person I am today. My Jesuit education has reinforced my passion for social justice, leading me to be an active member in my community helping at local homeless shelters, elder homes, Elementary schools and various other organizations. I hope to expand these passions as I study abroad and work closely with a community organization focused on development. In my spare time (which is close to none being a student athlete) I enjoy to relax with friends, eat great meals and sleep! I have a loving family that is constantly growing and I am blessed to have them by my side for support.
I knew India was the right placement for me when I first tasted their famously delicious sweets! Sweets and I are best friends so it has been a very fruitful relationship since I have arrived! It has been a month, in fact, since I touched down in Kolkata and have pretty much been spoiled with delicious Indian dishes every meal since. I can’t lie, I didn’t expect to enjoy the food as much as I do, but I am pleased to learn that I was completely wrong in my assumption. This, I have found, has not been the only thing I have learned and can only imagine what other surprises are in store for me.
When I first met Puthumai, my host and boss, I was immediately welcomed like family. I was received into his home to meet his wife Shubhra, and their three dogs Pom Pom, Goldie, and Sweetie. Working closely alongside all of them (yes even Pom Pom, Goldie, and Sweetie), I have already learned so much about Indian culture and how to fit into it, as well as stick out, being the tall, pale woman that I am! I have found that so far my experiences surround a few key feelings: curiosity, frustration, and enlightenment. Everywhere I turn there are new sights to be seen, new people to look upon, new customs to learn, yet I still can’t navigate myself around the city freely, I can’t fully communicate with shop keepers at the market, and I can’t eat a fish without stabbing my mouth with dozens of tiny sharp bones! These are all things I have accepted and acknowledge will come to me as I immerse myself more wholly in their culture. I am constantly learning my boundaries, not only geographically but personally, as I push myself to stay open to what lies ahead.
The project I am working on here at Center for Knowledge and Skills is a disaster management plan for the Bolpur-Sriniketan block, which is the local municipality I currently stay in. My task is to work with the local government to improve upon the existing plan so the community is better equipped to withstand future disasters. I have found that I know little to nothing about disaster management, so this task has proven to be a very interesting, yet frustrating process to complete. Working with Puthumai and Shubhra, being experts in the disaster management field, has opened my eyes to the ample amount of information there is to learn before I can even dabble in the meat of the project. I crave to produce something of substance and merit, but I know that I am merely a humble student in this process and I need to learn to sit back and let the learning come instead of forcing it.
Looking back at my time already spent here in India, I have realized that I have a lot of unlearning to do, as Puthumai would say. I am excited for the next weeks to come in order to learn more about this beautiful culture (and their delicious sweets)!
It’s hard to believe that I only have three more weeks here in India! Time has flown by and I realize there are still so many things I want to learn and experience. Every day is becoming precious and it pains me to think that I will be leaving so soon.
Living here has been a beautiful experience – eating locally grown fresh foods every day, listening to weddings taking place in the neighboring houses, sitting on the roof watching the sunrise and sunset (mainly sunsets since I am not a morning person!), riding my bike around town witnessing the local markets, meeting new people on the trains, and traveling West Bengal building great memories. Every day I see or hear something new, awakening me to my own preconceived notions, allowing me to constantly reevaluate my perceptions on life. This has enabled me to be more aware of myself, my culture, and my upbringing, broadening my world view and ideas of development.
As I have learned, development is a complex system that takes many different facets coming together in order for change to happen. Yesterday Megan and I went to Kolkata and sat in on a gender sensitivity training in search and rescue with the Natural Disaster Relief Force. A theater group came and demonstrated the importance of building teams and communities to work together in order to reach goals and ensure safety in disaster relief situations, but it also had relevance in all forms of development as well. This was my favorite part of the training since it was expressive and used demonstrations, allowing me to follow most of the time. The main point they expressed was that without the support of various different groups, organizations, governments and communities, effective development can’t take place. I have especially seen this throughout my work on the disaster management plan. The only way for Bolpur-Santinikatan Block to have effective disaster management, it takes involvement and support from institutions, health care providers, police, fire department, shop owners, boat owners, and many other people and organizations in the community. Everything can fall out of place and bring destruction if even the smallest detail is left out.
My work has taught me that there are always things that need to be done and people to connect in order for effective management to happen, and I am happy that Puthumai and Shubhra have been there to help guide me along the way. I admit I have spent most of my time in frustration having no experience putting together a disaster management plan, but each time I find myself struggling I remind myself that I am immersed in India having an opportunity of a lifetime, really learning about the inner workings of a disaster management plan. I have to remind myself that it is more about the process and less about the outcome in this situation. It has taught me about real Indian culture and I can’t be frustrated about that!
I’m sad that my time has almost come to an end, but I know these next three weeks are going to be filled with new learnings and experiences. Stay tuned for my next adventure!