Mountains and Memories

Eight weeks down, only four to go. I was sitting at my desk the other day thinking I had all the time in the world before the conclusion of this internship, only to look at my calendar and realize that time is quickly creeping up on me. I’m feeling the pressure at work to get several deliverables completed before my last day in between balancing trips to the field, public holidays, and juggling various deadlines. Not to get too metaphorical but it’s a bit like before this I’ve been on the easy part of a hiking trek and now I’ve reached the point where I have to start the steep climb up the summit to get to the other side of the mountain.

So first, a few developments on work. When I arrived at AKF in Delhi, a big part of my terms of reference (TOR) was to help develop a course on growth monitoring as part of AKF’s Blended Learning Initiative. Let me unpack that a little bit because it’s a lot of technical jargon. Blended learning means combining face-to-face, traditional classroom interaction with video-based online training. Course participants study on their own with short, video-based courses and then attend hands-on workshops taught by local facilitators to put what they have learned from the videos into action. Think watching a “how-to” video on YouTube and then participating in a workshop to discuss what you watched. These video-based courses can be accessed remotely and cost less than formal classroom training which are expensive and harder to adapt to local contexts.

I’ve been helping our field team in Bahraich put together a course outline and script for an upcoming course on growth monitoring designed for Anganwadi workers who provide basic health care and education programs to young children and families across India. Growth monitoring is the process of tracking a child’s growth rate through regular height and weight measurements to determine their nutritional status, and can detect any problems like nutritional deficiencies or feeding difficulties. Early childhood development (ECD) is not exactly my forte, but working on this project has helped me learn a lot more about ECD and also how AKF supports Anganwadi workers who are on the frontlines, working hard to make sure children and their families are supported during the crucial early years. This week a few of us from the Delhi office are travelling to Bahraich and will hopefully shoot some B-roll footage to be used in the blended learning video courses.

ECD may not be my strong suit just yet, but as is usually the case in the NGO/nonprofit world your attention can get pulled in a million directions at once, so the last few weeks my focus has shifted a bit to something I’m more comfortable with: English language assessment and training. I’ve been analyzing the results of a simple English assessment we gave to our school improvement program and adolescent girls program facilitators in Bahraich and Patna. From the assessment results, the plan is (ideally of course given the limited time I have left) for me to design and facilitate a 1-2 day workshop with a selected group of these facilitators on English teaching! …You want me to do what now? I won’t lie, this assignment seemed really daunting at the outset, but both of my supervisors have been very supportive and seem to feel confident that I’m up to the task. I hope I don’t let them down!

Moving from metaphorical uphill climbs in the office to actual mountains, over the past weekend I went on what felt a bit like a personal family pilgrimage of sorts to a hill station in the Himalayas called Mussoorie. Some of you reading may know this, but for those of you that don’t my dad actually went to high school in India at a boarding school called Woodstock. My dad can be a man of few words, and while he’s never spoken at length about his high school experiences in India, he suggested that I go while I was here since no one else in our immediate family besides my grandfather has ever been able to see the campus.

Getting to Mussoorie from Delhi is no simple feat, and I can only imagine how much harder it might have been for my dad 40 years ago when the roads were less developed. I left early morning on Thursday to take a six-hour train ride from Delhi to Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand state. From there it was another two hours in a taxi up to Woodstock in Mussoorie along winding mountain roads with hairpin turns and sheer drop offs to the side. I get carsick really easily and have a crippling fear of heights – not an ideal combination given the road conditions. But I made it in one piece (maybe a little worse for wear) to the campus. Woodstock is situated about 6500-7500 feet above sea level and from the window of my guest room I could look out over the foothills of the Himalayas, watching the mist and clouds rolling over the pine trees. The landscape is truly stunning and it’s easy to forget you’re even in India.

Dad didn’t think there would be anyone around anymore from his student days, but amazingly the woman working in the community affairs office had just joined the staff a few months before his graduation. When she greeted me with “Oh, you must be Ketchum’s daughter,” I was quite surprised! She showed me copies of my dad’s old yearbooks (the Beatles haircuts and bell bottom jeans were all the rage in the late 70s) and had two current students give me a tour of the campus.

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One of the perks (depending on what you think of the food) of staying at Woodstock is you get to eat every meal at the school dining hall. Saturday night after I came back from a long walk through the town I went to the dining hall for dinner at the scheduled time, only to find that the school was hosting a dinner reception for a staff member who had recently gotten married. I felt incredibly out of place when everyone else was dressed nicely in kurtas and saris, but a few of the teachers insisted that I was welcome to stay. I’m glad I did in the end because when I told them why I was visiting the school, they introduced me to another teacher who graduated the year after my dad! I sat with him and his wife during the reception while he told me stories about his and my dad’s time together at Woodstock. It was really heartwarming to get a glimpse into this part of my dad’s life and there’s no denying that Woodstock is a special place. I left Mussoorie on Sunday (down the same horrible, death defying mountain roads) happy that I had been able to experience a bit of my dad’s childhood, and with the knowledge that now we both had memories we could share about his school in the mountains.

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