Megan Morris : India

I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and graduated from Beaverton High School in 2009. My international experience includes a service trip to Tijuana, Mexico in high school, as well as spent six months volunteering and traveling in Peru between 2009 and 2010. Through these experiences my passion for development and international work grew. When I came to Seattle University I further immersed myself in non-profit and development work through an internship with the Seattle-based nonprofit One Equal Heart, which assists local sustainable development in Chiapas, Mexico. I am currently pursuing a degree in Economics with a specialization International Economic Development. I am eager to participate in the IDIP and am grateful for the opportunity. I plan to continue working in the development world after graduation.

My other interests include water polo and swimming. I am a member of SU’s water polo club. I also have worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor for over five years. Along with water sports, I love to spend time hiking, backpacking and exploring the outdoors.  Cooking and dancing are other hobbies that I enjoy with friends both from home and that I have met travelling.

Reflection # 1 

Last night, Kaytlyn and I, along with two girls that work here at the Center for Knowledge and Skills in Bolpur, India went to an agricultural fair. Between the four of us, we traveled on 3 bikes, one of which is a bit short, to put it mildly. At one point, I began precariously carrying one of the girls, Ruth, on the back of the bike, weaving in and out of bicycles, motorcycles, mounds of dirt and cows. I realized that I was strangling the handlebars, as if loosening up would cause Ruth and I to tumble into one of the green, frothy gutters. I told myself to relax my grip, and realized that is a lot of what I have been learning to do here in India.

When I first arrived at Center for Knowledge and Skills, myself and a young woman from Germany, Xenia, set out to look at some micro-finance groups, called Self Help Groups, that CKS oversees and supports. Self Help Groups are small groups that serve as both savings groups, and lending agents. These groups work independently and directly with banks. Puthumai, our boss and the director of CKS, informed us of a few issues within the groups. We decided to go visit some of the women of SHGs in a village a few hours north.

During the trip to the village, I learned a lot about the difficulties facing rural families, and in particular rural women. It was striking to see how much time women spent with cleaning, cooking, agricultural work, and other household chores. It was no wonder that they had not been able to grow their businesses - there simply is not enough time in the day for all these works. I also was able to better understand the issue of mistrust- it can be difficult for illiterate women to place their trust and savings in the hands of literate women, not being able to read bank statements or deposit books. We learned about the lack of collaboration and linkages in the local market. This seemed to be one of the most pressing issues for improving the economic conditions of both the women and the local area. It also seemed like a perfect place for an organization such as CKS to step in and assist. Unfortunately, we realized in discussion with Puthumai that this would be a much larger task than I could finish in my short time here.

After this project came to a halt, it took some time for another project to come about. As the days went by without a “real project”, I became more anxious. I could feel my hands tensing up on the handlebars, wanting to steer my short time here in some sort of direction. In the meantime, I worked on re-doing the CKS website. This involved hours of watching Youtube tutorials, and googling the immense amount of error messages that I would receive. In the end, I learned a lot and have produced a website that will hopefully better inform people about CKS's activities. Once that was finished, I awaited a new task, this time with my grip a little more relaxed!

I will now be preparing a report about a polio virus emergency response program that has been going on since 2011. The program will soon be ending, and they would like a document covering the initial response and the ongoing projects involving social mobilization to increase child vaccination. I will be sifting through documents and speaking with different people to collect information about it. I am excited to get started on this process, and will continue to remind myself to relax my grip and enjoy the ride.

Reflection # 2

The last few weeks have gone by quickly. It has come to that time in a trip when you realize that your time left is dwindling. Four weeks left, then three, then before you now it you’re back home. While I want to spend every remaining minute trying to catch whatever India throws at me, it’s nice to take a minute to sit back and reflect on my time.

This month has been busy and filled with a variety of different things. Kaytlyn, my fellow intern, and I were talking this evening on our way back from Kolkata about how many different environments and aspects of “development” we have been able to experience in India. In the beginning of February, Kaytlyn and I went on a field visit with two staff from CKS to the Sunderban Islands. This network of islands is the largest tidal mangrove area in the world, and is very vulnerable to severe weather. CKS has set up and facilitates the Tide and Wind Information System, which serves as an early warning for fishermen and the community of the Islands. Our visit was interesting and very different from the semi-urban town we have been living in. We were able to see another very different side of India today when we went to a gender sensitivity in emergency response workshop at the National Disaster Defense Force of the army. I never expected to be on an Indian army base before this week!

My main work during the past few weeks has also allowed me to peek into a few more parts of India. I have been documenting CORE Group India’s emergency polio response program in West Bengal. Polio is nearly eradicated in India, thanks to intensive vaccination rounds and social mobilization. Because India is so close to eliminating the disease, every case of polio in the country is treated as a national emergency. The last case of polio was two years ago in the Howrah district, which is near Kolkata. This area had very low coverage and high resistance to vaccination, due to misconceptions and a general lack of knowledge in the community about the disease and the vaccination. CORE group has a strong polio social mobilization and communication program that had been very effective in the Uttar Pradesh state of India. Based on their expertise, CORE was asked to join the emergency response. They have been working, with great success, the past two years to build community involvement and acceptance, and decrease resistance towards vaccination. As their program nears the end, CORE group wanted to document their work, strategies, and lessons learned. So, that’s where I come in!

In order to understand the programming I have been digging through reports and meeting with staff to talk about their challenges, successes and what they have learned along the way. It has been interesting to talk to all the different levels of staff, from the “social mobilizers”, who are local people working to animate their community, to the directors of partner organizations. These interviews have allowed me to visit many different areas, as well as different parts of relief and development work. I have felt inspired and humbled by people’s commitment to their work, and hope that their success in polio immunization continues.

The more I see and learn about this country and its people, the more I realize that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Similarly, there is so much more to see and learn about the field of international development. While sometimes I feel the vastness of “development work” is overwhelming and seemingly impossible to understand, I think to a comment Puthumai, the director of CKS, made a few weeks back. He said that development is a system, and relies on many different parts in order to work. So for now, I’ll keep watching and learning about as many different parts of the system as I can in my remaining time here.