On our first day in Delhi, we visited the American Center of the U.S. Embassy to speak to a representative of the embassy and a representative of the USAID. As international travelers and with many political science students in our group, this was one of the most interesting talks we’ve had. We discussed current projects, job and internship opportunities, and the not-so-regular day in the life of U.S. governmental work in India.
The rest of our time in Delhi has consisted of NGO visits and some shopping. Our first NGO visit was to one of the largest environmental protection organizations that serves Asia, known as TERI – The Environmental Research Institute. This was another organization that is doing real field research in order to create a better Earth, founded by Dr. R. K. Pachauri who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work next to Al Gore in 2006. We saw first-hand the laboratory work they are doing for improving the environment reactively after oil spills and dealing with the issue of waste in India, as well as proactively in farming techniques and alternative energy resources. After also visiting the administrative headquarters of TERI, it is clear to us that the organization has also become a major player in changing governmental policy in every aspect of sustainability. I believe one of the NGOs most important initiatives, however, includes triggering change in people’s lives, and also making them capable to sustain it and understand their impact on the environment on a day-to-day basis. TERI is changing the design and operation of machines, as well as the minds of the users.
HelpAge India was the next NGO we ventured to. HelpAge India is an organization that works to improve the lives of the elderly in health, emergencies, shelter and social equity when they might not have another source of support from their families or their community. This was a very interesting organization to visit because it seems like the mentality of getting older is very different in India than it is in America. More and more, Indians aren’t respecting their elders as much as has been tradition in the past. Certain services that are options in America aren’t thought of as frequently in India.
Aga Khan Foundation is an NGO that works with urban poor and people in the slums to improve their lives through engaging in their community, joining self-help groups, teaching English to children and relocating families when their homes become no longer sustainable. To the left is a photo of activity center that Aga Kham Foundation built in order to bring the community center together. Last summer’s UF in India group got to see the center being built at the start of the project, and we got to see it when it was pretty much completed!
Today we went to the rural villages of Mewat in Haryana, about 150 km away from our hostel in Delhi. We connected with an NGO known as the Institute of Rural Research and Development (IRRAD) in order to be able to visit the village. Primarily we saw the government school and a place where women could get access to pre-natal health and a day care center. Although these places have been established for many years, IRRAD, as a rights-based NGO, has empowered the people of the village to understand the things their government should be doing for them. It was very inspirational to say the least, and the NGO is doing even more to improve the environment in the area and encourage the people in the community to evaluate their lives for the better.
There are so many efforts going on for the people of India, but these NGOs are making it clear that nothing can really change until people’s minds are opened up to new methods of living in all aspects of life – social, economic and environmental. It’s still going to take a lot but the manpower and the intelligence is here to make it happen.
Apart from these NGO visits, we’ve been getting into the hustle and bustle of the city. On our free day, we took taxis to two markets. One of them was the Delhi Haat market that we went to with Dr. K earlier in the trip, and another was called Sarojini market which seemed like more where the locals go. At one point we got very confused because everyone around us starting moving the racks of clothes and jewelry off the streets and neighboring vendors were yelling toward each other, but we had no idea what was going on. Finally the vendor we were in the middle of picking out earrings from smiled and explained to us “Police Problems.” We didn’t see any police though, and after a few minutes people went about their day.
After our tour of Delhi, a group of us went to Chandi Chowk market in Old Delhi. It was a Sunday so it wasn’t as “busy” as usual, but still, we were literally dodging traffic, tucking our bags close to us and really taking a chance in what we all expected and knew India would really be like. Don’t worry though — we never felt unsafe as we were in a big group with our trustworthy guide Anand. He walked us through the coolest streets, and then took us on a bicycle rickshaw ride to a spice and tea shop. It was our own little taste of Old Delhi.
We also experienced some of the high flooding that we’ve heard so much about on our way back from the Taj Mahal. All the motorcycles, scooters and cars, and our tour bus, drove through it. It was just a normal day in Delhi during monsoon season. Snake charmers, pigs, hordes of cows and (baby!) monkeys have also been thrown into the mix.