It’s been three weeks now since I landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport on May 20th. I arrived with two of my Shahi co-interns, Josh and Gabby (Lawrence had already arrived on a different flight earlier that morning). During the cab ride from the airport to the Habitat Centre, I remember being filled with excitement, exhaustion, and an overwhelming amount of scenery to take in from the early morning streets of Delhi.
Before I continue, I should probably introduce myself! My name is Zeba Raisa Shah, but I prefer to be called by my middle name, Raisa. I am a rising junior at Penn studying Political Science, concentrating in International Relations, and minoring in Spanish. I was born in Bangladesh – for those who are not familiar, that’s a tiny country in South Asia, just east of India also bordering Myanmar. I moved to the United States in October, 2006 with my mom, dad and brother; I was nine years old at the time. Living in Albuquerque, New Mexico (random, I know), it was almost too easy embracing the different sides of my identity as a Bengali Muslim immigrant. I was privileged enough to attend a school that genuinely embraced diversity and over the past ten years, my family has settled into New Mexico as if we were always there. It wasn’t until I arrived at Penn that many other parts of my identity started to become more salient and I struggled to navigate this Ivy League university as a first generation student, a low income student, an Asian American, and a young woman. These identities have become integral parts of my college experience and I can’t imagine being myself without engaging with them both on campus and off.
Now that we’ve established who I am, let me explain how I ended up in India this summer! I came to India through Penn’s Center for Advanced Study of India (CASI) internship program. I am working at the Operational Development (OD) department of Shahi Exports, India’s largest readymade garment exporter. The purpose of OD is to improve worker welfare while still maximizing company productivity. I became interested in this particular internship due to its women’s empowerment aspect. The garment industry has revolutionized the lives of millions of women in South Asia by employing unskilled labor. Given my Bangladeshi background, where the industry is even larger than India, I already had a little bit of familiarity to some of the challenges that this industry faces. The OD department at Shahi has many programs to empower women through leadership, education, and soft skills training.
Each intern at Shahi is working on a specific project of their interest as well as collaborating on some other projects. I, for example, am particularly interested in the migrant workers that come to Bangalore for work and leave their families behind. A huge percentage of Shahi workers come from other parts of India such as Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, etc. Not only do they face language barriers, they also have to adjust to the hectic urban life of Bangalore. Shahi has partnered with an NGO called Janodaya to provide hostels for these migrant workers. I plan to look into these hostels and work to create a model hostel standard that can be used in the future by Shahi to ensure quality living conditions. Furthermore, I want to work to design some language classes that can help alleviate the language barriers that the migrant workers face. Lastly, I’ll be working with Lawrence to design a standard curriculum for the workers’ children that use Shahi’s childcare facilities, while incorporating nutrition education and information for both the children and their mothers.
I’ll get into more details of my projects in future blogs, as well as more about my unique experiences in India, but that’s all for now!