India: Finding Harmony Within the Noise

India: Finding Harmony Within the Noise

The end of the first work week got off to a rough start for me. The spicy and exotic Indian food that was so great the first few days was now losing its charm. The constant honking and swerving to get to the work site did not make for a pleasant morning. Even the worksite business of schlepping stones, mixing and pouring concrete, which at first, a refreshing break from the daily grind of life in NYC, was now just painful.

But after we took a break at the Jatan office and got some good news about the internet upgrade needed for the project, we loaded up the cars to head to the worksite and my outlook started to change. Our driver, who had come off as shy the first few days, put in a CD of some amazing Indian dance tracks and cranked up the volume. As we cleared the town, a beautiful song came on with a man singing over what sounded like an acoustic guitar and everything seemed to fall into place. The goats, cows, water buffalo, sheep, camels, pigs and wild dogs that roam freely in the streets all seemed to be right where they belonged and the honking seemed to provide a nice back beat to the soundtrack. We all felt a renewed energy as we headed back to the worksite.

After an afternoon spent knocking out the last of the foundation and the pillars, our hosts took us out to a village near his home where we loaded onto some cow-drawn wagons and journeyed through some fields to an amazing thousand year old, lake-side temple. The beauty and tranquility at the temple seemed so much more intense after experiencing the entire week’s sensory overload. To end the day, the cofounder of Jatan invited the team to his home. We drank some some tea and learned about life in the upper cast and what inspired him to give back and have more meaning in his life.

However, the tranquility of the afternoon quickly wore off again on the crazy drive back to the hotel. As we flew down a “two lane road” that would be best described in North America as a poorly maintained bike path. Out of nowhere, a turn signal came out of the dark. I assumed this to be someone merging into the road, and what I thought would force our vehicle into a ditch. After no panicking from our driver, I quickly realized the signal wasn’t what he was attempting to do but was simply communicating to our driver to go around him. It suddenly became clear to me, the incessant honking I’ve come to know quite well in India isn’t drivers getting angry and telling people to get out of their way, but just letting each other know where they are so they can safely avoid them.

I still don’t think I will really ever understand the chaos in India. However, I certainly went to bed with a new appreciation and perspective on finding the moments of harmony in the daily madness of life here.

Access to Knowledge is Power

Access to Knowledge is Power

Access to knowledge is power. An easy thing to say but a difficult concept to grasp when we in North America live with a device attached to us at all times. We have the power to learn and to explore the world at our fingertips and we often forget how powerful that is – until you understand and experience life without technology.

Our group had the opportunity to take part in a panchayat (meeting) of all the regional leading women in the Railmagra Block.  These women meet to discuss social issues and present the grievances and challenges faced by the women of their respective communities. During the meeting, we had the opportunity to exchange questions and discuss the differences in our daily lives and cultures. We touched on household economics, education, gender, and even marriage. The contrasts in our lives are stark, and our knowledge of each others’ lives is minimal, but we all want the same thing – a better future for our families and our communities.

It was in this meeting that I truly began to understand the value technology will bring to imagethis community. These women had little knowledge of life outside their village and thus found it hard to imagine life outside the roles and responsibilities defined by their communities. Technology provides a vehicle to access knowledge, to explore places and people far from home, and a space to craft a better future.

We often hear the phrase, “knowledge is power”, but I would like to revise that to, “Access to knowledge is power”. After we left the meeting, I was able to use my phone, connect to the internet, Google all the issues we discussed and learn why they exist – a luxury not available to these local women and their families. Technology provides me the power to access knowledge from anywhere about any topic.

As a result of this project, women and children will have access to exponentially more information and technical skill development than they can even imagine. The speeds and feeds, the network design, the software, is not what matters. What’s important is providing a vehicle for knowledge and power that puts the ability to learn literally at their fingertips.  Technology will provide a vehicle from them to explore the world.

India – A Feast for the Eyes

Elephant in Traffic

Glances out the window reveal life in action. A bare-foot and bare-bottomed boy running down an alleyway using a stick to control a rolling bicycle tire. An old man wrapped in many layers of clothing to ward off the morning cold, lighting his morning cigarette. A young girl, maybe 10, carrying a toddler along the sidewalk on her hip. Begging. Filthy. Her hair matted with dirt. But somehow pretty all the same.

An elephant, painted for some occasion-or maybe just for an everyday show. A platform strapped to his/her back with a single large rope. Moving through traffic, horns blaring on all sides, the sound of bells clanging as the huge beast rocks back and forth on a stiff march through the centre of the city. What is the look in his or her eye?

A groom riding a white horse as part of a noisy procession. Making his way to his wedding. Not a young man. Women, girls, young men colorfully dressed. All dancing along throwing some sort of powder in the air as they followed a small vehicle playing music over a loudspeaker.

A man working in a building 6 ft square – a barber shop. A look of pride and recognition as we make our way past his shop for the second time today. We see him and he sees us as he flicks a sheet around the shoulders of his next customer.

A woman on the back of a motorcycle. Dressed elegantly and colorfully. Barely hanging on, just balancing – years of experience. She has her head buried behind the drivers back, looking down at her cell phone -texting someone. Oblivious to us or the cows her driver is snaking through on the tiny village road.

India is a study of beauty. And that beauty is found right next to or between the filth. Focus on the stench, the garbage everywhere, the cacophony of noisy car horns blaring and you will have great distaste. But make eye contact with people, see their beauty, see the smiles, see through the dirty exterior and you will find the beauty of the human condition. And then it is gone.

India is a feast for the eyes and paying attention is the only requirement.

Unleashing the Hope within Rajasthan’s Local Youth

Unleashing the Hope within Rajasthan's Local Youth

Children scare me. Why and when this fear developed, I’m not 100% sure. I do find them cute, and I do care about kids, but the thought of the responsibility to raise a child tends to bring out the fear in me. Therefore, I typically avoid situations that involve being around kids when I can.

So when I learned that we were going to attend a youth center in India after a long and exhausting day of lifting bricks, the last ounce of my comfort zone was drained from me. [Read more…]

When a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity Happens Twice

When a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity Happens Twice

I’ve know from a very young age the importance of helping others and making an impact in their lives.  I remember when I was 10 years old, listening to my best friend’s father share his stories of those he had volunteered his time to support in rural Africa – and of those who still needed the help more than ever. I sat in amazement, listening and realizing that one day, I too wanted to visit and help.  It became a life long dream I never knew how I would make a reality until 2013 when I was lucky enough to be on the SC Cares Board that went to Maai Mahiu, Kenya. [Read more…]

SC Cares International Project 2015: Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural India!

TJatan Logohe countdown is on as the Softchoice Cares Board anticipates its departure to Rajasthan, India on February 6th for its next International Project! Softchoice’s employees and our partners support and donate time and money to local causes across North America throughout the year. To spread the orange even further, Softchoice Cares also chooses one organization to help bridge the digital divide across international borders every 18 months.

Improving education and training through technology!

Jatan PicThis year, our 12-person team will support Jatan Sansthan – a local, grassroots, not-for-profit organization that supports the rural villages of Rajasthan Province, India. Jatan’s vision is to have an equal, empowered society in India – and provides programs that give equal access to health care, advocacy and technology, with an emphasis on ensuring women and children have fair opportunities for education.

How is Softchoice supporting Jatan?

Jatan runs Education and Youth Resource Centers in the remote rural villages of Rajsamand districts of Rajasthan. Softchoice Cares is supporting the organization’s continued success by:

  • Providing computer resources and access to technology for over 240 students visiting Jatan’s Centers.
  • Supplying computers, educational software, and a strong network backbone to provide internet access.
  • Working together to help build the first of the organization’s three new facilities in a nearby village. (Jatan has already started on the foundation for the building – check out the pics below!)

The new technology set-up will improve Jatan’s ability to continue its success of achieving their vision and improving literacy rates amongst community children, and generating awareness towards education. In addition, approximately 10% of students will receive the improved vocational training required to obtain employment – something they may not have had the opportunity to do!

We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with Jatan and help unleash potential by providing people with access to technology and edcuation in rural India!

You can stay updated on our progress in India by checking back on the CSR blog and Liking our SC Cares Facebook page for daily updates!

In the meantime, to learn more about Jatan’s programs, please visit the charity’s website.