My time in India

I was sent to India in the Summer of 2010 for free by  Platform2 and given the opportunity to experience the Indian lifestyle in its rawest form. In hindsight my visit taught me a lot not just about myself but about the culture, people and development issues that we as Westerners overlook.
Entering India was like entering another world that is in honesty about 100 years behind the rest. What makes my ten week visit stand out above the rest though is that I didn’t just see the town and tourist hotspots. I actually lived in the desert and worked in a local village. I saw the local’s houses and villages, their communities, where they get their water and even what they eat. In England if you were faced with a single chapatti and a ladle of watery dhal you’d sneer. In the area of India where I spent my time you’d be grateful, eat every last bit and even lick your fingers afterwards as your next meal wasn’t necessarily guaranteed. In contrast many British children can be brought up with views of superficiality that are accepted and material possessions expected because if the 7 year old child down the road doesn’t get the new Nintendo DS game he wants then there is hell to pay. The 7 year olds I met in India played with kites made from scraps of plastic bag, twigs off trees and sewing cotton and were happy. In fact, one boy’s home-made kite got ruined on one occasion and it broke his heart. If that were to happen in England and it’s almost nothing to buy a brand new one from some supermarket chain and give it over to a crying child.
A difference such as that is apparent as Western countries trade from poorer ones such as India and get richer, all the while the poorer ones get poorer. The day care manager at the village I worked in was a very accomplished clothes/accessory maker and she sold her products at a very cheap price, but like the shop owners in town she would accept a pittance if you offered it to her. Something is always better than nothing. The people there are living off an average of £365 per year (whereas in the UK it is £22,800 per year) and with that they have to make a living and feed their families. Their trades depend on the tourist season but many tourists are there for a steal and refuse to pay more than 150 rupees (about £2) for an item that would cost triple that in the UK. Talk about exploitation. When volunteering we had a 500 rupees per week allowance (about £8) and that alone is much more than that average and allowed us to purchase luxuries such as meals out, bottles of cola and other things the Indians simply can’t afford.
Now I’m not saying the world doesn’t help them – the Department for International Development (DFiD) has given over a billion pounds in aid to India over the past 5 years to help with education and health in urban areas but although it is aimed at the ‘rural’ areas, I personally can’t help but get the feeling that the little villages near Jaisalmer were forgotten about. We wouldn’t have been there helping otherwise would we? And now, as the programme is coming to an end, what happens then? I never thought of that until now. I’m not saying its dead money either as all the villages now have schools which is something they didn’t have before and all the children are now entitled to a free education. I also realise that the money from DFiD sent us there as well but I got the impression that most of this aid was unheard of to the Indian people. A doctor arrived at our village once to give free TB injections but nobody went for them and why? Well, because nobody was told about them. The reality is we had to go around our community to ensure as many children and babies went for the vaccinations as possible and that is a good thing but it is a good thing that is made sadder by the fact that volunteers will not always be there to do that and diseases such as polio and TB are rife in the area.
People complain about Britain all the time but the truth is we are one of the most powerful and advanced countries in the world. Those who ignore that maybe need to visit a poverty stricken county to realise it. I won’t lie, it took this experience for me to realise how lucky I am to have what I do and I certainly will not be as superficial or materialistic anymore. As well as that though, there’s another thing that’s for sure – I won’t be forgetting my time in India in a hurry.