I dedicate my allotted volunteer days at Softchoice to helping others, but three and half years ago my life, and my family’s lives, changed forever. [Read more…]
“Break the Silence.” “Stop Violence Towards Women.” “Rape is Wrong.” Just a few of the slogans the Softchoice Cares team were asked to paint across the walls of Poprada Village homes.
Theese are messages that Jatan is working to bring to all of the villages in the Rajasthan District as part of its larger initiative to ensure change in the status of women in their society. And as we walked through the door to the women’s Gender Panchayat Resource Center meeting, we hear Jatan’s Yashodhara Bai and Manju Dwi passionately speak with the women in their local dialect. Her message is clear: there’s an election coming up and it’s imperative that every woman votes to ensure she has her say in what goes on in her local community.
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. 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 this 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.
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.