As I am closing in on my final few weeks in India my heart is filled with bittersweet sadness. On one hand I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends (and cats) back home, but on the other I am deeply sad to be leaving this place that has become my home for 6 months. It is strange to think of it this way now, when only a few months ago I felt very isolated here and nothing was familiar to me; whereas now everything has gained a familiarity in my heart, the sounds, the sights and the smells. My senses are no longer overwhelmed but instead welcome my daily life with each hazy sunrise, my feet are on the ground and my language barrier slowly becoming less. It is this familiarity of a place I once never knew, now a place I have found my footing, and in this process of finding where I fit into the grooves of this wonderous beautiful country I have found pieces of myself that I didn’t know were missing. It almost feels selfish to be leaving this country with more than I came with, as it has given me more than I surely have given it. It’s hard to find words to express my feelings on my experiences here. I came inspired to create some kind of change or provide help in some way, anyway, but what I have found is that I don’t have all the answers, no one does. The answers to all issues, big and small can only be answered in the voices of all.
This was one of my biggest realizations, as I kept thinking that I was coming here with something to offer- but it wasn’t about what I had to offer, it was about actually listening to what everyone else had to offer. It was a revelation to realize that in many ways I had absolutely nothing to offer, and instead the communities I was visiting and meeting with had not only made light years of “progress” on their own, but what they were lacking was not a foreign student, it was a voice in a system that is predisposed to silent and surpass such voices.
These villages and communities and people as a whole have already selflessly demonstrated development on their own terms, and continue to find ways that are true to their beliefs, cultures and capacities to continuously climb an ever increasingly steep mountain. Where was the recognition for this? I was blown away by the sacrifices that are constantly being made by women (primarily) without question.
What is the answer? I don’t know and I never will; I don’t have all the answers and no one does.
But if I were to suggest a starting point, I think one could start with actively listening to the symphony of voices that exist within all places, and finding the best ways to do this, whether that be through creative expression or storytelling or simply conversations. As it is only by this act of listening that we can find our place in such communities or environments, and then understand how we can also lend our voice. Similar to that of a symphony, one must learn the instrument, appreciate the music and meet the orchestra before attempting to join in and play. By not learning these first, you will always be out of tune with the rest of the music and therefore always missing some piece of information. For we all must learn to work together, learn together and play together before we can make beautiful music together.
In my experience here with PRIA, I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for allowing me to visit these communities and hear the voices and stories of the people there. This experience has been deeply rewarding in terms of my personal growth, finding my inspiration that I once thought was lost and allowing me to find my place here within the organization, as well in my work and future research. I have been able to see the undeniable amount of good work that has been done by PRIA, as well as witness some of the gaps in the larger overarching system, which I see could be improved to result in more effective approaches to community engagement and future development.
And finally, I will be bidding farewell to India with heavy baggage, but not with souvenirs. My heart, mind and soul filled to the brim with passion, love and inspiration that I have acquired over the past months of my journey here.