Today is the two-week mark of my internship with Samaj Pragati Sahayog! It’s been enlightening, relaxing, grueling, and rewarding to be here.
Because it’s been some time since my last post, I’ll first tell you all about what we’ve been doing here work-wise. For the past two weeks, SPS has given us an orientation to each facet of the organization, from watershed management to Self-Help Groups (SHGs) with Bank linkages. We’ve sat in on meetings of the SHGs, where the village women, who are mostly poor tribals and/or marginal farmers, discuss their finances with the guidance of an “accountant,” called a mitan. We also visited anganvadi centers and talked to the SHG women combatting malnutrition, both through the government Right to Food schemes and through their own resourcefulness and creativity.
My favorite moment in the field thus far took place the afternoon we participated in the Federation meeting. The Federation is a body two levels higher than SHGs—the women leaders represent 244 SHGs and work on wide-scale advocacy and empowerment issues. After discussing the nitty-gritty details of the types of campaigns they strive to organize, the women concluded the meeting beautifully by singing a few revolutionary songs for us. Their clear, edged voices struck a resounding chord in my heart. The joy both the women and we outside observers felt led to a crescendo of songs, where several individuals were filled with the urge to share a few stanzas of a poem that propels their energy for this type of social work. One Federation woman recited a few couplets she herself had written. Her song was about a girl who was at the age when a young person is expected to go to school and get an education. Yet she has to plead with her mother, “please Ma, let me wait some time before you marry me off.”
Besides these field visits, Andrew and I received regular classroom training by SPS’s very own Professor Mohanty, a title we have affectionately bestowed upon our instructor. We’ve taken detailed notes on the concepts of the different programs here. By discussing agricultural markets and government entitlement distribution schemes, among many other concepts, I’ve gotten a brilliant education on India that few universities could have taught me! So anyways, from today, our orientation ends and our own projects commence.
On a lighter note—Besides the kamikaze critters and other alien pests that have made our trip a bug’s life over here, I am having a wonderful time kicking it in rustic Madhya Pradesh. Andrew and I have really bonded with the other SPS workers and interns, who are extremely dedicated to their projects but also enjoy having a good time. Last night we tried to teach our friends how to play Big Booty. For those of you who have never played (and may have just raised your eyebrows thinking where is Aashna going with this), Big Booty is a clapping/counting game with a catchy chant that is ideal for “time-passing” with several people after dinner. Amidst explaining what a big booty is and poking fun at our friend Jitu for miserably failing to keep a beat, I felt Andrew and I effortlessly blended into the background of what is to be our home for the next eight weeks.