India. Community. Education. Me.
My stomach churns when I think about getting on a plane on Sunday. I have felt this way before right before coming to India. But this time, the plane is flying the other way. Going back to my life in the United States in less than a week also does not feel real. Thinking about going back is hard. Mr. Mundra gave us four words: India, Community, Education, and Me.
India. I had no ties with India before coming two and a half weeks ago. I was not sure what I would find here. I knew India to be the world’s largest democracy and the country with the fastest growing young population. But I didn’t know what that meant for India herself.
When I though of India before, I thought of it as a singular entity. I mistakingly thought we were coming to learn about India as a whole. I didn’t realize that to learn about India I would first have to learn about all of the communities and people India is made up of. For me, India was a single story.
Traveling to slums, learning with the Akanksha kids, and dining with a village family in Ahmdebad proved this to be untrue. The three weeks I spent in India gave me a new perspective on my single story of India. I still have a lot to learn. I was only here for three weeks. I have only been to Mumbai and Ahmedadbad. I am still an outsider. However, I have also learned the danger of oversimplification. The perspectives I gained in India will help me examine my own community through the lens of India.
Community. I have witnessed many different communities in the time since I have arrived in India. I have been part of the Niswarth community of teachers and students. I have been a part of the Akanksha family for six days. I saw communities in slums, villages, and at the Cathedral school. Every community is different but each has similar threads tying the communities together.
I had a single story of slum communities in India. After visiting Dharavi, after going on community visits with our Akanksha kids, after going to the village in Ahmedadbad, we commented on the strong sense of community we felt there. But I was an outsider only visiting for a few hours. Did I have the authority to make such a claim about these communities?
Katherine Boo offers another story. Her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers features Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai. Her description of Annawadi was contrary to what I originally thought a slum community to be like. In the book, neighbors turned against neighbors out of jealously, corruption was rampant, and competing businesses work to sabotage one another. It was wrong for me to think that slum communities wouldn’t have the same problems as the rest of the world. My single story was an oversimplification. My experiences with communities in India have given me new perspectives on the idea of community. I can use the new perspective as another lens through which to examine my own communities at home.
Education. Education has been a major topic of this Niswarth trip. We studied the nature and purpose of education, India’s Right to Education Act of 2009, village schools, the role of corporations in India, and the Bollywood film 3 Idiots just to name a few things. To me, education seems to be in hearts of many Indians. For some people education can be their ticket out of poverty. I have found there to be large disparities in the India education system. I saw a large difference between government schools in slums and the Cathedral School in Mumbai.
I heard stories critiquing the Indian education system’s dependence on rote memorization. Teachers teach to the teach to exams. Coming from liberal-arts-based schools this surprises me and even frustrates me. In class I am expected to question things I don’t understand. Our classes are discussion-based. If students memorize everything they learn than what do we really know? The way I see it, the system does not encourage a passion for knowledge. Seeing flaws in Indian the Indian education system has caused to question my own education. The lens of education gave me another valuable perspective that I can apply to my own community.
Me. Niswarth gave me new experiences and perspectives. Niswarth made a tremendous impact on me. It taught me about India, community, education, and about myself. It made me question my own life, including the idea of happiness. Can people in slums be truly happy with awful living conditions? Can I be truly happy with a life of ambition devoid of meditation and reflection? I am not sure I can say. However, asking these questions has been an important step in finding the answers to these questions in my own life. Going into this trip, I wasn’t sure Niswarth could have such an impact on me. Gaining these perspectives will help me in my own community.
Will I come back to India? Hopefully. But even if I don’t, I will carry the experiences I’ve had and the lessons I have learned with me. I will remember the ideas of India, Community, Education, and Me and the way they have change me.
It will be sad going to the airport on Sunday. However, I know that Niswarth does not need to end when I land in Boston. The habits of mind Niswarth has taught me are ones I can use for the rest of my life.