(My apologies for the very long introductory post in advance.)
My name is Kelly Anne Bridges, and I will be interning for 10 weeks this summer in Bagli, Madhya Pradesh. I study Science, Technology, and Society (STSC) with a concentration in Energy, Environment, and Technology. Furthermore, I am pursuing a minor is Sustainability and Environmental Management. Few people I have met on and off campus know what my major entails and even fewer know that it exists; however, I feel that my field of study is one of the best-kept secrets at Penn. STSC is a program taught through the History and Sociology of Science department, and provides me with an interdisciplinary education. I have analyzed the environment and its associated problems through law, geology, management, history, policy, biology, public health, and anthropology courses. This background allows me to understand environmental issues, such as climate change, as problems with ecological, cultural, health, political, and economic nuances. I hope to apply this background to my internship this summer in India.
The projects at Samaj Pragati Sahayog (SPS) are quite diverse and include watershed management, livestock production, and sustainable dry-land agricultural projects, as well as women empowerment groups. Additionally, SPS created Kumbaya over fourteen years ago, which allows women to enter the non-manual workforce through the production of beautiful Indian clothing (many of which I intend to purchase myself once I arrive in Bagli). More information about this amazing organization can be found at http://www.samprag.org/. Once I arrive in Bagli tomorrow, I will get a better idea of the project I will be working on (and will let you know in my next blog post!).
In addition to my internship, I also hope to conduct research for my senior thesis. Bagli is situated in a drought-prone region of Madhya Pradesh. Consequently, the tribal communities that live there are both food and water stressed due to monsoon variability and increased temperatures. The changing climatic conditions were made even more apparent this year, due to the immense heat wave that has persisted throughout Northern India. The heat wave thus far has claimed over 2,300 lives across the sub-continent and is the 5th deadliest in world history. These conditions not only affect public health, as access to safe drinking water and food is diminished, but also economic security. I am interested in studying the ways in which drought conditions in Bagli affect the tribal communities that live there. These conditions threaten their economic livelihoods, which derive mostly from agricultural production.
I have long been interested in the intersection between drought conditions, water security, agricultural production, and local economies. I grew up in San Diego, which is facing one of the greatest droughts in Californian history. The dry conditions affect agricultural production and food prices across the country and world (e.g. California produces most of the world’s almonds – over 80% – which threatens the global nut market). Furthermore, these conditions result in increased wildfires, many of which I have lived through. In 2003 and 2007, San Diego was hit with two immense fires resulting in school closures, evacuations, and ash raining from the sky. In addition to the drought conditions I grew up with, I also learned about their impacts in Brazil where my mother grew up. My mom and her five siblings were raised in Recife, which is in the northeastern section of the country and is particularly dry. Currently, Brazil is also facing extreme drought conditions (it seems much of the world is!). Therefore, the consequences of droughts are very familiar to me, and I have continued to explore this interest at Penn.
I have had the opportunity to explore the impacts of drought-conditions academically through coursework in Philadelphia, as well as Jordan, Australia, and South Korea. The summer of my sophomore year at Penn, I spent five weeks traveling throughout Jordan with Columbia University’s Summer Ecosystem Experiences for Undergraduates (SEE-U) program, where I studied conservation biology, as well as water management in the Middle Eastern country. Furthermore, I spent the fall semester of junior year abroad in Cairns, which is considered the gateway city to the Great Barrier Reef. Although Cairns is in a very tropical region, it is incredibly dry a couple hours west in the Atherton Tablelands. Australia is a very water-scarce country, and its lack of water affects the agricultural industry and Aboriginal culture. Lastly, I had the opportunity during the 2015 spring term to travel to South Korea for 1.5 weeks to attend the World Water Forum with a graduate-level class I was taking. At the conference, I met experts and attended lectures that addressed the varied consequences of water insecurity. In India, I hope to look at these conditions more in-depth through my internship, as well as my research.
I am excited to explore India this summer academically and professionally, as well as culturally. Since arriving in Delhi yesterday evening (around 11pm), I have only been at the International Habitat Center (which is BEAUTIFUL). I couldn’t go to sleep last night at a reasonable hour, and ended up sleeping-in until 3:00pm. Therefore, I am looking forward to the flood of colors, smells, and tastes I will be inundated with during my 11-week stay in India (10 of which will be in Bagli, and the last week traveling in Northern India – if you have any recommendations of places I should visit, PLEASE contact me). I heard so many things about India from the great blog posts written by my peers (definitely check them out if you haven’t already!), the Center for the Advance Study of India (CASI), my CASI buddy (shoot-out to Dani!), my Indian brother-in-law, friends and acquaintances. For example, the Delta airlines agent that checked me in to my flight told me “there is no place like India elsewhere on Earth.” He was a pretty interesting guy, and had traveled extensively prior to working for Delta, as he was a professor at Cornell and conducted research funded by that and other institutions in China, Nepal, and Vietnam, among other countries. Every time he travels to India (he goes every year), he feels as though he is stepping into another reality, as the culture, food, customs, and beliefs differ so much from those in the United States. I cannot wait to experience India myself. I am a bit spoiled right now at the Habitat Center (I feel like a queen in my hotel room), but am looking forward to experiencing traditional life in Bagli with bucket showers included!
I imagine that living in rural India will be quite a transition from living in America, but am looking forward to the challenge. I had a one-day layover in Paris (I have never been to Europe – except a one-night layover in Vienna) and decided to treat myself to the pleasures of city life before arriving in India. I took obligatory selfies at the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, practiced my French with locals, ate a crepe at a public garden, and looked at the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Les Invalides, and the Panthéon, among others, from the comfort of a double-decker tour bus (unfortunately, I did not have time to go visit these sites). In the evening, I met with my French ‘uncle’ for a typical French dinner (which included escargots, foie gras, steak tartare, and ris de veau). My flight from Paris to Delhi was also a treat. My family friend is a pilot, and one of his buddies manned my plane from Paris to Delhi. Therefore, I was upgraded to business class (it was my first time flying business!) for my 8-hour flight. After that experience, it might be hard to switch gears for my flight tomorrow to Indore!
Anyways, I am on my way now for my first authentic meal in India with Andrew (my fellow SPS intern) and Emmerich (who is a CASI travel fund winner). I promise that my next post will not be as long!