From Bogotá to Bangalore – my experience in the field in India
While my family and friends back home in Bogota, Colombia anxiously awaited word of my safe arrival in Bangalore and continued to worry that the worse was true from their Google searches of my new home for the next few weeks, I was happily getting acquainted on my (very long!) flight with Dr. Murphy, a professor, and Dr. Dharma, a medical doctor. They were my first impressions of this new place, and I couldn’t have been treated better. They shared kind words about the people I would meet and reassured me that Bangalore was a beautiful and safe place to visit, while also showing me a window into their lives. They were both returning to India after receiving educations abroad, hopeful now to improve the lives of others in their home country of India.
My first couple of days were amazing! As soon as I got acquainted with the Accion staff in Bangalore – we were off! We went to visit financial education clients in Trivandrum, a city in the southern Indian state of Kerala which has a population of nearly 3.7 million people and hosts the state government. Generally speaking, the urban areas are pretty well-off, with a large majority of the population working in business. We were headed to the more rural area though, where agriculture is the main way of life. This is where Accion and its partner, Muthoot Fincorp, promote the Dialogue on Business training program, mostly for women. Check out this great interview with Thomas Muthoot, from last year’s Ambassador, Stephen Lee.
‘Excellent!’ was what one woman told me about her experience with the program. You can’t get more direct feedback that that! Others, however, provided more detailed comments, like, ‘now I understand better the value of money,’ and, ‘I am proud that I can more easily manage my family’s budget,’ – and all were delivered with big, broad smiles.
Back in Bangalore, I found it quite easy to get around. Whenever you are anywhere, you can count on an ‘autorick’ being right where you need it, to get you to where you are going. They do drive though on the other side of the road in India – which is especially confusing t if you are trying to look both ways before crossing the street as they are coming from the opposite direction than I am used to. Even while being plentiful and affordable however, they are not without their challenges. For instance, autoricks should not be used by the faint of heart or anyone with health issues – the drivers, with usually very little English, dart back and forth between lanes to wherever there is enough space in which to pass someone else. The space they need is also always less than you think it is.
I was impressed with nearly everything that I experienced throughout my stay. But one of my favorite activities that I witnessed was one of the financial literacy classed I witnessed, called the ‘Nylon Bag.’ In this activity, women are supposed to work together as a team to create a bag out of raw materials. One woman separates the materials while another attaches the handles. Then, a third woman creates the body of the bag, and the last woman finishes it off by using a candle to burn and seal the bottom of the bag together. This activity teaches the women the importance of working together as a team – and also how to make these useful bags as well!
One of Accion’s core values is a passion for social change, and I really felt that I saw this value in action throughout my stay in India. The Accion staff is passionate about their students and their curriculum, and the clients themselves are passionate about learning new techniques to improve their lives. While we might not see a drastic change in their lives right away, I am optimistic that the next generation in India will be better equipped – maybe they will even follow in the footsteps of my friends from the airplane, Dr. Murphy and Dr. Dharma.