Sojourn in India: Reflections from a Human Relations Perspective, Part 1 – Delhi

by Randy Duque, Deputy Director – Community Relations Division

The following is part one of a four part series on my experience in India as a representative of the City and PCHR.

I was hot…and tired…and a little cranky.  After all, since touching down in New Delhi the night before last after eighteen or so total hours in the air, we had already met with five different groups to get a crash course in the politics and social issues of India. While each meeting up to this point gave us a rich understanding of the complex social and political landscapes of India, the site that my group and I were visiting at this moment seemed to resonate with everything I was involved in back in Philadelphia.  We were standing in one of the many slums of India.

Nominated on a long shot by Citizens Diplomacy International Philadelphia, I received a surprising email in mid-May of this year from the World Learning organization congratulating me on being accepted into the Professional Fellows Program for Governance and Society, South and Central Asia—a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by World Learning.  From June 20th to July 4th, 2018, I, along with ten other people of various professional backgrounds from Ohio, Washington D.C., and Oklahoma; would travel to the nation of India to promote mutual understandings of good governance and social responsibility in the cities of Delhi, Chennai, and Bengaluru.  While only two days into the trip, the work we were witnessing at this moment would touch us all.

Despite it being late afternoon, the sun was still high (along with the temperature) when we stepped out of our transports at the edge of the encampment.  Over by a tree on a low rise of ground, a large number of children sat on a massive tarp receiving instructions by volunteers from the Save Child Beggar (SCB) group.  When we approached them, we were greeted with a mix of excitement for having visitors and apathy as several of the children were deeply focused on their lessons.  Our hosts explained to us that SCB volunteers work throughout the city’s slums teaching children various subjects like math, reading and writing; and art so that they can be successful in entering and remaining in school and in turn; staying off the streets.  We heard from one of the parents who was grateful to tears for the education her child was getting and we spoke to some of the children who also graciously gave us some of their artwork.  As I held one of these pieces, I was reminded of an operation focused on giving young women the skills and education to be leaders in technology that we visited earlier that day.

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Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) is situated in a colorfully decorated tight basement off a narrow street in New Delhi.  On the walls of their space were numerous photos and artwork made by participants of the program.  As our delegation sat around long tables, we heard about the social, educational, and professional issues girls and young women faced in India and that FAT seeks to break gender stereotypes and bring about equality in society and the technological workforce.  Not only did these young women learn about technology, but many applied their knowledge to create videos to address other social issues women faced in villages like early and forced marriage; and health problems associated with lack of access to sanitary washrooms.

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My mind raced as I thought about the extraordinary work that people were doing to address disparities in their communities—feeling hope and a sense of kindred purpose to help those in social inequities—when I felt a tug on my shirt.  I looked down at a small boy and read frustration and embarrassment in his eyes.  I had noticed him struggle earlier with a lesson and perhaps he was still feeling it or maybe he wanted to talk to us, but did not feel confident enough.  The boy handed me one of his drawings—on one side, a happy fish and on the flip-side; a house.  Through help from one of the SCB volunteers, I asked him what the pictures meant.  While he only shrugged at the fish, he said he hoped to have a house like the one he drew some day…and I hope that he and the other children will all be able to have a home for themselves and their families like the one I was holding in my hand.

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