Arriving in incredible India

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Namaste, my name is Debbi, 24 years old, from Germany, and I’m United for Hope’s new intern for the upcoming months. Until the end of the year, I will assist with the management and development of all projects, administrative work as well as teach English.

Within the first weeks of being in Tirmasahun, I have already been overwhelmed with so many first impressions and experiences. And, to be honest, I don’t even know where to begin.

Of course, coming to rural India is an immense culture shock. Despite having been to developing countries and having studied international development, I have never seen such poverty or anything like India. The first hours in the craziness of India’s traffic, getting my first stares that I would be getting more used to in the next weeks, I finally arrived at the community centre after 30 hours of traveling. My home and safe harbour for the next months.

Here, I was welcomed with chai and food and shown around. First things first: a big shout out to the whole staff, they are just the best. Since I arrived here, whenever I’m lost in this culture and don’t know what is going on, there is always at least one person who explains and guides me whether it’s Tara, Payal, Heike or Krishna. The positivity, the singing and dancing of Vishal and Sudha, when Nandlal cracks a big smile, and Sukai’s amazing food and chai, just inevitably put a smile on your face.

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Then of course, the kids and the people in the village. I was worried about language barriers and on my first day in the government school I was definitely overwhelmed with about 20 kids surrounding me and babbling in Hindi. How do you say you don’t understand in Hindi? These kinds of things I’d be learning over the next days. But the kids are so curious and kind, want to learn, invite you into their houses to meet their families, bring flowers and constantly want to know things about your country and yourself. I can’t wait to teach them. Also, despite the poverty, hospitality is such an important thing. On my very first day, I got invited into many homes, sat down in the huts (once next to a pregnant cow), got offered drinks and sweets and got lots of curious questions which were kindly translated by Payal. I learned quickly that with the existing language barrier, smiling always counts as a shared language. Generally, people smile and laugh way more which is simply contagious.

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Not only do you get spontaneously invited into homes but also to celebrations and events. Thus, I already attended an Indian wedding in the village, went to a cleanliness awareness march of another school, ending up in the newspaper, and celebrated Holi, a Hindu spring festival with Krishna’s and Payal’s families. Everything happens super spontaneously and you never know what you could be doing the next day. It’s living in the moment, quite in contrast to my planning-in-advance mindset.

Next to people’s kindness and hospitality, I’m impressed that really nothing is impossible in India. There is always a creative way to get things done whether it’s construction, getting equipment or anything else which would take weeks in advance or fancy professional equipment in Germany. This is perfectly described by one of my favourite words in Hindi: jugaad. ‘Jugaad’ means a ‘flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way’ and there is no word as appropriate to describe the Indian way of working.

Supporting the management of the solar project made me meet more people outside of Tirmasahun, especially small shop owners in towns nearby and brick factory workers. This experience has been very educational. Not only I get more and more used to the starring, but also get more a feel for the people, their hard-working nature, and their needs.

I’m very excited to contribute to the management and developing of all projects and, after surrendering myself to India, looking forward to all upcoming experiences this year.

Debbi for United for Hope

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