It finally happened. We taught young girls volleyball.
It is the last night of my internship here in Araku, and my departure will be nothing if not bittersweet.
My co-intern, Gabriela, and I returned from a quick weekend trip in Mumbai to notes from our supervisor detailing how she would like our final report to look.
We’d collected our desired information—having interviewed more than fifteen interviews over sixty farmers and their families asking our list of cultural change related questions—and had dozens of pages of transcribed information. The next step was to complete our analysis. What did the answers that farmers provided us with tell us about their culture and the changes that were being made in the culture? And what was Naandi’s role in the entire process?
Using a set of “Cultural Change Criteria,” we took the transcribed interviews and made a series of data tables, charts, and conclusions. Some of the categories that we included and deemed important signs of cultural change within a village included, “a decreased reliance in traditional medicine (TM),” “lack of traditional nose rings and jewelry,” and “preference for English alcohol over local.”
These topics were decided upon for a number of reasons. Pertaining to decreased reliance in TM, tribal Indians have strong ties to the creation of Ayurvedic medicines, or TM, and thus a decreased reliance on something that they are credited to helping create insinuates a detachment from historical practices that have been in place for, at minimum, centuries. Likewise, local alcohols such as tapping a tree called toddy and letting the sap from the tree ferment and wearing a series of nose rings—in which size and number designate one’s position in the community—are synonymous with Adivasi culture, and thus changes in both preference and actions highlights a removal or detachment from the culture that is currently in place for those communities.
Following a few 10 am to 3am days in a row, we came to the overall conclusion: cultural change is happening in tribal farming villages. However, those changes are not purely the result of partnering with Naandi, nor are the changes that are happening not welcome by the farmers. In fact, most asked expressed a likeness for their present state.
We gave a detailed presentation to higher-ups at the Araku office and left with them a written report nearly 125 pages long.
Immediately after our presentation, Gabriela and I ran back to the guest house to get ready to teach some children volleyball.
Approximately four weeks ago, Gabriela and I were casually hitting around a volleyball, which eventually turned into an impromptu coaching session for some nearby children. My only complaint? They were all boys. In India, unlike the US, volleyball is almost exclusively played by men, especially in more rural areas such as the Araku Valley. I wanted to change that. Throughout that lesson, I kept on telling the young boys that if they were to come the next time, they had to bring their sisters and girl neighbors with them. One would think that I had miraculously grown three extra heads. The concept of girl playing volleyball was completely foreign to them, and they were unsure how to approach it.
As monsoon season picked up, all of the planned occasions for us to teach locals volleyball again were washed away with the clay outdoor courts laden with thick red mud.
So we took on another approach: Naandi employees’ children. Almost all of the employees have children, and what’s more, almost all of them have daughters. We invited them to tell their children, some of whom we had met briefly in the past, that we wanted to teach them some basic volleyball skills. And, most importantly, while boys were more than welcome to participate, we really wanted to teach girls.
Around 5pm on our last day in Araku, this mission of teaching children volleyball finally happened!
Taking notes from volleyball camps that I have coached in the past, both at the high school and collegiate levels, and created a schedule. Gabriela and I would teach the children the basics of passing, and serving, followed by attempts to send the ball back and forth across the court located in Naandi’s coffee processing unit, or CPU.
Gabriela and I piled into a Mahindra Bolero with eight eager children dressed in everything but athletic wear—jeans, flip flops, large hair bows—and our driver Santosh and made our way to the nearby CPU where we would play. The lesson ensued, and I must admit there was nothing more rewarding than seeing the children take the instructions that we gave and find success in the skill we were working on.
As I look at my packed up suitcases and await the arrival of our incredible driver, Santosh’s, wife to give Gabriela and I henna, or mehndi as it is referred to as in India, I have only one regret about this experience: that we didn’t start teaching the children earlier. Though the monsoon was a major reasoning as to why we were unable to start a few weeks before, it would have been great to start some form of a constant program at the beginning of our internship.
It is crazy to think that this journey is coming to an end and that I will soon be on my way back to the United States where I will again be coaching children playing volleyball and will soon be back to playing with my team.