Sawaal Achchhe Hain

It feels a bit weird to be submitting this “final” blog post now. While a lot of my IEDP classmates have already finished their internships and returned home or gone back to Penn for another semester, I still have two weeks left to wrap up here in Delhi. Or maybe I should say gear up, because there’s a lot to be done before I leave AKF! Three months can seem like both a long and incredibly short period in a new country. It’s maybe just enough to sense that you’ve left a mark, even if only a small one, and I know that when it does come time to say goodbye, I’ll have a lot to take away from this experience.

So what am I doing in my final couple of weeks? Well recently I went on a second field visit with my colleagues to Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh to visit our ECD centers and film footage for our Blended Learning Initiative growth monitoring course which I wrote about in my last blog post. Bahraich is a rural city a short distance from the Nepal border and AKF has a strong presence here. The organization has established ECD centers and strengthened existing Anganwadi centers so that the children in Bahraich have safe, clean, engaging environments to go to regularly where they can learn and thrive.

Bahraich is very rural, and I think we saw more cows and water buffalo in Bahraich than I have seen in my entire previous ten weeks in India!

It’s a good idea to expect the unexpected on field visits! You never know when you might have to switch hotel rooms in the middle of the night because you’re sharing yours with a large rat, or something is burning under the hood of your taxi driver’s car causing it to smoke, or you come prepared with all your camera equipment only to find out that the tripod is not compatible with the camera when you’re ready to start filming. Despite all these (mis)adventures, it was a productive visit and one highlight in particular for me was meeting three girls who are participating in AKF’s adolescent girls’ program. Hearing their stories (translated from Hindi to English by my colleague) about how their lives are being transformed through the program’s life skills and vocational training was a truly memorable experience.

Back in the office this week, I’m continuing to work on the script for the first two modules of the growth monitoring course about why the practice is important and how Anganwadi workers and ECD instructors should measure the height and weight of children. I also mentioned in my last post that I’ll be designing and facilitating a two-day English teacher training workshop which will take place in AKF’s Patna office during my last week. These two tasks will definitely keep me busy and engaged between now and September 14th. I’m planning to do some more sightseeing around Delhi as well.

Sunset over Deer Park Lake in Hauz Khas Village, Delhi

When I started writing this blog post (which is actually my last IEDP assignment!) I realized that the timing was a little serendipitous. This week last year was when our class began the IEDP program and started the journey that has taken us to places all over the world. I came into the program with a lot of questions about working in the educational development space, but as my supervisor said to me when I first arrived in Delhi, “Sawaal achchhe hain.” Questions are good.

I’ve had countless questions over the summer about India’s education system, AKF’s work, the role of NGOs in educational development here, general life in Delhi, and my colleagues have kindly and patiently answered them as they came up. But reflecting on this experience, I still have more questions, some of which may never have a clear answer. I’ve wondered a lot about my work here and my place within an international development organization. Is my presence as a foreigner helpful or a hindrance? Sometimes during field visits I’ve questioned if I’m too much of a distraction, taking away the focus from the participant we are interviewing for a case study for example. Projects carried out with good intent could still potentially be ineffective or unsustainable, so why do we do them? I’m glad that we had so many discussions in Prosem about positionality, ethics, and the complexities of working in development and I’ve now been able to see these concepts in a real world setting. Those conversations prepared me to go into this internship with an open mind and ask those tough questions which are really crucial to development work.

No doubt I will have more questions in the next two weeks as I work on my final deliverables and start to say my goodbyes to colleagues and the friends I’ve made in Delhi. A big one on my mind right now is with everything I have learned and taken from this experience, where do I go from here? I probably won’t know the answer to this any time soon, but I won’t let that stop me from asking. After all, sawaal achchhe hain. Questions are good.

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