Eyes, Arms, and Heart Wide Open

Hello everyone!!! 

Terribly sorry I’m running a bit late on my Introductory blog post- it’s been such a rush to pack everything up, move out, and return home to Houston for a few days (because every moment with family counts!), so here it goes.


My name is Dani Castillo, and as strange as it is for me to come to terms with, or even type out the words that make up this statement… I’m a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences double-majoring in Architecture and Urban Studies. Pause. Deep breath! Phew. I’ve been watching some of my closest, recently graduated friends commemorate their amazing time at Penn and give their long goodbyes, only to realize that I will be in the same exact bittersweet position a year from now! It’s a bit unreal.

I was born in Mexico City, but very quickly moved to the United States at age 5 to New Mexico. After one year in Albuquerque and the birth of my little brother Patrick, we moved to Plano and then Katy, Texas, both rising suburbias lined with not-so-little boxes made of ticky tacky. I feel so lucky to have received the opportunity to even attend such a prestigious university and start a new chapter of my life in Philadelphia much different from my life in Texas, and now words can’t begin to express my feelings about this incredible opportunity from CASI.

Being a fan of all sorts of adventures, this was taken from the roof of a historic building in Philadelphia

Being a fan of all sorts of adventures, this was taken from the roof of a historic building in Philadelphia

As I sit comfortably at home, watching the clouds roll across the endless Texas sky with my little puffball Pomeranian named Andy lounging by my side, I’m trying to fully accept the fact that in just a few days, I will be arriving in Delhi and everything I’ve ever been used to will be turned on its side. Along with my partner Carrie, I will be interning with the non-profit organization Samaj Pragati Sayahog (SPS), located in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. SPS has grown to be one of India’s largest grassroots initiatives for water and livelihoods security, and I’m thrilled at the possibility of working in the field (pun intended!) of sustainability. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been extremely passionate about any issues revolving the environment, and most recently, the connection between human rights and climate change. Haha, I remember as a little girl I would always bug my parents to remember to cut the plastic rings used for packaging soda cans because I was worried about the well-being of sea animals after seeing images of dolphins getting caught in the plastic. And much like younger Dani back then, I like to consider the bigger picture when it comes to climate change nowadays, and challenge people to think about how our actions contribute to larger problems, and the implications of our actions on communities not directly connected to us.

A Different Perspective: the view of gorgeous Colorado while paragliding.

A Different Perspective: the view of gorgeous Colorado while paragliding.

So you might be asking, how does an architecture/urban studies student fit into the SPS program? By living in Philadelphia and gaining exposure to sustainability issues in a city, I’ve seen some of the solutions in place to fix some problems here, but I’d love the opportunity to work in a completely different setting to compare/contrast what “sustainability” means around the world. I’m excited to learn more and see in person the work that SPS is doing when it comes to issues regarding drought, resource management, and watershed development, and most importantly, gain exposure to the solutions that work in rural settings, since most of my education has been focused on urban solutions. I hope that learning about these different practices and solutions will help me gain a better understanding of sustainable development, since I have personal critiques of the ways programs, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for example, have been directly “copy and pasted” into developing situations that simply do not operate the same way they would in the United States; there are no “cookie cutter” solutions to sustainable development.
An image taken from SPS's website.

An image taken from the SPS website.

And finally, I would be lying if I didn’t ever mention that it’s always been my absolute dream to travel to India. I can’t exactly pinpoint the origin of my fascination with this magical, complicated place, but I think my general wanderlust and desire to experience the world must have something to do with it! I didn’t study abroad my junior year, and I’ve never gotten the chance to call a new, exciting place my home for longer than a few days (except for Philadelphia), so I’m most excited to fully immerse myself into a different culture and way of life for an extended period of time. While Aparna and Aashna have described the isolated location of SPS as a “beautiful challenge”, I’m actually extremely excited to disconnect (save for our blog posts) and make deep connections with people that I feel we often miss in our constantly plugged-in society. So here I am, ready to welcome and embrace this experience with my heart wide open.

It’s so exciting to see how everyone’s experiences are going so far, and I look forward to learning more from you all!!

See you soon, India!!

One thought on “Eyes, Arms, and Heart Wide Open

  1. Greetings to Dani.you will be going to Madhya Pradesh with my niece, the big Lum Carrie. Sent there by my other niece Aparna. It will indeed be a life altering experience. Enjoy and do great things. Learn everything you can from Carrie about animals and anesthesia! She has a 45 year old family connection with Karnataka. V/R Norris Childs

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About Dani Castillo

passionate creative working with Kumbaya- Samaj Pragati Sahayog