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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Empowering Incredible Minds Who Can Work Towards A More Incredible India


Juliana (on the right) in action, talking to a group of  attentive students.


Traveling to India last summer as an Intern for ITSA has been one of the most significant and enriching experiences of my life. Besides encouraging critical thinking among young Indians, I had the opportunity to learn about a part of the world and a culture that was almost completely foreign to me.

Initially, it was evident that the kids participating in the workshops were students in a system that does not enable them to think creatively nor critically about themselves and their surroundings. Most of them described themselves as “disciplined”, but had a hard time identifying other idiosyncratic qualities in themselves. Encouraging them to write about their interests and curiosities was very interesting and fun, especially because they were very willing and excited about participating in the workshops everyday.

It is gratifying to know that education reform is not desired just by those who support global education reform and those who work with ITSA. It is also relevant to educators in the current Indian education system and most certainly by the kids themselves, who have come to realize that they are empowered by their own brilliant minds. 

During my time in India, I worked with Riana and Jwalin on ITSA’s workshop curriculum. The curriculum was mainly made of a series of writing exercises and group activities primarily centered on topics of identity. I revised the plan for each workshop before it happened. I made sure that the activities and writing prompts would be clear and appropriate for the kids. When discussing the plan for a workshop on spatial identity, or the different perceptions of a person, I brought up the idea of talking about stereotypes in Indian society with the kids. I thought it would be important to start promoting social awareness because social justice activism is another one of ITSA’s undertakings. As a team of interns and directors, we decided to do “the boat activity” with the kids: to expose them to a series of Indian stereotypes by asking them to save ten imaginative characters out of thirteen on a boat that was, fictitiously, about to drown. The characters could only be differentiated by single traits and social labels such as “beggar”, or “7-year-old maid who dropped out of school”. We wanted to make the kids think about themselves in relation to how others perceive them in their society, and how they view others based on societal stereotypes.

My host family was very loving and caring, especially Pavithra; my host sister. They were from Tamil Nadu, a state located on the tip of South India. Their food was very different than the North Indian food I had in restaurants. South Indian food is more spicy but equally delicious. My host father and I read the Indian news every morning over South Indian coffee, and showed each other family photos while sharing life anecdotes.

I enjoyed walking in the old city of Ahmedabad and observing people’s daily lives -women selling colorful vegetables that made an interesting contrast with the colors of their dresses, women cooking and washing their clothes while talking to their neighbors, and people meditating at various local temples. I remember smelling a Jasmin flower that a Hindu Pujari put in my hair after caressing one of his Gods with oil. 

Being able to appreciate and value Indian culture strengthened my sense of global diversity and inclusion. Besides, promoting critical thinking that will help young minds address social concerns in a country that is so rich in many other ways has encouraged me to continue to pursue youth empowerment. 

~ Juliana Gutierrez      
ITSA Intern-2011