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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hasper, New Delhi, Week 1


Since arriving in Delhi, I've hardly set my pen down. I've been attempting to capture my first impressions and thoughts. I've had an acute look at India through fresh eyes, that's for sure. Everything is new, everything is bright, and everything seems different. It is the end of my first week, and I'm already feeling more comfortable! Let's hope that I remain this observant in the upcoming weeks. Yesterday was a holiday, so I took advantage of the break and saw some incredible monuments. The temples and tombs are vividly colored and a little wild, not unlike the rest of the city.

In the taxi from the airport I had my first look at the impoverished neighborhoods of Delhi. I've had much more exposure since then. I'm working with an education NGO called VIDYA, which works with children from the poorest slums. This organization has formal schools to prepare students for college admission, and informal schools to assist children enrolled in inadequate government schools. I spoke with the administrator and she explained that while the school gets requests from middle and upper class families frequently, they choose to admit the underprivileged first. It's been great to observe the efficiency of this organization and hear of its success. From what I understand, NGOs are many in number here, but have remained quite ineffective. One survey concluded that there is currently an NGO for every nine people in Delhi. There is little to no communication between NGOs and corruption is rampant. The greatest struggle is assuring validity, as the NGO sector is held in suspicion nearly as much as government institutions. Literacy rates for women are very low (around 50% in India), and illiterate mothers will rarely send their daughters to school, so VIDYA has created programs for adult women. Another excellent NGO for women's empowerment is partnering with my school. The female students will be designing campaigns about women's safety to promote in their neighborhoods.

The expectations for women are very different. Practically, it's been difficult wearing long pants and sleeves in high temps and humidity- I miss shorts. Nearly all service jobs are held by men, and while there are often men lounging on the streets, women are rarely outside during the day. A white woman out alone is a spectacle, understandably. Of course, I'm in a safe neighborhood, and have people to help me navigate where I can travel alone. India is facing an epidemic of crime against women, and is struggling to combat it. There is a separate carriage at the front of each metro train only for women for safety. I'm intending to strike up a conversation each time I'm on the metro. I want to know what the women in Delhi are feeling and aspiring to. This week I rode with several groups of students and businesswomen.

Teaching has been fun! The kids are so keen. The teachers have asked me to help specifically with pronunciation and spelling. They are struggling with the basics, so I've started there, and I'm building a six week curriculum. I've also become a rogue PE teacher- a soccer ball in an alley way brings in kids from miles around. I've promised to teach them soccer as long as they teach me cricket. It has been difficult being the only foreign teacher at the school. Hindi is spoken conversationally so communication is difficult.

I'm teaching in Okhla, a predominantly Muslim community. Recently the community has faced new pressures because of a political shift towards Hindi nationalism. Today's breaking news showed a politician's intolerant behavior toward a Muslim during Ramadan. This was the topic of conversation and concern today amongst the school teachers. Lately they have had parents come in demanding to have a one religion or another taught in the school. The negotiations have taken up classroom time.

On another note, my rickshaw commute to work has lengthened thanks to the cow traffic, and the house lady keeps a cricket bat at the front door to ward off the cheeky monkeys. Also the lack of coffee has caused me to substitute with tea- probably all the better for lessening my caffeine addiction.


                                                     The Okhla Education Center


Humayun's Tomb

The Lotus Temple (Baha'i)

The ISHKON Temple (Hindu)


  1. Jessica,

    I'm glad that you are settling in! I really enjoyed reading your first post. You do a wonderful job of "painting a picture" of your experiences.

    Teaching underprivileged children has to be one of the most challenging jobs, however I feel that may also be the most rewarding. That is interesting that your NGO focuses on the students who have fewer opportunities rather than catering to students who have "more". As it seems, that is very different than the other NGOs you mentioned.

    You know, you hear about India on the news and run across a few stories here and there, but you don't really understand the extent of the situation until you hear it first hand. There is a separate part of the bus to keep you (as a woman) safe? Be very careful. It sounds as though you're well taken care of, though. I would love to hear about any of the conversations you have with the women there.

    Are you teaching English? A rogue PE teacher sounds great! It's a great way to make a connection with the students because then they trust to learn more from you about other things besides sports... like pronunciation maybe!

    Beware of the cow traffic. I hope they put some pep in their step!


  2. Hey, Jess..when are you planning to write about 2nd week and Rishikesh visit.I am waiting for your blog.