I can't believe we are leaving today. I am so excited to head home, and so sad to be leaving the country that has taught me so much and that I have come to love. We've spent our last days finishing up our research, giving our presentations, doing last minute shopping, and saying difficult goodbyes. I can't imagine life back in the U.S. Going back to my normal life with the same routines seems impossible, but I also can't wait to see my family and friends. It is a difficult feeling, but something I will embrace just as I have learned to do with everything that India forces me to come to terms with. I would like to say a few 'thank you's' really fast before ending with my final thoughts. Society for Development Studies is the most amazing organization I have ever come in contact with and I am honored to have had a chance to learn from them. Dr. Lall is an incredible teacher, and I know that I am a better professional, member of my community, and person for having had the chance to know and learn from him. Bachan Prasad you are awesome and you know it. Thanks for being our protector, coordinator, and comedian when we needed you most. Ritika, thank you for the endless advice, shopping trips, and happy work days that would never have been the same without you. Hari and Mukesh, thanks for the tea and the laughs. Lastly, I would like to thank the University of Southern Indiana, Provost Rochon, Dr. Mujumdar, and Heidi Gregori-Gahan for this incredible opportunity that has been life changing and the most beneficial learning I've experienced. I hope this program continues to grow with our amazing University, and that more students can learn and benefit from SDS and all India has to offer.
And with that it is time to go. Thank you all for reading, commenting, and sharing my journey with me. Your presence was a great comfort to me throughout, and I loved being able to pass on my experience. Feel free to contact me further with questions or comments as time goes on. I do hope to be able to continue my experience with SDS and the school I visited by creating some sort of partnership either through the University or a local school, to get them the supplies and support they need, and to continue to learn from them and their students. Now as time is short, I will leave you with my final thoughts:
...In the end it is not without some amazement that I realize I have come to a place that showed me poverty as I have never seen before, yet am leaving with a more joyous heart in connection with the world. This was my first opportunity to be welcomed into and participate in the activities of resource- strapped communities where I could experience a small portion of their life and how they make their way through their days to survive. With these activities my heart has ached, my soul has soared, and I have found myself crying, laughing, smiling with joy, and turning my eyes away in pain. Why is it then that I come away from this experience more centered, grounded, joyful, and connected to the world? I had to take a moment to search inside my heart for these answers, and there it sits quietly. When you see poverty on the news or on a moving documentary there is always the sense of ‘other’. That these are those ‘poor people’, and ‘it’s so tragic and where can we donate’. I cannot say that it becomes easy to see the desperately deprived, and I hope that it never does, but those you meet and get a chance to talk to are very quickly replaced from ‘the others…the poor’ to ‘my friends’ or that ‘amazing person’, or that ‘funny little child’ as you do with all people you meet at home. It made me laugh the other day when my roommate Leah looked up from her report and asked, “Is the Renni village (where we visited) considered poor?” For a moment I had to pause and realize, yes of course it is. It is a resource-strapped community that needs further interventions and support on their road out of economic depravity, but the feeling as we drove away was of sadness for leaving our new friends…almost as though they were family. They had been replaced from research work, economic parameters, and ‘the poor’ the moment we walked into their homes…from the first smile, the first giggle. The first moment our eyes locked we were what we are and will always be, brothers and sisters making our way…finally meeting and rejoicing in finding one another in this small space in place and time.
And so I leave India, Society for Development Studies, and my new friends with so much more than I came with. My suit case is full of gifts for friends and family, but my body is coursing with new knowledge that will sustain my growth as I take my training back home to work within my own community and classrooms…and my new found global home.
Thanks again everyone. Namaste.