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Sunday, 4 August 2013

Closing Ceremony

Today was the closing ceremony of the ITSA workshops 2013!

I just have to say that I am so incredibly proud of all the young people who presented their newly funded projects today. It is truly amazing how you have chosen specific issues, and are really dedicated to solving those issues.

Our grant winners have some really intuitive and helpful projects. A medical camp for slum communities; helping people obtain their birth certificates; holding ITSA-like workshops dedicated to women's equality and empowerment. These projects are a true reflection and continuation of what the ITSA workshops have been aiming to do the entire month of July. Inspire the children to take problems into their own hands!

All of our mentors and families of the ITSApreneurs were also in attendance. I'm sure the kids were very happy to present the fruits of their hard labor to them as well.

Everyone was so nice and thankful, it was amazing! I really feel like there is a true ITSA community in Ahmedabad. Especially now that projects are being continued after the summer, I hope that ITSA kids will keep in touch after the workshops end.

And finally, a huge thanks to Riana and Phil  for being the reason that ITSA is still alive and well today! 

Friday, 2 August 2013

Project Symposium

Today was the ITSA 2013 Project Symposium!

Over the course of the workshops, students have been encouraged to think about which social issues they are interested in. Then, they have to think about a project that they can implement in their community to help fix this issue. These project proposal is what the ITSA workshops are all about.
However, this year, there is an exciting twist!

ITSA has been awarded grant money to give to students to help implement their projects. So, students can apply to have their projects funded, and if they are, their projects WILL be implemented! Everyone is really excited about this new aspect of ITSA, because we do want to make change, in whatever communities that we can.

For the Project Symposium, we mixed kids from different workshops, so that they could hear what other kids have planned.

I have to say, I was very impressed by the presentations that were given! All of the students were very well spoken. Even those who were normally very quiet stepped up to the task, and gave coherent presentations. The topics that I got to see were on the topics of healthcare, gender equality, child labor, and education.

I am sad that I was only able to sit in on one class of project presentations, I wish I had been able to see all of them!


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Rajkot


For a few days, the ITSA team is going to Rajkot! We had an intensive two day workshop series at the The Galaxy Education System (TGES). After a very eventful, yet comfortable, sleeper bus ride, we finally made it to Rajkot. We had prepared everything for the days to come. But first it was Isabel’s 21st birthday! So we had to have a midnight celebration with cake, naturally.

The next day, we were ready to go. We got to the school, and began the workshops with activites and discussions that are now ITSA classics, pointing out power and wealth inequality, as well as the costs of development. It was great to see the same activities that we had been doing for weeks worked just as well with kids from different cities, and ones who hadn’t necessarily chosen to be there. All of the kids were very involved in the discussions we had.




The next day, we took a field trip! It took us a bit to get there, but once we reached it, it was so worth it. Vishvanidam is a place where children from slum communities can go to get help with going to school. It is a warm supportive environment for the children to be in. It also acts as an orphanage to children who don’t have anyone to look after them. I was with the girls, who talked to the girls at the Vishwanigam. Personally, when I was in ninth grade, I would have been really awkward and shy, being thrown into a situation where I had to talk to kids my age that I didn’t know. But the TGES girls had no qualms about anything. They began with singing songs, and dancing with the girls from Vishvanidam. It was a great way to break the ice with them. After that, they got to asking more important questions, like which subjects they thought they needed help in. By the end of the trip, the TGES girls were planning to go back in a couple of weeks for Friendship Day, with Chinese food, music, and speakers. It was great to meet students that are so self-motivated.

It was great to feel like ITSA is spreading outside of the city of Ahmedabad, even if only to a city a few hours drive away. 

Monday, 29 July 2013

Mural Painting!

Here are some pictures from Sunday, when all the ITSApreneurs painted their murals! We had one mural dedicated to gender equality, the environment, human rights, and economic inequality. They all turned out beautifully!





Sunday, 21 July 2013

Saturday Event--Development in Gujarat


ITSA hosted its second Speak Off this Saturday. We didn’t have a guest lecturer this week, and we still had a great discussion. There were no shortages of opinions. 



            There was a good point brought up about balance in development. There has to be a balance between the old and the new, the urban and rural, the social and economic development. If there is too much of one without the other, the development is not going to be sustainable. In the context of Gujarat, and Ahmedabad specifically, the consensus was that there is too much economic development, and not enough social development. We hadn’t really talked about social development before, even though it is especially relevant to an NGO like ITSA. The balance is needed in development if it aims to be sustainable.           
            At one point, a comparison between India’s development and America’s development arose. America is a young country, and in less than 400 years has become a completely developed country. I think that there is an interesting comparison to be made, in terms of how we developed so quickly, but it was also much easier to develop America because it was a completely new country. India has a culture that is thousands of years old, and traditions surrounding that. I think it is much more difficult to Westernize a country that so clearly has it’s own unique history. India has to figure out how to balance their beautiful ancient culture with a newer, more modern culture.
            Now that the economy is globalized, India wants a piece of it. But while trying to catch up with more developed countries, there is a disconnect between the resources that India gives away, and those which it keeps. The downfall of a globalized economy is that countries, especially the US, are no longer able to sustain itself solely on American products, everything is imported. India has resources that are exported to other countries that depend on them, while India is also trying to sustain a huge population.
            Personally, I have never talked that much about development, I have never taken a class on it or anything like that. Growing up in New York City, real development doesn’t really happen, only gentrification. But India is literally building up around us, with huge buildings suddenly appearing. On our road, there are multiple construction sites where we have watched buildings rise floor by floor. Development has to be more than just buildings. It has to involve the whole community, and include those from all social strata. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Temples & Wells


The ITSA interns took a tour of some sights around Ahmedabad; we went to the Sun Temple, the Step wells, a replica of a famous temple, and the Gurudwara. It was amazing to think of how old all the landmarks are. India is one of the oldest cultures in the world, yet I know so little about it. I need to learn more!

There were some beautiful carvings in and around the temple, depicting various scenes. I find it fascinating that there are over 3 million gods in Hinduism, and that the same 3 million gods are still a part of the Hinduism today. 





I think that of all the places that we saw  that day, The Sun Temple was my favorite. It still amazes me that something that old could exist, but kind of in the middle of nowhere. It is centuries older than the entirety of the United States! It puts history into a very different perspective. To see how much has changed from the original culture in India, while in America is seems like it is stuck in the past sometimes. Some of the carved scenes showed how revered women were in Hinduism, because they were the ones who birthed the children. Now, India is known for being dangerous for women. Where did that change happen? I guess that if a culture is around for a long time, there is more room for it to change. Change is necessary, but how does a culture become more conservative than how it started out?

The Step Wells were also very beautiful. It was not what I was expected. I thought there would just be a few wells, with a simple temple around it. I did not think that the temples would be built down into the ground. They are five stories deep!



We didn’t have a tour guide for the Step Wells, so I had to do my own research when I got back to the ITSA flat. I found that even though the wells are very beautiful, they were used for somewhat ordinary purposes. People went there to bathe, drink, and wash clothes; they also held rituals there.

There is also a legend attached to the Stepwells. A Hindu king, Rana Veer Singh, was attacked, and killed by a Muslim king, Mohammed Begda. The Muslim king took over his territory. He wanted to marry the Hindu king’s beautiful wife, Rani Roopba, so he proposed. She agreed to marry him, but only if he would finish building the Stepwell. He agreed, and finished it. He reminded the queen of her promise, but because Rani considered her goal completed, which was to finish her husband’s Stepwell, she drowned herself in the well. Tragic, like all legends seem to be. 

After this, we went back home and even fit in some work later in the day. Workshops are still being made, we can't believe that there are only 2 weeks left of workshops! 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Exploring Ahmedabad


On our day off, the interns decided to explore the city of Ahmedabad a little bit more. There are so many malls in Ahmedabad! And while it can be interesting to spend time in a foreign mall, we were a bit tired of them. We wanted to see the real Ahmedabad. A new addition to the ITSA library, 101 Ways to Experience Ahmedabad, gave us some good ideas on where to go and what to do.

First, we started off at Hansiba, the SEWA Co-op Shop. The shop was named after the oldest SEWA artisan. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is an organization based in Ahmedabad, which has helped women from surrounding districts get their wares sold. The store was filled with so many beautiful things! The pillow cases, the figurines, scarves, and clothes. It was hard to choose only a few things to buy for gifts! Sixty five percent of the profits of the store go to supporting the artists who made the artwork. We were all glad that we could positively contribute back to the artists.

Next stop was Gramshree, which we found all on our own! It was within walking distance, so we decided go for it. For those who don’t know, Ahmedabad is not a pedestrian city. Most of our transportation takes place in auto-rickshaws. Also, addresses are pretty difficult to find when you don’t know where you are going. There is no numbered system like in the States, and most addresses consist of nearby landmarks, like “near ISCON mall” and that’s it. Once you get to the landmark, you have to find the destination on your own. The address that we were trying to find was 4th floor, Shopper’s Plaza, opposite Municipial Market, Vastrapur. But we found it, with the help of some people along the way.

Once we got there, we were pleasantly surprised again! It was a lovely store, with some really beautiful clothing. All of the profits went to Gramshee, which is a non-profit organization aiming to empower rural and slum dwelling women. , After the store, we went to a Havmur, right across the street. Most of us got to taste yet another Havmur flavor, Litchee Strawberry! We are on our way to tasting all of the flavors!  

 All in all, it was a great shopping day, with all of our money going towards good causes. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Opening Ceremony!



A few days ago, it was the opening ceremony! It was so amazing, it was such a great turnout! In the end, we had over 100 students combined in all of the workshops!

First, we started with everyone signing in, and receiving a folder with two worksheets, a notebook, and a pen. Then the parents and the students were separated into two different groups, with the parents going to the auditorium, and the kids beginning their first ITSA workshops. 

While the parents were listening to a great speech that Riana gave, the new ITSApreneurs were getting to know each other in their workshop groups. There are three groups; Sustainable Development, Economic Inequality, and Intersectionality & Access. They did various activities that introduced them to certain social issues, and allowed the workshop leaders to see which topics concerned the students the most.

There was a great speaker at the parent’s presentation, David Udry. He is the principal of the first school that ITSA ever worked with. He said some really great things about how ITSA teaches the 4 things that are crucial to education—critical thinking, creativity, community, and communication. I completely agree with him; those aspects are intertwined with ITSA’s core curriculum. He gave a great talk, and was clearly very excited that ITSA was still alive and running.

After the parent’s presentation, I was able to go in and sit in on a couple of the workshops that were happening. While the classrooms were pretty packed, it was great to see that so many students were interested in what ITSA has to offer. In some of the small group discussions that I heard, even when there wasn’t a facilitator nearby, the students were still avidly discussing problems and possible solutions. I think that’s the most accurate measure of how attentive students are!

After the workshops, all the students came together in the amphitheater of Anand Niketan Satellite, which is a beautiful campus. We took group and class photos, which all turned out great!



This year is going to be so great! Welcome to the ITSA family everyone!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Rain & Cricket


It’s RAINING!! Finally!!

For the first time in two weeks, the rain is coming down. Last night, at around 10:30, when all the interns were just sitting around in their pajamas, we heard the pitter patter on the roof. We ran outside to celebrate!

It was so freeing to be out in the rain, to just feel it on my face. It rarely rains like this in the city, with the rain just pouring down for more than a few hours. My favorite kind of rain is the summer rain. We were all a bit stir crazy from being inside all day, and working on curriculum. I think all the other interns felt the same. We had a little dance party outside, to let off some steam. It’s been crazy hot here, and pretty dusty. Now that the rain has come, things can cool off, and the air can be clearer.

We also played our first cricket game! Shuklaji, the security guard at Anand Niketan Bodakdev, taught us to play! There is a pretty big language barrier between Shuklaji and us. He speaks very little English, and we speak barely any Hindi. But with the help of Apurva, we were able to learn! Highlights of the game include three 6 hits in a row, and Shuklaji hitting the ball all the way over the school building. We were all laughing at Shukalji’s antics on how we were doing in the game.

“Good six!”, he would yell when one of us hit the ball out of the boundary line. (For those of you that may not be familiar with cricket, when the hitter hits the ball out of the boundary line without it touching the ground within the boundary, it is worth 6 points). He would dive to catch the ball, and try to teach us the correct batting stance. We all appreciate that he is trying to connect with us on a real level, and not just be the anonymous security guard.

The workshop leaders are still preparing for the opening ceremony on tomorrow. We still can't believe that they are starting tomorrow!

Field Trip, part 2


As I said in the earlier blog post, the people in the first “Hollywood” slum seemed to be optimistic, and united against the common enemy. However, in the other places that we visited, the same cannot be said.

After a traditional Gujarati lunch, we took a 30 minute rickshaw ride to the very edge of Ahmedabad. Because I was so full from the lunch, I closed my eyes for a short time in the rickshaw. One moment we were in the city, where everything smells like spice, with a small amount of exhaust. When I opened my eyes, I smelled chemicals. It felt like we had completely left the city. There were warehouses, and smokestacks that rose into the sky.



The rickshaws took a turn off the main road, and there was row after row of warehouses, with not a person in sight. Then, huge gray concrete angular buildings appeared out of nowhere. Honestly, I felt that it was a bit futuristic, in a bad way. The buildings looked modern and functional, but the society was not as advanced as the buildings seemed to be. The buildings were very imposing, and seemed to be the complete opposite of the community we had visited a mere 2 hours ago.



When we got there, people began to crowd around us, much like the earlier community. Small trundle-like beds were brought out for us to sit on, while on lookers crowded around us to listen to the conversation Beena Mam was starting. The whole conversation was in Gujarati, so the interns only understood what was being translated for us. We heard them talking about how they got uprooted from their homes on the riverfront, and the community that they belonged to. Many of them did domestic work in homes nearby. But because of their relocation and where they are now, the cost of going back into the city for work is more than what they would actually be making. This forces them to work in the factories, which are very dangerous, and they do not know how to navigate. Their water is extremely dangerous, and makes them sick. It was a lot to take in as an outsider, and as someone who is not in the powerful position to help them.

As a team, we all felt that there was some miscommunication to the people on what our role there was. While we were just visiting, the people may have misinterpreted “foreigners” with “help”. While they were telling us about all their hardships, we felt as though there was nothing that we could actually do. Debriefing with the team this morning, I think we all felt better discussing the point of the field trip, which was not to feel pitiful about how we can’t immediately help them, but savor the fact that ultimately, the more people that know about their hardships and spread the word is better than none. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Field Trip!


Today was quite a day, and I am still in the process of thinking about it. I will try to paint a clear picture to all of you.
           
We got up, and went to St. Xavier’s College to meet up with the rest of the ITSA team. We met up with Bina Mam, who helps slum dwellers fight for their land and rights. The government is constantly trying to destroy the slums, and relocate the dwellers, but she tries to get legal aid to those living in the slums, so that they can take the government to court.



The first stop on the trip was the “Hollywood” slum, as they are called because the women that live there are especially beautiful, and their amazing jewelry (nose rings, toe rings, anklets, bracelets; you name it, they were wearing it). They told us the history of how they came to be on that spot of land, and their struggles with the government. Many of their houses have been torn down, but they just keep rebuilding. They don’t actually know who owns the land that they are living on, and the government still hasn’t told them. But they are the seventh generation of people in that slum! They also said that they were known for being very honest people, which has helped them in the eyes of the law.
They have upcoming trials, which they have been preparing for. We wish them the best!

They were all so amazingly warm and kind. They were very open about the struggles they have faced, but they still were optimistic about the future. Compared to some of the communities that we saw later today, and which I will talk about in a different post, these people were very united. They acknowledged that there are several different denominations within one slum, but they all agree to come together and join forces against the government who is trying to destroy all of their homes. This was a sharp juxtaposition with other internally displaced people that we also visited later in the day. 

Their trade is to make Ganesh idols, and other Hindu gods. The city needs them to do this, but they just want to get rid of their "ugly" homes. 

Slums do look ugly from the outside, but once you are inside, you can see that it is a lively thriving community. People were happy to show us their homes, and allowed me to take pictures of them. I will leave you with some of the best from the day!





Monday, 1 July 2013

The Two-Week-Iversary


Hello readers, I am a new addition to the ITSA travellog! My name is Sadie, and I am a rising senior at Bard High School Early College. I'm excited to be working with ITSA this summer!

Today is the two week anniversary of arriving in India! It is crazy to think that it has only been two weeks—it feels like it has been so much longer. My first impression of India is that it is a vibrant culture, with the old traditions mixed right in with the new. This was exemplified when I went to the Ghandi ashram and saw business men walking around Ghandi’s house, talking on their cellphones. Or to see some women dressed in shorts, while others are wearing full saris. Also, as an outsider, you simply have to surrender to the culture of India. An example of this has been eating with no utensils. At first, I was a bit squeamish about eating with my hands. It wasn’t that I was grossed out by it, but I was just a bit confused. Will I pick up my cup with my dirty hand, or with the clean one? Can I lick my fingers, or is that rude? During my first real Indian tiffen meal, I finally just gave up on trying to keep my fingers somewhat clean. I surrendered into eating with my hands, and now enjoy stuffing my mouth with delicious pahi pouris in one huge bite!

We’ve been exploring the city as much as possible. We went on the beautiful Heritage Walk through the old city of Ahmedabad. I thought that it was a wandering walk through a beautiful neighborhood that otherwise would have gone unseen by those who are interested. We’ve gone shopping, getting some beautiful pants with crazy prints. We’ve been eating ice cream (I highly recommend Almond Carnival at Havmur), and enough lychees to feed a village. We’ve been watching hilarious Bollywood movies that are over 3 hours long. We have funny, and sometimes exasperating, rickshaw stories to tell. Now, we have more than enough inside jokes to keep us laughing for a looong time.

It’s been great to go through training with the other ITSA interns, and getting to know each other. Personally, it was comforting to go through some aspects of a Bard Thinking & Writing Workshop. The free writes are a time to just let the mind wander, and it really helps me organize my thoughts and to get them down on paper. Once they are there, it makes it so much easier to sift through them. I associate these free writes so closely to BHSEC, and to home, it felt like I brought a part of by daily New York City right into India. Also I highlight for me was getting an in depth lecture on the Indian education system. Honestly, I had no idea how it worked. After getting a lecture from an English teacher from Anand Niketan Silaj school, I had a much better perspective on what ITSA was trying to change, and had a betunderstood the kind of pressure students my age are under to perform well on the Board Exams.

Some of the best moments that have happened these past two weeks were during the discussions that have happened when the whole group was together. We got into some deep topics like violence, safety, and a multitude of others that I can’t remember anymore. It was gratifying to be in a space where everyone is bright, and excited to talk about social issues. The discussions were a great pre-cursor to starting the workshops, and brainstorming ideas to talk about with the students. I feel like everyone is happy to be here, and pumped to facilitate with the students.

Now it is time to get down to business! Putting training to the test, the workshop leaders are beginning to develop their curriculum. It’s going well, and from what I am eavesdropping from the meetings going on around me, they will be thought provoking, inspiring, and fun! There are some field trips in the works, and some mural painting as well. We can’t wait to meet the students this Friday!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

ITSA Goes to Latin America!


New team member Isabel Sacks blogs about working with ITSA and her project in the Dominican Republic.

Before starting my freshman year at Swarthmore, where I am now a sophomore, I took a gap year and spent four months living and teaching at a beautiful, bright blue school nestled among the sugarcane fields of rural Dominican Republic called Santa Maria del Batey. Founded in 2000 by Augusto Casasnovas and run by several nuns, the school serves the children of Dominican subsistence farmers and Haitian sugarcane workers, who live in housing clusters called bateyes (hence the school’s name). SMB is the only high school in the immediate area and provides its students not only a quality education from grades K-12, but daily breakfast and lunch and health care. From August to December 2010, I designed and taught my own English curriculum to the third and fourth grades and served as an assistant teacher to the school’s full-time foreign language teacher for the fifth through twelfth grades.

The school’s logo, painted on an outside wall.

In December, I was lucky to be awarded a Lang Opportunity Scholarship work with ITSA to spread its methods quite literally across the globe, from Ahmedabad to Hato Mayor. The Lang Opportunity Scholarship, which also supports ITSA, is awarded annually to six sophomores at Swarthmore College. It provides funding and resources for Scholars to “conceive, design and carry out an Opportunity Project that creates a needed social resource and/or effects a significant social change or improved condition of a community in the United States or abroad” (http://www.swarthmore.edu/lang-center-for-civic-and-social-responsibility/lang-opportunity-scholarship.xml). This summer I will be working with the ITSA workshops, in particular the new Faculty Fellowship Program, and then implementing the method at Santa Maria del Batey in the summer of 2014. The ITSA Faculty Fellowship Program, currently under construction, will incorporate teachers directly into the ITSA model; they will work side by side with ITSA interns to conduct the workshops.

In my mind, the ITSA method is really important in any school or community, anywhere in the world, for two reasons. First, it raises awareness of social justice issues—blatant or invisible, across the world, next door, or in our own lives—and what we can do to address these issues. Second, the development of critical thinking skills through participation in the ITSA workshops makes learning more interesting, empowering, and useful for students. Although I believe that any school could benefit from ITSA workshops, they are particularly applicable to Santa Maria del Batey because of the school’s context (based on my observations and interactions during my four-month stay and three shorter trips). Many students face poverty, malnutrition, violence, abuse, and/or gender discrimination. Religion and Haiti/DR relations cause tension in the community. Electricity and running water are unreliable and most of the students’ parents are illiterate. Despite hardship, though, about 20 teachers and 400 students of all ages travel daily to the school on foot or by motorcycle, sometimes from several miles away, and make learning happen. The students are highly driven to succeed, while the teachers are committed to their students’ academic and personal well-being and the state of education in the DR on the whole.

I have enormous respect for the teachers of Santa Maria del Batey, most of whom have been teaching at the school since its founding, and I will therefore be partnering with them to replicate ITSA at the school. Their dedication and knowledge of the students, school, and community will facilitate the success of the project. I can’t wait to work with ITSA this summer and then return to my home away from home at Santa Maria del Batey!



The fourth grade class in 2010, with me and four of the elementary school teachers.




Me and several girls from the eleventh grade class in 2010, in front of the school.


The eleventh grade class in 2010, with me and several of their teachers.



The class of 2012 (eleventh graders in 2010, as pictured before) at their graduation last June.