This summer I joined my fellow Blue Devils in Udaipur, India as part of Duke’s India Program for International Development Leaders. While I was initially hesitant to commit to a program that was not directly related to my Master’s national security concentration, my interest in national security policy and its relation to U.S. international development initiatives led me to embark on a six-week journey to Rajasthan, India.
I stayed in Udaipur, India, which is one of the smaller cities in Rajasthan surrounded by three lakes, adorned with winding streets, alluring scents, luxurious hotels, breathtaking palaces, and vibrant colors on every corner. Our group stayed at the Indian Institute of Management where we engaged in Management and Development classes, as well as multiple local village stays. The purpose of the program was to introduce us to field research in rural India where we had the opportunity to provide a needs assessment to a local NGO. Along with one Indian graduate student and one Indian business professional, I was paired up with Jatan Sanasthan, a local NGO that focused on integrated development of villages in the area. The NGO had four main initiatives: awareness campaigns and advocacy for improvement in maternal health and social accountability; capacity building and empowerment of elected women representatives; dissemination of quality education for adolescent youth; and integrated village advancement.
Sunset over Udaipur, India.
Our Duke group stayed at the institute’s dorms (or what they locally call “hostels”) where we had communal showers with no cold water, no air conditioning, poor internet connection, and where lizards frequented our rooms. However, the Duke group quickly adapted, became close friends with our Indian counterparts, and each night ended up having mini-social events in each other’s rooms while getting ready for next day’s class. We had a chance to explore the city under the scorching sun and even get caught in the first monsoon of the season. We trekked through forts, got lost in the winding streets, and occasionally got sick (as expected!) from eating the alluring street food from the city’s vendors. We took countless rides in auto rickshaws while watching everyday life in Udaipur flash before us. We learned how to bargain efficiently after paying too much for tunics (or kurtas), get the best rate for taxis, and even joined an Instagram photo walk with other eager photographers from across India. Almost like the scenes out of Best Exotic Merigold Hotel, Udaipur and its surrounding areas were nothing short of breathtaking and it is only when you truly immerse yourself in a new culture and let nothing faze you that you can truly appreciate it.
Exploring, exploring, and more exploring the temples outside Udaipur!
I was fortunate to experience India not just by visiting tourist sites and frequenting heritage tours. The India Program enabled me to immerse myself in the rural culture and understand how Indian society works on a local and tribal level. The village where my team and I conducted field research was located on the foothills of a mining facility. With unregulated mining for nearly 16 years in proximity of Sindesar Khurd village, the local population currently faces many issues, including environmental degradation, threat to life due to mining blasts, unregulated toxic dumping, qualitative-quantitative decimation of water resources (groundwater and traditional water harvesting structures), and depletion of air and soil quality. During my three village visits that ranged from 3 days to 7 days, I interacted with residents, who despite their troubles, opened their homes to us and offered what very little they had in hopes to gain support from the local NGO. During our visit, we even witnessed a protest that was organized by the local residents employed in the mine, demanding work and freer access to public infrastructure.
Local children in Sindesar Khurd
Despite the accumulating issues observed in Sindesar Khurd, our assessment of the village’s needs did not line up with Jatan’s resources. The solutions that the residents requested were not easily and quickly solved. After submitting our final report to the program and to the local NGO, my team and I could only recommend a solution that aimed to resolve the high educational dropout rate of the village’s youth. Despite the many issues we observed, we could not solve the most pressing ones. However, Jatan’s emerging presence in Sindesar Khurd could lead to the emergence of new solutions and developments in the near future. Becoming a part of such process was an invaluable and humbling lesson. India teaches you to expect anything, especially kindness, hospitality, and curiosity. If you are to return the favor, get ready for an experience like no other.
Karina Ibrahim is a second-year Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Sanford School concentrating in National Security.