Daniel Prinz (Hungary, AC 07-09)
Taking part in MUWCI’s Encounter India program has been an enormous opportunity for me as I have never been outside Europe before. That means that I have never been to the so-called Third World or a developing country. The name Third World seems to be justified insofar as India seems to belong to an entirely different world, though one finds giveaways of an increasing connection with Europe and America. When walking into a house without a proper floor from a street that is nothing else but mud, we see TVs, DVD-players, fridges inside. Though clean drinking water is still lacking, we can buy Coca-Cola and Sprite in the small shops of the villages.
In fact, I have never spent more than a week in a rural area in any country if not for hiking in the Tatra, so even the experience villages has been new for me. The outlook of people on life, the reality of their everyday lives, their dreams – if they exist – are fundamentally different but at the same time resembling of those of the urban Indians I have met while in their country. The rich urban Indian is richer and more ambitious than the middle class Westerner. The rich urban Indian often goes to expensive international schools and then to an American college which perpetuates his or her social standing. The Indian living in the village often drops out from school after fourth grade and seldom continues his or her education beyond high school. But at the same time, they all seem to value education, only they do not have equal opportunities to attain it.
Some of the initiatives I have seen in rural India are truly world-class. We interacted with people with mental disabilities and mental illnesses who live in a home created by the NGO Sadhana. The care they receive and the activities they do are still lacking in places that are deemed developed. Gomukh, an NGO involved in growing organic vegetables and selling in directly to people living in the city does something highly sought after in Europe. To buy organic food directly from the producer is longed after by populations of cities in Europe just as much as those in India. These organizations have to be talked about by their own right not because they operate in circumstances of poverty.
These things form a part of the “real” India as mush as poverty and a desperate need for development do. We should by no means talk of India as something that has no hope or that lacks initiatives or enthusiasm. And maybe we should not talk of India as something that we have seen in its entirety. And by this I do not mean that we have only seen a tiny part of a vast country but that the experience we had has nothing to do with the experiences of the people living here. How could it, when we go to the villages by car, stay there for a short while than get back in our cars and drive away. We eat tasty food four times a day, and in the evenings we sit down at our computers and go on Facebook. Like this, we are nothing more than outsiders. We are not willing to compromise on what we have a “right” to. We will not sit for three hours in a regular Indian bus crammed with people or if we will, only for the hell of it.
Most probably, however, in three weeks we cannot go further than this, but even this sort of experience as a complete outsider is valuable. I have learnt a lot about different human reactions when pushed outside one’s comfort zone. I have seen how one gets from the point where one says “it is so disgusting in the mud, let me wash my feet” to the point where one says “I will be the hero to walk for half an hour barefoot in the mud to see where the villagers get their water from”. I have seen how one loudly speaks about the “real experience” but is then unwilling to get out for the briefest from the comfort of the private car and the “seven people on seven seats”. India has a long way to go. So do we.
– United World College Student Magazine –