Happy Diwali!

Posted on October 19th, 2009 by

Hey folks!

For most of us, last weekend was a relaxed one filled mostly with leisurly reading and exchanging stories from our field visits. We have been making our own dinner on the Sundays that we are here in Bangalore in order to give Clara, the fabulous Visthar head cook, a break. It had been a while since we last cooked, but our spaghetti and garlic bread turned out delicious. We made some monster cookies too which were a nice taste of home for all.

This week has been busy. We have had many experiences in the classroom and outside of the classroom we are all busy preparing our final assignment for the Globalization unit, thinking and starting to prepare our final projects, planning our trips for our week-long break and preparing for our month-long travels that will follow that break.

Monday was spent in the classroom. In the morning we reflected as a group on the development we had seen in our field visits. Our instructors directed our conversations to explore who is doing the development we had seen and for whom and also what the benefits and cost of that ddevelopment are. In the afternoon, Dr. Kumar from Bangalore University did one session on development theory and another on globalization. Dr. Kumar presented to us a much more people and environment centric model of development that he argues is necessary to create a sustainable world. His ideas were fascinating and thought-provoking; you could almost hear the gears whirring in our heads as he finished talking. Throughout the week we have continued to have converstations about his ideas. On Monday night we watched a Bollywood film called Tare Zameen Par. It is about Ishaan, a young boy with dyslexia and his struggles to suceed in the Indian school system.

It was wonderfully made and served as a great introduction to what was planned for us on Tuesday. In the morning, half of us went to the government school that some of the Bandhavi girls attend and the other half of us went to St. Charles School, a Catholic private girls’ school in the city. I was part of the group that went to St. Charles. While there, we had the opportunity to sit and talk with a class of about 40 girls, all of whom are in 10th standard. We all had a great time there because we got to ask girls who are not much younger than us about their lives, their education, their ambitions, etc. We were all amazed by how well they answered our questions and even more so by the questions they asked us. One of the girls, Asma, asked us what we are doing to protect the environment in light of the hole in the ozone, another girl asked us if we thought it was fair that President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize so early in his career when Mahatma Gandhi never won it, even after a lifetime of working toward peace. They were great questions that pushed us to think. We all left the school smiling and returned to Visthar for an afternoon lecture on traditional education systems in India.

On Wednesday morning we visited the 7th Day Adventist Hospital in Bangalore where Dr. S.K. (the man who taught us yoga earlier in the semester) gave us a tour. The hospital is private but they have a policy of not turning anyone away for financial reasons. Interestingly, though, Dr. S.K. told us that they do not get too many people who cannot pay coming to their hospital in the first place because lower-class people are intimidated by the large building in which the hospital is located. On our way back to Visthar from the hospital, we stopped in at the local Primary Health Center(PHC) for a bit. Primary Health Centers are run by the government and are most people’s immediate source of medical care. The director of this center explained to us the concept of PHC’s and told us a little bit about this particular PHC: how many people work at it, how many people it services, etc. We returned to Visthar for lunch with a much better understanding of the Indian healthcare system. We had the afternoon off. Many of us used this time to learn how to play cricket. Sham, a member of Visthar’s staff, was nice enough to teach us how to play.

We had Thursday morning off to begin working on our papers and projects for the Globalization unit. During this time, a few of us helped sort clothing that will be sent to help provide relief in Koppal. Koppal, where we had our first field visit, is now experiencing severe flooding. Many of the roads that we drove on just a few weeks are ago are not completely under water. Sham, Nazer and David have been putting in a lot of time going back and forth from Bangalore to Koppal to try to organize relief efforts. For more information on the current situation or if you or someone you know would like to help out, let your student know. Lindsay, another Visthar staff member, has set up a system for people in the United States to send monetary donations to Visthar via a Des Moines based church. Visthar, in turn, will make sure that those funds are appropriately allocated.

On Thursday afternoon, we had a lecture from Prasanna, a very charismatic man who has recently completed graduate work in public health. Prasanna talked about health in a globalized world. He spoke of the need for governments to take responsibility for providing health care since, as he put it, “something as vital as healthcare cannot be left to the market.” It was a great lecture and very relevant for us in thinking about the current healthcare debate back home.

On Friday morning, we prepared and presented short arguments in groups about various topics such as technology’s role in agriculture and problems of food distribution. These presentations sparked interesting conversation and debate as we talked about why there are people without adequate food and nutrition all over the world and how that problem can be fixed. In the afternoon we watched a short documentary about food sovereignty and had a discussion focused on what we as student consumers and future doctors/lawyers/policy makers/teachers/social workers in particular can do to promote fair and just food and agriculture practices.

It is Diwali weekend, so we don’t have class today (Monday). That reminds me: for the first time ever, Diwali was celebrated in the White House! You can see pictures of President Obama’s Diwali celebrations online if you’d like. Most of the group took advantage of this long weekend to see another part of India. On Friday night, six members of our group headed to Goa, and on Saturday morning, nine more headed out for a safari in Kerala. The safari group should be getting back in a few hours and the Goa group should get back early tomorrow morning. I look forward to hearing stories from both groups! The three of us who stayed in Bangalore for the weekend have some stories to share as well. Diwali is the festival of light and we definitely saw our fair share of lights this weekend! We had dinner at David’s (the director of Visthar) house one night and lit off some fireworks with a few children who live in the neighborhood. Yesterday, the Bandhavi girls put on a little Diwali presentation full of dances, skits, songs, and, of course, fireworks! The presentation was great and we had a wonderful time.

Tomorrow it is back to class and then, a few days later we’ll be on our mid-semester break. It is hard to believe our time in India is nearly half over. We are enjoying every second of it. We have heard that it is snowing back at home. We’ll make sure to enjoy our mid-70 degree weather if you promise to enjoy the 20 degree weather over there. That’s a fair exchange, right?

Take care and Happy Diwali!



  1. Barbara Keith says:

    Thanks for a very informative and thought-provoking post, Ayah. Those of you on this experience are being changed from the inside out. What a fantastic way to learn about the world and the diversity of people and environments which make up the whole.

  2. Rachel Mathiowetz says:

    Hey Ayah! Thanks for the blog entry! I’ve been reading all of the entries from the S.J.P.D. group, and am always anxious to hear more about the interesting experiences you all are having in India. I’m actually planning to go with the group next Fall, so the blog is giving me a glimpse of what to expect, and let me tell you, it is leaving me on the edge of my seat excited as ever! :-)

    Enjoy your mid-semester break everyone!

    P.S. The weather has been nice to us in Minnesota the last couple of days, a good change from the cold we just encountered last week. It was about 48 degrees here today, basically a beautiful fall day. :-)

  3. Mona Ibrahim says:

    Happy belated Diwali to you too dear Ayah! Thanks for the enjoyable post. It is so great that the group got such a close look at the education and healthcare systems. You also got a taste of the culture with the movies you saw, the holidays you participated in, the mosques & temples you visited. What a way for the group to really begin to understand India! Makes me think my month-long class in the summer is really not sufficient at all. I definitely need to make it a semester long ;)
    P.S. I am glad I finally found this post and a couple others that were not filed under the India category like the other posts for some reason.

    Thanks again for the wonderful post. Please keep us updated on your recent month-long tour.