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The Center for the Advanced Study of India provides funding and support to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct independent research and volunteer internships in India. Funds for the CASI internships are made possible through the support of Penn’s Office of the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives in conjunction with Penn Abroad and Penn’s Global Internship Program (IIP) and through the generous support of CASI donors.
Updated: 15 hours 25 min ago

India in Lists (with interspersed photos)

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 00:49

Things to Bring to India

  1. Patience 
  2. Clothes that can get dirty 
  3. Birkenstocks or good sandals 
  4. A sense of humor
  5. Granola Bars
  6. Added bonus rain coat of umbrella 

Things to Eat in India

  1. Mango
  2. Dosa
  3. Chai
  4. Kulfi pops
  5. Biriyani 

Things to avoid in India

  1. Scams
  2. Street food if your American and have a weak stomach 
  3. Mosquitos 
  4. Bangalore rush hour traffic 
  5. Overnight buses 

Things to try: experiences 

  1. Taking the Train 
  2. Henna
  3. Shopping at a market, especially fruit
  4. Touching an Elephant- I know this is basic, but so fun!
  5. Go to the movie theater 

Things to help with homesickness 

  1. See a movie  
  2. Listen to American music
  3. Call your family 
  4. Talk to the people around you 
  5. Eat a mango 

Things not to bring to India 

  1. High Expectations
  2. Tank tops and shorts  – I bought 5 tank top I don’t know why
  3. Heavy cloths 
  4. Anything you would be really sad to loose
  5. To much lugange if your gonna take a domestic flight because you might have to pay $60

 Things to expect in India 

  1. Having a hard time communicating 
  2. Getting ripped of when buying things 
  3. Very kind generous co workers 
  4. Trash on the streets 
  5. Delays and inefficiencies 

Advice for next years interns 

  1. Be patient, getting annoyed does not make things anymore efficient
  2. Try as many new foods as you can you will never know what will surprise you
  3. Take lots of pics so that you can remember 
  4. Try to workout even if it is just in your apartment it will help keep you sane 
  5. Bring LOTS of granola bars 

Best fruits in India

  1. MANGO 
  2. Pomegranate 
  3. Coconut
  4. Watermelon 
  5. Jackfruit- not as good but worth a try 

Best forms of transportation 

  1. Autorickshaw 
  2. Uber 
  3. Airplane 
  4. Train 
  5. Overnight bus (wouldn’t recommend) 

Best gifts from India 

  1. Scarves 
  2. Incense 
  3. Snacks 
  4. Jewelry 
  5. Cool Journals 

Things I learned in India 

  1. I have so much stuff (Material goods, resources, opportunities)
  2. I am lucky to be a women in the USA 
  3. It’s incredible how much you can communicate when you have to, even with a language barrier. It is also incredible despite this how frustrating a language Barrier Can be.  
  4. Patience is key. Things will get done even if it is not always the most efficient way.
  5. Meet people where they are. You might not understand a culture, but you can’t just walk in a change it completely.  Humans have empathy and a great ability to adapt. You will be better able to connect with people, maintain your sanity, and have an impact if you accept people and a culture as it is.    

  People I am thankful for in India 

  1. Laura for being such a great coordinator 
  2. My cointerns for keeping me company and being patient 
  3. Chitra for helping organise our shahi experience 
  4. The entire GBL and OD teams for all their help on our projects and being kind and welcoming
  5. My parents for listening to me complain

Farewell Bangalore!

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 00:49

The last day of my internship at Shahi was overwhelming in the best way. The OD team we had been interning with, along with other OD members from other factories in India, surprised us at the end of our final presentations with a farewell celebration. They decorated the room we were in with balloons, cards, posters, and black forest cake (my favorite)! What was truly amusing was that we had also coincidentally brought two cakes as a thank you to the OD team, so we ended up having a total of three cakes at our farewell celebration! The kindness of the OD team and the effort they put in to making us feel appreciated on our last day was absolutely heartwarming, and it is a moment I will cherish for a very long time.

The OD team was kind enough to give us all gifts on our last day of work. It’s a moment I’ll always remember!

As I reflect on my time in Bangalore, I find this summer has been a time of immense personal growth for me. Some of the lessons and things I have learned along the way about myself include:

  1. I thrive in a fast-paced work environment more than I thought I did. The work flow at Shahi varied quite often: on certain days, the pace was slower but on other days, there was much more work to complete within the span of a few hours. I found that on the days where I had more work to complete during the day, I enjoyed feeling more productive and checking things off my to-do list.
  2. Working at Shahi allowed me to practice taking initiative more often for my projects. At the beginning of this summer, I felt self-conscious about bothering other people in the workplace for information that was relevant to my project. However, now I can say that I have become much more comfortable with the idea of being forward and unafraid to approach individuals for help regarding my work. The Shahi OD team was also extremely helpful whenever I approached them for information or assistance, which I am very grateful for.
  3. I developed my ability to be more direct when I communicated. Especially during my final presentation to the top management at Shahi, I used the presentation as an opportunity to be very specific about the action required of the people in that room in order to bring change at Shahi. I was proud of myself of not holding anything back and being bold about my recommendations.  

Apart from work, I also felt more connected to India than I thought I would. As someone with Indian parents that immigrated to the US, I grew up in a household that kept Indian culture alive with our cuisine and customs. However, I had only actually visited India in person two or three times that I can remember. Prior to this internship, a small part of me was worried that when I returned to India this summer, I could be judged for not being truly Indian by living in the US my whole life. Having a dual identity as an Indian-American has at time made balancing cultures difficult in America, but I am glad that I never once felt judged by the people in Bangalore for being someone of Indian origin born and raised in another country.

Getting henna was one of my favorite activities my co-interns and I did in Bangalore!

I will miss so many aspects of my time in Bangalore – the delicious food, amazing hospitality, compassionate people, and the beautiful weather are just a few things I will always remember (among other things!). I would like to everyone at Shahi and CASI who made my trip so special. This was the experience of a lifetime, and I would not have been able to access an opportunity like this without the immense support. The journey was frustrating and difficult at times, but the experience of developing more as a person made all the hard moments worth it.

A Spotify Playlist for Your Internship in India

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 04:10

Now that I have finished my internship at Shahi and am safely back home, I figured there would be no better way to encapsulate my time in India than though music. So to to reminisce about the past 9 weeks and to help future interns prepare for their time in the country, here is my entirely-objective, not-at-all-biased Indian Essentials playlist:

  • Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey

This has to be the first one because it’s just so important – your time in India definitely going to be a hell of a journey. India is by no means a very easy place to live in, and at many times you might stop and wonder “what in the world is going on right now?” But don’t worry, don’t stop believing, and focus on the positives – it will be a great time!

  • Umbrella – Rihanna

Because you’re definitely gonna need one. It’s monsoon season, duh.

  • I’m a Mess – Ed Sheeran

For those times you come back from work really tired, look around at all the clothes, books, souvenirs, and just random stuff scattered around your room, see your hair going all over the place in the mirror and come to the conclusion that you truly are a mess right now.

  • Sleep on The Floor – The Lumineers

Because some places in India don’t really understand the concept of soft mattresses.

  • Don’t Speak – No Doubt

This is an important one. Language is a barrier I wasn’t anticipating when coming to India because I thought everyone would speak English, but that’s 100% not true. People will try to speak to you not just in Hindi, but in Kannada, Tamil, Bengali and you will definitely have many doubts. Don’t worry too much, though. For the times you really cannot understand each other: don’t speak, just gesture.

  • Udd Gaye – Ritviz

My friend introduced me to this Pune-based DJ as an authentically-Indian alternative to Bollywood, and made me realize that everyone who spends two months in India without enjoying its extensive musical culture made a huge mistake.

  • Estoy Aqui – Shakira 

You know those moments when you kind of forget you’re thousands of miles away from everything you know? You pretty much get used to the routine and everything seems almost normal, and you take India for granted. At those moments it’s hard to remember that damn, I’m really here.

  • It’s Not Right But It’s Okay – Whitney Houston

When people schedule a meeting at 4 but show up at 5:30. When the delivery guy refuses to give you change and demands the exact amount. When random people stop you on the street and ask to take a picture with you. When cars drive like there’s not a single traffic law in place. It’s most definitely not right, but oh well. 

  • Lamberghini – The Doorbeen

Because that was the only Indian song I knew before coming here and I was so happy to not feel left out every time they played it at a bar. Also because it’s a hella good song.

  • When I Get Home – Post Animal 

For that final stretch when you’re just so tired and all you can think of is the food you’ll eat, the people you’ll see and the things you’ll do when you get home.

  • Unique – GoldLink

It can be easy to get lost in the routine of work and get used to the crazy sights and senses around you, but it’s very important to remember that this experience is nothing short of unique. I’m sure very few people back at Penn had such a memorable Summer, and you’ll be glad you did.

And, of course, here is a link to the playlist on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/22bxjedfz4ishezgn7avdkwga/playlist/0SE7WVIiQVfWqylsOkcV2B?si=prNvwkDES0ujoA-b_BKjbw 

Work is basically just acronyms

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 02:05

I feel like the more I work, the more I learn about how to turn multi-work key terms into short abbreviations. it seems like every day I spend in India I learn a new acronym, and everything I do on my day to day at work involves a multitude of letters that to an outside observer mean absolutely nothing. because acronyms are so prevalent in my work life, I felt like they would be a pretty good way to direct any attempts to describe what I do at Shahi. So here they are:

  • SEPL: for a large part of my two months here, I was convinced I worked at Shahi, India’s largest garment and textile manufacturer. But then we went to Shimoga, a rural town where the company has one of its many (truly, so many) factories and saw all employees there with a new, weird name embroidered in their uniform: SEPL. I was at first confused, thinking maybe we were seeing another company altogether, until someone explained to me that SEPL was nothing more than an abbreviation of Shahi Exports Pvt. Ltd. The more you know!
  • LSD & MNB: right on our first day at Shahi (a.k.a. SEPL) we were inundated with an incredible amount of knowledge about our new workplace. Among the swarm of other important information, we learned two new acronyms that would stick with us for the rest of our time here. LSD, standing for Ladies Special Division and MNB, standing for Men’s aNd Bottoms, are two of Shahi’s divisions, which specialize in producing a certain type of garment (I guess it’s pretty self-evident what each specializes on).
  • OD: this one is pretty straightforward. Our internship was in the Organizational Development department, which oversees all worker wellbeing initiatives at Shahi. The OD team is composed of many people across all factories, but the core staff worked in the same office where we spent most of our days. They were responsible for developing and implementing programs, mostly in partnership with brands, to improve working conditions and enforce wellbeing in the factories.
  • GBL: alongside OD there was another organization devoted to worker wellbeing. The Good Business Lab (GBL) is an independent research center incubated at Shahi to develop economic research on the benefits of some interventions. they measured impact and worked in the implementation of several different programs, being responsible for several randomized control trials (RCTs – another acronym!)
  • CSR: each of the four CASI interns was responsible for their independent projects to be developed with the OD team. One of the projects I had was analyzing Shahi’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects and creating a central strategy for them across all factories. I compiled a list of all CSR programs and gave recommendations on instances where the programming should be expanded or streamlined. I also aligned the CSR strategy with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs – wow, another one!!), using them as a guideline for the strategy as a whole.
  • GPG: my second project was calculating Shahi’s gender pay gap – GPG. I was surprised that Shahi would trust me to do such an important job, and especially that they would give me the payroll information for more than 90,000 employees. It was daunting at first to receive a spreadsheet with almost a hundred thousand lines and be told to use it to calculate something, but excel really helped me and in the end I was able to complete the task.

Becoming One with the Noise and Commotion

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 06:22

Meditation: a word often associated with deep thought, reflection and contemplation. For me, meditation means something a little different. Yes, I still consider meditation to be very thought-based, but it is my belief that practicing mindfulness is different for everybody. Some people may prefer the more traditional way of meditating, one where they sit cross-legged on a cushion with their palms turned upward and some sort of soothing aroma wafting through the air. Others may meditate at the top of mountains or hills, using nature to tap into a sort of calming energy. While I have been in India, my meditating has taken the form of listening and simply absorbing my surroundings. I often meditate during my daily commute to work every morning or when I am walking down a busy street on my way to the grocery store. The sensory overload that is involved in these types of activities in India were a bit overwhelming at first; the incessant honking, the speeding motorbikes, and the lack of sidewalks can be very unsettling. However, the craziness and organized chaos that is the streets of Hyderabad have grown on me, and surprisingly, I now feel very much at peace when I walk down them.

A quick shot taken on the streets of Kolkata.

The amount of time that I’ve had to sit and simply mull over the thoughts running through my head have made me more self aware and I believe this helped me find my own inner peace. All of the sights, smells, and noises may seem like too much to handle at first, but being able to take them all in is a gift. Rather than letting my anxieties about these things consume me, I have chosen to embrace them and, in a way, become one with them. 

Emma and I at Chowmahalla Palace in Old City Hyderabad.

Emma and I like to joke that everything one experiences in India must be taken in stride (you truly never know who or what you may encounter on a day to day basis) but it honestly is very true. You have to be constantly open to whatever this country has in store for you whether it be stepping ankle-deep into a puddle of muddy water or getting your request for an Uber dropped 15 times in a row; you truly never know. Being able to absorb situations like these and not lose your mind over them makes you a stronger person. You become kinder and more understanding yet you maintain a healthy amount of stubborness and resilience that will help you succeed later in your life. Most importantly, you find your inner peace. Taking it all in and rolling with the punches of life is a form of mindfulness and awareness and being in India has given me the eyes to see this very fact. Our daily interactions make us who we are and in order to share our inner peace with others we must become more conscious of this fact.

The rush to take off and retrieve shoes outside of Mecca Masjid.

I often think about how I am constantly surrounded by people in India and how it’s a new feeling for me, but when I really think about it, I am always surrounded by people in the States too. We are all connected to one another through the Internet which makes the world we live in today a very different place than it was 100 years ago. The rising rates of anxiety and depression (especially amongst young people) can only make you wonder how our mental health interacts with this increased connectivity. If India has taught me anything it is that humans are great at adapting to new experiences and I believe in time our world will adapt too. For now, let’s embrace the noise, channel the craziness, and just take in the world that we live in because it is truly beautiful that we get to do so every day.

Happy moments.

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 06:04

I  went through my Instagram feed and found this post that I put up a few weeks back. The post is a compilation of a few pictures of Juliet and I in beautiful picture-perfect moments wearing smiles that describes happiness. In the first picture, we are in Taj Mahal, the second one somewhere in Delhi, the third in a palace in Jaipur and the fourth one is our hands covered in the beautiful and intricate henna pattern. Right below the post, the caption reads “Incredible India!!! (with three exclamation marks and a waving Indian flag)

                     Incredible: adj. Impossible or very difficult to believe

Ria, Tashweena, Juliet and I in one of the palaces in Jaipur.

True to the caption, my time in India has been very difficult to believe. There are moments, like the ones in the picture, that I was truly happy and satisfied. There were also moments that I emotionally hit the rock bottom and all I wanted was to go home in Gurgaon, pack my bags and leave India. But one bad day should not ruin the good ones, right?
That said, in this blog post today, I will reflect on those moments that I felt happy, moments that I was genuinely calm and was in love with myself and my stay here. There were many of these but I will pick just a few. 

(I) Women’s only Metro station.

The subway in Delhi is crowded but organized and user-friendly. The best part of it there a pink streak of light leading to the front coach of every cabin that is served for women only. Every time Juliet and get into one of these, you feel safe. It’s quite and clean in there. People respect each other and there is always someone willing to give up their seat for you if you been standing for too long. 


ii) Exploration of India during the weekends. 

Our supervisor, fortunately, allowed us to work extra hours during the week and have Fridays off. Weekends have been time to explore the “Incredible India”. We’ve been able to travel to the historical Jaipur, to Agra to see world-famous picturesque Taj Mahal, then to Hyderabad the land of flavorful Biryani and most of all, go shopping in different places and markets in Delhi. I mean, how else will you remember India if you don’t experience the hustle and bustle of markets and put your bargaining skill to the test? I say it’s worth the headache at the end of the day. 

iii.) Going to the gym and practicing yoga. 

Well, this isn’t a place but a space for myself amidst everything. Mindfulness and wellness was one thing I swore to stick to when I packed my bags for India. Working out in the gym or just doing yoga in the house has been very helpful in settling all my emotions. Coincidentally, the gym is called BOMISO (Body Mind and Soul).

iv.) Experiencing familiarity. 

Newness is the thrill and isn’t variety the spice of life? Sometimes I disagree. I have enjoyed staying with a homestay family, sitting together at the dinner table every day and just chatting about our days and life in general. It feels like my family back home- a space that I can talk out my frustration and my joy. I also got to learn a lot about different religions in India at this table. 

v.) Food. 

Everyone loves a good plate of food and Indian food will offer you exactly that. Food has been an exciting part of the trip because there is a lot of variety in Indian cuisine depending on which part of the country you are in. Living in Delhi has also been instrumental in trying out all sorts of cuisines from the Indian subcontinent. I have been able to see how far my palate can go with hot chilli or how many Indian sweets I can tolerate. 

Describe India in Three Words…

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 05:49

Well, we made it.. less than one week left in India. Much like the school semester, the first half of the summer felt long and challenging, while the last half went by in a blink. As the end of my Indian summer is soon approaching, I am making my last visits to family and friends. While visiting some family last night in Delhi, they were all curious about how I like India and how my experience has been. My aunt said, “Ok, describe India in three words.” I was stumped. I began to think and realized that this task was close to impossible to accomplish. As noted in my last entry, my mind has been racing with different thoughts and emotions every day, so condensing how I feel about India into three words was something I just couldn’t do (and didn’t want to).

Being here for just two months, I made sure to take advantage of any free time to travel and experience new things. We have definitely run into certain trials and tribulations along the way. Last weekend, Sylvia and I traveled to Hyderabad, where Sophie and Emma graciously hosted us! The four of us were discussing how our time here has been and the question, “what was your breaking point this summer?” came up. For me, it was one day in Delhi when Sylvia and I decided to take a bus tour around to see some of the most famous sites. The day started out fine and on schedule, but once we reached India Gate, it took a turn. As soon as we stepped off the bus, swarms of vendors crowded us (in 110 degree weather might I add). A woman asked if I wanted henna, and as I was saying no, she grabbed my hand and proceeded to do a huge design. We finally escaped the crowd and before we could take a classic tourist selfie, people were following us trying to get pictures. After we left that hectic environment, we couldn’t find our tour bus. We then went to the next stop to try and catch it while trying to speak to customer service through the language barrier. Once we finally figured out the stop, I just remember standing at the bus stop, drenched in sweat, a little nauseous, with henna dripping down my hand and now stained on my cloths, thinking, “Can this bus take me home??”

Smile through the pain.

Its times like these that test your patience and make you question your sanity for choosing to come to India for a whole summer. Ever since this day, though, I have had a new perspective during my time here. I have learned to take things as they come and to stay calm (most of the time) in difficult situations. Another thing I learned is that no matter how chaotic the journey to get somewhere was, once we got there, the sights of history and culture washed away the stress and negativity. I have learned a lot about myself this summer. This is by far the most adventurous thing I have ever done in my life. Before this, I never really considered myself to be a risk taker. But stepping out of my comfort zone and into this environment, I have definitely found new strength and patience that I didn’t know I had.

So, I guess if I had to give a three word description of India, I would say: See for yourself.

Trip to Hyderabad

With love…from India

Sun, 08/04/2019 - 22:48

I have officially stayed in India for a month (this post is love overdue) and It’s been a tough five weeks but I am happy that I can say I have half-adjusted to this new environment Adjustment is key here as everything is different. There is nothing that has smells of familiarity so far (other than Netflix, which by the way, the Indian Netflix offers more collection of movies and series than the one in the states).

Temperature:: The first thing that we are all aware of is the Indian summer heat. If there is one thing that hit me hard as soon as I left the air-conditioned arrivals terminal was the heatwave that felt as if something is heating up the air and we somehow have to breathe in heated air that descends. Temperatures in New Delhi range from 35- 45 degrees Celsius (95- 115) every single day. We are lucky that we stay indoors for the most part of the day. The only time out is when we have to wait for rickshaw (pictured below) outside the office on the way to the gym. Imagine standing outside in 110 degrees’ weather at 4 pm in the evening!

Environment: New Delhi has a lot to offer for a foreigner and a tourist. It is very populous, very busy and fast-paced in the local places. The subways are very crowded but much cleaner and organized than NYC subway or SEPTA. Over the weekend, we go to touristic places. It is mind-blowing to see all these beautiful structures (castles and temples) constructed hundreds of years back. The one thing that I appreciate is learning about India pre-colonial through the eyes of the natives free of eurocentric perceptions of viewing history. Through all this, I have learned to ignore stares in public spaces as a black dark- skinned woman. Most people have never seen someone who looks like me in person and so staring is pretty common.

Food: This requires a moment of silence. Indian offers a variety of food, all full of flavors and colors and if you are not too careful when ordering, a lot of spices! Its rich in taste, full of variety and most of all, new to the tongue. I have had Indian food countless times before, but  the food here tastes like the motherland of foods. Curries are cooked with recipes from hundreds of years back hence food preparation process is a complex process with combination of so many ingredients. Indian mangoes are worth mentioning: This will burst taste buds. Lucky for us, we are in India just during mango season so there is a mango-flavor option for everything!

Here we were in Hyderband. This is a south India meal.

Accommodation: We stay with an Indian family. The family is very friendly and accommodative. What is different about families here (including the ones we stay with) is that they have a homestay cook and everyday cleaner. It’s nice that we don’t have to buy meals for the most part or clean our spaces. This is where I draw a line of privilege. It is not every day that we get someone to clean after us and cook for us meals. I am convinced that the quality of meals I will eat once I get back to school will be a huge drop.

Work. This is the main business as to why we are in India. Work colleagues were a little bit hard to interact with the first few days but as the days go by, we found similarities and hence able to strike up a conversation, which is normal with any new environment. The tasks we are given is to contribute to a policy-making project in healthcare in schools. Therefore, there are literature reviews to be done every single day and a lot of analysis of published materials on the subject. Every single day is a learning day about the health of children and adolescents in relation to overweight and obesity. 

A Peaceful Getaway

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 11:26

After 7 weeks in Bangalore, I can barely remember what it’s like to not wake up to the sounds of traffic and construction. However, this past weekend my co-interns and I had the pleasure of taking a work trip to Shimoga, a more rural town in the state of Karnataka. Shimoga is home to Shahi’s textile mill, where cotton is transformed into the fabric the company later uses to make many of its own garments. Spanning over 200 acres, being able to tour Shahi’s Shimoga factory was truly a wonderful experience.

One of my favorite parts of learning about the cotton-to-fabric production process was receiving the opportunity to feel the cotton before it was processed. Cotton in such a pure form felt like clouds in my hands, and I wish all of my clothes felt that soft all the time! As our tour continued, I realized how much I had underestimated the intricacy of the production I was witnessing. In Texas, I was used to driving past cotton fields and seeing machinery on farms gathering up cotton to pack it. However, I did not realize that within the factory, cotton as a raw material went through so many additional steps to make it strong enough for stitching and dyeing.

Apart from the educational aspect of our visit, I also enjoyed staying at the Shahi guesthouse in Shimoga. From my room, I could see rolling hills in the distance and lush greenery everywhere I looked. I felt as if I was transported into the middle of a peaceful jungle, completely with light drizzles of rain every day and the sound of birds chirping. The guesthouse also served some of the best canteen meals my co-interns and I had during our entire internship. The canteen staff took care to prepare special dishes for us including noodles, paneer, and fruit juice (among other delicious items)! I was very grateful for the care the dining staff put into our meals, but I also felt guilty that they worked so hard for us. I was reminded of how intense but heartwarming Indian hospitality is, and I made sure to savor every bite throughout the weekend.

Unfortunately, my experience didn’t resemble paradise for long. After the first day in Shimoga, I became sick and had to stay at the guesthouse for the weekend to rest. I am very grateful to Soundarya, a member of Shahi’s OD team who served as our guide in Shimoga, for checking on me frequently and making me feel comfortable. I would have felt a lot worse if I hadn’t been surrounded by so much support!

As I enter the final weeks of my time in Bangalore, I’m looking forward to presenting my work and receiving feedback on how I can improve my recommendations. I’ve already learned so much more from this experience than I could have ever imagined, and I hope to continue to gain new insights in the final days of my internship.

To the Land of kings: Pink City & City of Lakes

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 02:02

I grew up watching a lot of Bollywood movies. As a kid, I remember I used to be so fascinated by the palaces and the majestic beauty of kings and queens I saw in movies. When we (the other interns and I) decided to visit Jaipur over the weekend, I was over the moon. 

As soon as I got out of the airport, I was already in awe seeing the amazing structures and buildings on the way to the hotel.  That beautiful and elaborate gate below is the entrance gate of a garden. A garden!! Who would have thought? At that point, I knew I was in for a treat.

Indeed, none of the places I visited disappointed me. After seeing the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds), Jantar Mantar (a place with some really cool instruments to determine the time, day, date and to predict monsoons), Jal mahal (Water Palace with 3 floors under water), City Palace and Ambar Fort,  I could not help but marvel at the ingenuity of the people who built those majestic structures, which are at least 350 hundred years old and still standing!

Jaipur also has a very rich history.  It was interesting to learn how everything has a meaning or a reason for being the way it is. For example,  Jaipur was called Pink City in 1876 because Maharaja (King) Ram Singh painted the whole city pink, which is believed to be the color of hospitality, to welcome the Prince of Wales and the Queen. 

I also enjoyed visiting the museums and getting a glimpse of the majestic life of the royal people. The lavishness of the kings in those days did not fail to surprise me! One of the kings got this huge silver container built for him to carry water from the Ganges when he went to England because he would not drink normal water!

I was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of people there. For example, wherever you go, they will definitely ask you whether you want tea, coffee, water or any beverage. The persistence of the salesmen in Jaipur is also something that I am not going to forget very soon. My inability to say no, combined with their excellent persuasion skills were not a good combination for my wallet, which caused me to splurge a lot of money!

Here are some pictures of my trip to Jaipur!

I was so enthralled by Jaipur that the following weekend I embarked on a solo trip to Udaipur, the city of Lakes. It was indeed an experience navigating the city alone. But again, the hospitality and warmth of people was something I could count on so that I am not totally lost.  The breathtaking views from the monsoon palace and the beautiful 400 years old temple were all amazing. I was also lucky to attend a traditional folk-dance show which was very entertaining. I am really happy to have used my time to explore these 2 beautiful cities in Rajasthan and discover the rich culture of the places I had only seen in movies!

An Appreciation Letter to Indian Women

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 07:14

One thing I knew when I started at Shahi was that 70,000 of Shahi workers were female. One thing I did not know when I started at Shahi was that in the last 10 years the female labor force participation rate in India has actually decreased. These statistics are important because empowering women is one of the best ways to promote sustainable economic growth and Improve quality of life. 

Women are the backbone of any society, but this is especially true in India. They upkeep the house, raise the family, and often hold jobs or run a small business to provide an extra income. This is often underappreciated work keeps society moving forward and  despite the value of their work, women are often overlooked, overburdened, and mistreated. When you enter a Shahi factory the effects of malnutrition on the workers are visible. In India the women, but primarily the mother, are always the last to eat and will often take the hardest hit when food is scarce.  Women also often also have little say in who they marry, their employment, and are not offered the same educational opportunities as men. Despite these facts all of the kindest, smatest, most capable people I have met in India are women. To list all of the incredible women I met by name would be impossible.  

Although my appreciation may mean very little, I would like to appreciate and acknowledge all the smart hard working and incredible women in India. Your efforts may often go unrecognised, but the work you do everyday and sacrifices you make keeps society moving forward and benefit everyone. I appreciate your work. 

Because of this for my projects I chose to work of The Sexual and Reproductive Health Project and The Menstrual Health Project. I feel as though it is a small way for me to show my appreciation for the work these women do everyday. Working on these projects has given me the opportunity to talk to so many women and hear their stories. One interview with a factory worked revealed that a woman’s mother in law threatened to remarry her after she asked to get an IUD. When we asked a group of older women why they think they got their period they shared that they were unsure, but thought it was because their bodies were dispelling “dirty blood”. In one of our surveys we found that 92% of the women we surveyed wanted to know more about why they get their period. Even when work feels frustrating, I am comforted by the hope that something I do here will help empower women to gain more control over their lives or make them just a little more comfortable because if anyone deserves it is these women.

Let’s talk about the climate, baby!

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 04:16

The last time I called my parents, we engaged in a conversation in which they lamented the “obnoxiousness” of my fairly new–found vegetarianism (I stopped eating meat in April). My retort, which also functions as my rationale for becoming said vegetarian, consisted of a reference to the simple fact that becoming a vegetarian is a relatively low–stakes lifestyle change that yields the greatest reduction in one’s carbon footprint (for the record, I do not think adjusting one’s lifestyle to take the future into account is obnoxious. But more on that later). Ok, said my dad, you know what other lifestyle adjustments result in a lower carbon footprint? I knew what he was going to say. But I let him say it, smugly, like he was dropping some sort of breaking news story on me: forgoing air travel and not having children. Yeah, I read the United Nations report on climate change, too.

The vegetarian life ain’t so shabby!

If I were to identify one overarching theme of my entire trip to India, it would be the constant awareness of climate change. There is simply no escaping the reality of global warming and its daily effects here, as is often possible in the United States. These effects range from acute and local, like walking down the street and breathing in bucket loads of exhaust (just imagine living or working on the street and breathing in this polluted air on a daily basis), to long–term and community–altering, like the increasing uncertainty of rainfall, drought, and heat. As Thomas Friedman put it, the world is undeniably hot, flat, and crowded: average temperatures are rapidly increasing, technological advances are allowing burgeoning populations to consume at American–level rates, and there are frankly a scary amount of people now living on this earth. More people than our current system is going to be able to support, much less permit to live like consumption–crazed Americans. Like I said, we can tune that reality out in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I grew up and my parents currently live, or even in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where I go to school. But there is a hot, flat, and crowded future lurking dangerously close to our American “reality” that the rest of the world will increasingly no longer be able, nor willing, to buffer for us. 

So, this is what I told my parents (sorry for putting you on blast, guys, but this is urgent stuff here, “Code Green”, if you will); I have been thinking very critically about my frequent use of air travel. Googling how much fuel a Boeing 747 burns over the course of an international flight is as painful as WebMDing your random, freaky health issues, except in this case it’s impossible to look away and decide that you are a hypochondriac. To continue this metaphor, no, this is not a case of overreacting because you have some weird freckle on your elbow, this is a full fledged case of melanoma. Airplanes wreck havoc on our ecosystems. A 747 burns a gallon of gasoline every second it is in the air. Then Google how many airplanes, on average, are flying right now: probably close to 200,000, but most likely exceeding that figure. Let that sink in. 

For the sake of argument, say I do relinquish air travel. So now I’m a land–dwelling vegetarian. Well, if I someday choose to have children, all those uneaten hamburgers and forgone airplanes are basically for naught because the number one gas–guzzling, environment–decimating, carbon–producing action a human can take is to reproduce. Being here, in India, has really lead me to reconsider my lifelong assumption that I would have children…do we really need more people on this planet? I cannot say with certainty that we do.

Which prompted my mom, in her tired, exasperated, and truly privileged voice, to say, well Emma, we can’t just go back to living in the Stone Age. Here’s the thing, though: I really, profusely do not want to go back to living in the Stone Age, and if worldwide levels of consumption are any indication, neither does the rest of the world. Families in China want cars, farmers in India want air conditioners, people across the Middle East each want a television set and an iPhone and everyone wants to be able to hopscotch from continent to continent, not only to visit family and work, but to see the Eiffel Tower and take a picture in front of the Taj Mahal. We, Americans, have been living on the forefront of all the privileges of the world’s technological advances, and here, I can see out of my office building window, that the rest of the world desperately desires to catch up with us. And they will. It’s only a matter of time. 

So, now that we’ve established that nobody wants to go back to the Stone Age, we have a few issues to consider. First, the world just can’t take us anymore. It’s groaning under our weight. It’s fatigued from our irresponsible antics. The natural ecological systems that sustain the very facets of human life are receding at alarming rates, for example, in Brazil, where the Bolsonaro administration is jumping to develop land in the Amazon rainforest and at home, where the Trump administration is beginning to forage into the Arctic, seeking to drill for oil and gas. All of this environmental degradation is no matter, though: we’ve modeled a society, at least in the States, meant to disconnect us from the rhythms of the natural world. Kids play on iPads instead of in the dirt and grass, the television brings a family together more often than the simple pleasure of watching the sunset, and instead of walking to work, like we were evolutionarily designed to do, we get into a car and drive our butts into chairs where we will sit on these butts all day until we drag those same butts up again to go get back into the car and drive home. Ultimately, then it should be no biggie that the Amazon is completely deforested and the Arctic melts…as long as we’ve got gas to put into our cars and drive to work and are able to hop on a plane over to some tourist destination just to cue up to take a picture to post on Instagram, right?

Wrong. So very, utterly, completely, wrong. This is the point in the conversation where my mom calls me an alarmist. I wish I was being alarmist, I really, really do. I wish this was just some radical college–age fad that I will someday grow out of. Unfortunately, it’s quite the contrary: this world I am describing, this hot, flat, and crowded world, is where I am going to be living when I reach the prime years of my life. It is the world that my theoretical children, who I forgive in advance for negating my efforts to avoid meat, will inherit. It is the world that evokes a fear so profound that I can blatantly see it in the eyes of both the man from the Environmental Defense Fund and the auto executive who came to Araku to look into investing in carbon credits when I asked them if there is any avoiding the suicidal trajectory that our planet is on. There is a much easier way to get back to the Stone Age, guys, and it’s continuing on the “business as usual” route. Even if you were to ignore what the chief of the United Nations deems the “ear-splitting wake-up call” of warnings pouring heavily from the mouths of every reputable scientist across the globe, and continue at your current rate of consumption, and continue to vote in representatives who will continue to ignore the very real threats to our way of life, there is no hiding. One day in the near future you are going to look up and it’s going to be like the opening scene from WALL-E. In all seriousness, the consequences are severe and far–reaching: geopolitical relations will worsen, resources will become scarce (avocados in your local Whole Foods will be the first to go), and you hate all the people lining up at the border now? Wait until the weight of our poor decision–making prompts an all–out refugee crisis that spans much further than Tijuana. It is precisely because I do not want to return to the Stone Age that I fight for change: change that should not be deemed radical by definition of its very necessity. 

Being abroad always prompts me to reflect on my American-ness. I just want to get one thing straight: despite my lambasting of grotesque American consumerism, I am not an America-hater. In fact, I love America and everything about it. I love its diversity, its values, its opportunity, its history. I love the freedom we have (and must unabashedly protect) to question and challenge the status quo. I love how the very nature of change is written into the fabric of our society. We ask questions, we demand answers, we lead. Climate change and its effects are issues that we, as a country and a society, can not afford to ignore. I think, years down the line, this era will be seen as a watershed moment, just as World War II and its fallout completely changed the structure of normalcy back in the 1940s. To preserve our way of life, we must fight for it. We have become lazy because we are so blinded by the privilege that our technology, resources, and societal structure offer us. So, yes, I am a vegetarian and will continue to be, but there is a fight out there for our future, steadily brewing, that will require much more than choosing to cook zucchini instead of chicken for dinner (although, it starts there). It will require compromise, innovation, and a small bit of sacrifice. To ignore the call to lead the world into a future that we now, fleetingly, have the power to construct and protect is the most un–American thing I could possibly think of. 

I’ve bought a scarf or two to bring home to commemorate this trip, but the most meaningful souvenir I possess is the perspective that living in India has given me and, by consequence, the invigorating energy I now have to fight for what I believe in.

The Ganges in Kolkata

12 Hours a Day, 15 Days Off a Year

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 00:57

Before I came to Aravind, I wanted to know what kind of organization I would be spending my next 9 weeks at, so I decided to read Infinite Vision by Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Senoy. The iron triangle-breaking, easily-accessible, low-cost, high-quality eye care that the book emphasized over and over seemed like a fantasy to me (someone who basically spends all her class time at Penn studying how the American healthcare system is broken). So, one of my hopes for the summer was to figure out how Aravind makes this possible.

Now that I’ve been at Aravind for over 7 weeks, I feel like I have some idea of how to answer this question.

Without a doubt, Aravind is an INCREDIBLE organization. Yes, it is hyper-efficient to a degree unlike any hospital I have ever seen, but what has astonished me from day one is that there is a sense of purpose in everything, from its vision (no pun intended!) to way the hospital is structured to the people who work here. You can really feel that every decision made here is intended to move towards the mission of eradicating needless blindness. For example, on our tour of the hospital when Udaya (Faculty Associate at LAICO) asked us why the contact lens clinic was located in Unit 3, of course the answer was because Unit 3 is for young adults, the age group that is most likely to prefer contact lenses! Decisions like this seem so simple in retrospective, but having the foresight to ask those questions is what Aravind specializes in.

Everyone who works at Aravind is extremely smart and driven, but the mid-level ophthalmic personnel (MLOPs) are what make this hospital really run. The MLOPs (also just called “sisters”) are all young women who have been selected from surrounding villages and work in various departments in the hospital. Although I haven’t spent much of my time with the sisters (most of my work is in the office), I did get a chance to talk to them when I visited an eye camp at a village.

This is the school where we held the eye camp in Kamudi (a village 2 hours away from Madurai).

Most of the sisters are recruited right out of high school (around 16/17 years old). They spend 2 years training and then work for a few more years, so a lot of them are around the same age as me! One of the sisters that I got to know at the camp was shocked to realize this (I still haven’t decided whether I should be amused or offended by this)! For many of the sisters, working at Aravind is an amazing opportunity, since they can earn money, learn new skills, and improve their future prospects. However, all of this does come at a cost. Although all the sisters at the camp were having fun joking with their friends while working, many of them admitted to feeling burnt out. They work about 12 hours a day and get 15 days off a year (including sick days). After hearing that, I realize I have no right to complain about my 9am-6pm, 6 days a week schedule here. I can’t even imagine working so many hours now or at a younger age!

Some of the MLOPs at the eye camp!

Knowing more about the MLOP experience has made me think a lot about how much can get done through hard work and discipline. Without the sisters, Aravind would not be able to function, and maybe if I set a higher bar for myself, I would be able to achieve a lot more than I expect. After all, the culture of hard work has been the foundation of Aravind’s growth.

Savored Sips

Tue, 07/30/2019 - 08:13

Shahi Exports Private Limited Unit 7 has chai breaks twice a day. The first break starts promptly at 10:45am, and ends at 11:30am. The afternoon chai break begins at 3:45pm and ends at 4:30pm. In each of these time periods, the company’s staff workers head to the outdoor roof where 3 silver tins full of steaming chai and coffee will be waiting for them.

Everyone here in the office works at an unbelievable pace. They are always taking phone calls, answering emails, visiting their factories. Chai breaks seem to be the little moments of peace they can carry with them. In both American and Indian working cultures, people seem to throw themselves into their work.

But chai breaks are different. People sip from small white porcelain cups on the roof, overlooking Shahi’s bright lawns and colorful flowers, and talk amongst their friends. Some sit on the steps, side by side as they laugh and joke. Chai breaks are 10 minutes they have completely for themselves.

My India experience has been a patchwork of little moments, carefully stitched together with sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and textures. Take a chai break for example. You stand on the roof right next to the edge, elbows propped on the balcony, sun on your face and a cool breeze in your hair. You take small, slow sips from your chai cup, and luxuriate in its warmth. You breathe deeper, and slower, as you look towards the palm trees and down at the people walking below the building.

While internships may often be high-paced, high stress environments, interning in India has encouraged me to relax, and be patient. There have been moments during my trip where I have felt frustrated or defeated. Often things will not go your way or be what you expect, especially when you aren’t familiar with the language or the customs. It’s easy to get lost in that anger, but it just isn’t worth it. Things like chai breaks and the mango cart and the blooms we see on our walk to the our cafeteria provide solace. Small moments you store in your soul.  

This has been illustrated time and time again through monsoon season. Monsoon rains happen throughout the country from June-September, but at anytime of day and for any length of time – they’re unpredictable. When I left for India, one of the pieces of advice my mom gave me was to just enjoy the rain. It’s pointless to wear jackets or boots or to even complain about it making your clothes wet. Instead, let the rain hit your skin and feel the water wash over your thoughts.  

I love the rain: the way it smells fresh and slightly damp after, the way it patters on windows and walls, and the way it makes you feel. After a storm, the world feels renewed. Any and all annoyances wash out with the water, and you start with a clean slate.

While it hasn’t rained much in Bangalore, I remember one downpour one Sunday afternoon as I came back to our apartment from a day of sightseeing. I was aggravated by the amount of time I had spent in city traffic that day. My clothes and hair were soaking wet, and I just couldn’t stop grinning. Being caught in the rain felt like a blessing.

In India, you learn to embrace the rain and to smell the jasmine flowers. You learn to savor the sips.

Aravind is to Eye Care as McDonald’s is to Hamburgers

Wed, 07/24/2019 - 06:30

When Dr. G. Venkataswamy founded Aravind Eye Hospital in 1976, he sought to fix India’s problem of needless blindness.  To make a dent in the “backlog of 20 million blind eyes,” Dr. V. passionately described modeling the hospital system after McDonald’s.  After all, is there any reason selling sight-restoring operations should be more difficult than selling millions of hamburgers? 

Aravind models more than just its social marketing after the fast-food chain.  The entire model of the hospital is based on efficiency, which allows just one of their thirteen hospitals to see an average of about 3,500 patients every day, six days a week.  In fiscal year 2017-18, the hospital system saw over four million patients and performed nearly 500,000 surgeries.  Since the inception of the hospital in 1976, Aravind has had over 56 million outpatient visits and performed over six million surgeries and laser treatments.

A large reason Aravind is able to see so many patients is because of its community outreach camps. In 2017-18, Aravind had 2,779 of these camps, accounting for 16% of their total outpatient populating and 32% of their cataract surgeries.

An eye surgeon at Aravind performs an average of 1,500 surgeries each year, whereas the average surgeon in India performs only about 300 surgeries per year, and Thailand only about 200 surgeries per year.  The efficiency of Aravind surgeons is so impressive due to the large role of MLOPs, or mid-level ophthalmic personnel.  Each year, Aravind selects over 500 young women from nearby villages to go through training to become an MLOP.  They perform most of the routine clinical tasks so the doctors can focus on diagnosis and surgery.  For every one doctor at Aravind, there are six MLOPs.  They provide high quality care and increase productivity of the surgeons at a lower cost to the hospital system.

The hospital is able to provide free or steeply subsidized care to over a million people every year.  Last year, 28% of all outpatient visits were offered free of charge, and nearly 50% of surgeries and laser treatments were performed for free or at a steeply subsidized rate.  Aravind has a “no questions asked” policy – anyone can receive treatment at the Free Hospital if they choose, regardless of ability to pay.  Doctors alternate between working at the Main Hospital and the Free Hospital, so patients receive the same high-quality care at the free or steeply subsidized rates that they would receive if they were paying patients.  The President of India once received treatment at the Free Hospital!

The Free Hospital is located one block away from the Main Hospital, which is just down the road from the Inpatient Block and our office in LAICO.

Aravind’s financial model is entirely self-sustaining.  Even after providing so many services for free or almost free, Aravind finishes every year in the black.  This is due largely in part to the sheer number of patients they see every day.  Aravind can treat so many patients because of the large role of the MLOPs.  In the operating theatre, surgeons sit and perform the ten-minute, sight-restoring cataract surgery on a patient.  As this is happening, the MLOPs are on the other side of the room preparing another patient for their surgery so that as soon as the doctor finishes one surgery, all he has to do is swivel his chair and begin performing the same surgery on the next patient.  The MLOPs will lead the patient whose operation was just completed out of the OT, and the next patient will be ushered in and prepared for surgery.  Not a minute of the surgeon’s productivity is lost, and there is no evidence to prove that this affects infection rates.  In fact, Aravind’s infection rate is one-sixth of the average among U.K. eye hospitals.

Operating theatre at Aravind-Chennai

Aravind’s success in restoring sight to millions of people is absolutely incredible, and its financial success is especially impressive.  I could not help but think about the cost problem we have in the United States and wonder if a similar model could be replicated back home to provide high-quality care at a low cost.  Although these seem like desirable ends, I doubt a similar hospital would be very successful in the U.S.  At Aravind, waiting rooms and hallways are packed with people, and doctors do not spend much time with their patients.  In the U.S., we like to spend time with our doctors and ask questions about our prescriptions and treatment options, and the Aravind model would surely make many patients feel like cattle being herded through the system. 

Here is a waiting room in the afternoon. There is no appointment system at Aravind, so patients usually come early in the morning to ensure they will see a doctor. This is not very crowded compared to other areas of the hospital during peak hours.

Additionally, physician burnout is a common problem causing dissatisfaction among doctors in the U.S.  Doctors lack physical, emotional, and spiritual energy to keep going after long, busy days.  At Aravind, doctors work from 7:30 a.m. until about 7:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday.  Fellows work the same hours, and they are required to work at an outreach camp on one or two of their days off each month.  If they get sick, they have to use a personal day to take off (that is, if they are not pressured into pushing through the sickness and coming in anyway, which is more likely).  These doctors are constantly advising patients or performing surgeries, with very little (if any) time to catch their breath between patients.  Simply put, burnout is not an option.

Despite the amazing success of Aravind in India, I do not think a hospital like this one will be coming to the U.S. any time soon.  Due to our expectations for personalized care and working conditions, I do not think people would be happy with going to or working at a hospital like Aravind.  But here in India, McDonald’s has inspired a model that serves more and more patients every year, working slowly and steadily towards achieving Dr. V.’s goal of ending needless blindness.

We walk past this quote from Dr. V. every day on our way into our office. We work in the LAICO (Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology) building, which houses staff that helps Aravind’s mission of improving eye care services through teaching, training, research, and consultancy.

More than “Thank You”

Fri, 07/19/2019 - 01:34

Growing up, I learned to say “thank you,” and to say it a lot. I say it when a stranger holds the door for me, when a classmate says “bless you,” when a friend asks me how I’m doing, and when I buy something at a store.

The words “thank you” roll off the tip of my tongue.

And so, out of habit, I continued to do the same thing in India. 

After meeting family members who live near Delhi, though, I learned that “thank you” isn’t always the right reply or an adequate reply. 

I didn’t even notice how many times I had said “thank you” before my cousin joked that I would waste all my energy saying the phrase. A few more later, and I was lightly scolded that I was being too formal and that, unlike the U.S., there is no need for “formalities.” 

At the time, I took this as a compliment, as if she was telling me that I was well-mannered. (So well-mannered, in fact, that “thank you” wasn’t even a formality to me!) 

My aunt and uncle bought me an Indian suit a few weeks later, and I said, as I am conditioned to say, “thank you” in response. Instead of a “you’re welcome” or an “my pleasure!” as I was expecting, my aunt replied with “Oh god Ria! Should I thank you for coming to visit us too?” She laughed, and added, sarcastically, “thank you Ria for making time for us!”

Even then, I didn’t fully get it. I understood the sentiment that this was family, and even if I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen them, in family there are just some things you do for each other. They are my family; of course I would visit them! But even then, what was so wrong with adding a “thank you”? 

Like the Gen-Zer I am, I googled it. Deepak Singh, a U.S. immigrant from India, gave me the answer I was searching for:

“In India, people–especially when they are our elders, relatives, or close friends–tend to feel that by thanking them, you’re violating your intimacy with them and creating formality and distance that shouldn’t exist. They may think that you’re closing off the possibility of relying on each other in the future.”

(Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/06/thank-you-culture-india-america/395069/?utm_source=SFFB)

——

In India, there is a deeper, unspoken level of gratitude. I’ve seen and experienced it everywhere–with my family, in the Leap office, in markets, and in my Bollywood dance classes.

And it has reminded me that real, genuine gratitude is not about having a nice way to end transactions and that real relationships are not built on transactions. It has reminded me that gratitude is not about trying to get even and not “owe someone” once they’ve done something nice. 

In India, I’ve been reminded that having good manners isn’t contingent on me using the words “thank you,” but on my actions and the relationships that I continue to build afterwards. 

I will continue to say “thank you,” but after India, I know I will be more intentional about how I do.

Midpoint Reflections: In and Out of the Office

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 11:54

Four and a half weeks down, three and a half to go. I can’t believe my time in India is already more than halfway over. I don’t think I have ever been exposed to so many new experiences in such a condensed period of time. Reflecting on my time here so far, I feel so lucky that I have this opportunity to work, travel, and live in a place so rich in culture and history. There is definitely a huge difference between the weekdays and weekends here. The weekdays are filled with routine and structure, while the weekends are filled with travel, confusion, excitement, and usually sweating.

Thus far, I have really enjoyed the project I am involved in at PHFI. One of the main projects underway is the iPROMISe campaign. iPROMISe stands for Promoting Health Literacy in School and is focused on diabetes prevention in private schools. PHFI has created a manual for teachers to conduct lessons and activities with their students, teaching them about obesity and diabetes risk factors and prevention methods. A large portion of my work is researching the prevalence of diabetes and obesity prevention programs in the context of India as well as globally. It is really interesting to learn about the changing infrastructure of Delhi and other Indian cities, and how it affects the health status of children and families. Before beginning this research, I would have never thought of India having problems with obesity or diabetes, since the attention has historically been focused on undernutrition. I have also been working on a powerpoint for PHFI to present to the World Health Organization (WHO), to implement the iPROMISe program into schools throughout Delhi and Gurgaon. It is exciting to know that I am a part of implementing a brand new school program that will influence the lives of children and families throughout the city.

iPROMISe Teacher’s Manual

It is a conflicting feeling doing work on programs/policies for children of affluent families in Delhi, while also being exposed to so much poverty and struggling. Each day at 5:00 pm, I leave work and head to the nearby gym. On the way there, I pass by mothers and their children walking or playing on the side of the road, barefoot and dirty, while their mothers sell fruit and other food items from their stand. I think about the difference between the children who get up everyday and head to school and the children who get up everyday and help their parents sell at the market so they can have food on the table.

This past weekend, Sylvia and I traveled to Jaipur. As we wandered around shopping and sightseeing, we stumbled upon a beautiful Hindu temple. Outside the temple was a young girl (probably around ten years old) asking people for food. As we got closer to her, she was motioning to her mouth and repeating the word roti. I asked her name and she responded, Monika. She was pointing to a place, but I couldn’t tell where she wanted to go. I pointed ahead and said “chalo”, or “let’s go”. She finally stops and points to a small market. We walk in and she points to a huge bag of flour, a bottle of oil, and a bag of rice. I soon realize that this meal is not just for her, but for her family. Sylvia and I take all the items to the counter, and ask the store clerk if they know the girl or where her parents are. They don’t speak much English, but they quickly say, “no parents, grandmother”. Sylvia and I pay the clerk and push the bag towards her. I ask the clerk to translate to her asking if she needs us to help her carry it. She quickly puts her hands together and bows in gratitude, picks up the heavy bag of flour and the remaining items, and walks out of the store. In that moment, I wanted to know more about her and where she would bring that food, feeling sad that I was unable to help her beyond that point. After this brief encounter with Monika, I couldn’t help but think about the difference between her and the children who will soon participate in the school programs I am working on.

My project at work highlights the importance of physical activity, recommending 60 minutes of exercise per day. The manual recommends activities, such as going to the park and playing cricket after school and going for a jog before school. I think about my own life and how much time I spent in school with my friends, playing sports, complaining about homework, stressing about grades and which college to attend. It is eye opening to see families in the community unable to send their kids to school and children like Monika who have to go out each day and find a way to feed her family. I often feel a combination of satisfaction inside the office and a sense of helplessness on the outside.

I guess it’s safe to say my mind has been racing with different thoughts, feelings, and emotions ever since I arrived in India. The time spent at work, in my community, and traveling to different cities have exposed me to different aspects of the country and its people that I would have never known without this experience! On to the next half of this journey…

Trip to Jaipur!

An Intern’s View of LEAP Skills

Wed, 07/17/2019 - 04:18

5 weeks completed at work! I consider myself very privileged to be interning here at LEAP Skills. LEAP (Learning, Employability and Progress) is a start-up that aims to bridge the skill gap in India and arm the Indian youth with the skills they need to have access to aspirational opportunities and to build successful careers.

I sincerely believe that everyone at the company has a reason to be here – other than the need to work and earn a salary. They are very committed and dedicated to make a change. Ria and I have also had the wonderful opportunity to hear the journey of the company and why LEAP came into existence from one of the cofounders.

There is so much to do, so everyone is very busy, but they definitely make out time for us whenever we have a question or need clarity about something. I am grateful to our supervisors who have been kind enough to guide us throughout and hold 1 hour meetings with us despite their busy schedules. I also appreciate the fact that they value our input on the different projects that we worked on with them.

What strikes me the most at LEAP is the sense of family that is nurtured here. There are not so many people, so everyone knows everyone.  I was surprised to see that they even celebrate the work anniversary of the staff. Bi monthly meetings are held to keep everyone on the same page. Just the other day, I attended one and it was amazing. The meeting started by welcoming 2 people who just joined LEAP. There was also an activity where everyone was given a blank sheet of paper and asked to write an anonymous compliment to a colleague. This pushed me to reflect about the kind of workplace I want to be in once I am looking for a job. I always used to think – I want to work in X sector or Y company as Z role, but I never thought, or I probably just assumed that I will be in a place where people value what I do and respect my opinion.

I remember being warned about Indian timing and was even told to bring a book because meetings scheduled at 12 can start at 3. I was very pleasantly surprised here since practically all the meetings are on time.  Also, as a startup they are always thinking of what differentiates them from others in the market. It was interesting to also see the how they experiment with things and come back to the drawing board to see the what works, what doesn’t and what needs to be changed. This has also prompted me to think creatively whenever I am making a presentation or research.

As to what am I actually doing:

The company has recently started catering for young job seekers India by acting as bridge between them and employers. In the first 2 weeks, I did a lot of research on competitors in the market. Ria and I also helped to come up with the framework and features for the new platform called Skillr Jobs. Now, I am working on a project to devise strategies to engage with job seekers on social media and to drive brand recall and brand presence. 

In brief, it is very inspiring to see the kind of work that the team here is doing. There is lots of scope to learn, grow and take responsibility. I look forward to the remaining 3-4 weeks at LEAP with amazing supervisors and co-workers.

A picture of me working diligently on my project!

Company Culture

Tue, 07/16/2019 - 08:00

Now that I’ve reached the midway point of my internship, I’ve had the opportunity to see, experience, and taste some amazing things. From being captivated by the violets, pinks, and blues waltzing across the sky to savoring the delicious dosas, pooris, and vadas, my time in India makes it difficult to choose the best part or my favorite experience. Of course the skies and food are aspects of the country I have experienced before, so the most fascinating experiences for me largely arise from my time at Aravind.

One can describe Aravind as a sophisticated hospital system dedicated to compassionate service for sight. Others can rave about the hyper-efficient processes of care that reach out to thousands of patients a day or the fact that Aravind provides free consultations and surgeries to individuals in rural regions as part of their mission to eradicate needless blindness. Interning at the Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology (LAICO) — the consulting branch of the healthcare system — I have had the opportunity to experience the operations necessary from the business perspective to carry out and enhance the effects of medical care at Aravind.

My project entails developing quality assurance metrics and a dashboard for the glaucoma clinic at Aravind. In layman’s terms, glaucoma is a disease where damage to the optic nerve results in irreversible vision loss. Unfortunately, it is a progressive disease which also makes it difficult to measure whether the quality of care provided by the clinic at Aravind is correlated to the rate at which the disease is worsening in a patient. However, it is crucial for the clinic to track patient outcomes along with process outcomes such as medical compliance and patient followup, so that they can iterate over their clinical operations and ultimately work towards providing the best care possible. My work thus far has involved shadowing the mid level ophthalmic personnel (MLOPs) through different patient streams, presenting potential quality indicators to doctors in the clinic, spending time in patient counseling, pouring over research articles, and extracting and analyzing data from the hospital electronic medical records (EMRs).

As much as I have learned about data analysis and measurement from my project, the most unforgettable learning experience comes from being in the Aravind environment itself. During our orientation week, my co-interns and I immediately noticed how knowledgeable everyone from the LAICO faculty to the MLOPs at the hospital were about Aravind as an institution and the work they were doing. Down to the minuscule details such as having prayer rooms for patients before they undergo surgery to placing the contact lens shop on the floor with younger patients, it is evident how much thinking went behind designing the hospital. Our tour guide enjoyed making us reason why foot traffic was directed in a certain manner or why a clinic was designed a specific way. I also had the opportunity to attend the memorial day event for Dr. G. Venkataswamy, the founder of the Aravind system and it was absolutely breathtaking how much respect everyone at the institution had for him and how his values such as compassionate care are embedded into the employees.

CASI interns visiting Aurolab – Aravind’s manufacturing division that supplies high quality ophthalmic consumables at affordable prices to developing regions. Aurolab products are are exported to 160 countries and their intraocular lenses account for 9% of the global market!

The wondrous company culture at Aravind continues to inspire me to explore my interests in innovative health care systems while weaving compassionate care and authentic work throughout the entire process and I can only hope by the end of the internship I will be able to carry these values with me.

Dear Thunder Moon, a Jhuggi Prayer

Mon, 07/15/2019 - 03:00

We are waiting
for monsoon, a Dilli
eclipsed by water.

The cool silence
after rain washes
tears dry.

Can it be compared:


The pain of holding on
in flood, to those held
by the nursing mothers
who cannot read, cannot move
from under shackled rooves
?

The motion of their mouths
swift and blurred

like a red eye slapped across
the face, and spitting.

Strands of tobacco falling like saffron.

Dear Thunder moon,


Have you heard
the chuckle of Earthly shadows
skipping in puddles of mud?


Have you heard of peace in flossed dust?


Spell-bind us in storm, spin us
with your light.

The temple of Deva
welcomes you


And your children are waiting.