Having grown up in a metro city and coming from a multinational background, I had no idea how rural setting and development sector works in India – until I stepped into my job at AIF which takes me to places and communities which are completely new to me.
Living in a city full of noise and surrounded by development, it’s hard at times to know the reality of the grassroots. Each day makes me immerse more into the development sector. I am amused and motivated at the same time as I’m being exposed to realities which remain very far away from my city life!
As part of the Fellowship team, I often accompany my co-workers on site visits out our Fellows across India. During those site visits, we check in with our Fellows, their host organization mentors, and witness some of the work that they are doing in the communities they serve.
My recent field visit to Tamil Nadu introduced me to a very different set of community initiatives and work in a rural environment.
My first day was spent at this very beautiful social organization called Kattaikkuttu Sangam which is a place approximately 9 kms away from Kanchipuram, in a village called Punjarasantankal. At this time of year, Kattaikkuttu Sangam is working to organize a Kuttu dance festival where artists from different parts of Tamil Nadu come together to participate and perform. It was exceptionally amazing to see these highly skilled artisan professionals and students depict the stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata in the form of street playing and Kuttu.
Moving ahead with my trip, I traveled in a different direction and reached Madras Crocodile Bank Trust in Mahaballipuram. Founded 40 years ago, their mission is to conserve endangered reptiles through breeding, education, and research.
—As a child, I grew up going to crocodile parks for picnics with my family, but I never thought I would actually be staying at one of the crocodile parks! Staying with these buddies around for two days was exceptionally different. I would have never known so much about crocodiles, or say something like this: “These buddies are from four different species and I got to meet 2300 of them!” Just imagine the looks on my family’s faces.
I learned a lot during my site visit to the Croc Bank. For example, that a crocodile’s eye reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors, though blurring the initial image of the light on focus. Although I didn’t major in biology, I thought this was a pretty interesting detail.
I saw firsthand that the Croc Bank is not just a typical zoo. I was amazed to see how much the organization loves the environment and is actually preparing compost out of crocodile excrements and plant/vegetable waste. I have never seen people do this is big cities where probably we have more waste material. I wish we could pick some skills from them and bring it back to the city for a “greener” waste management!
Let’s come to the last and super green region of my trip, the Nilgiris. There I planned to visit this 20-year-old organization called Keystone Foundation. They work with indigenous communities through eco-development to enhance the quality of life and preserve the environment in and around the mountains
This was for the first time I actually saw how an organization has been working with local people and helping them in promoting livelihood by reaching out to different people across the state. It was beautiful to hear the story of honey hunters and tea farmers from the beautiful forests of Nilgiris.
I am extremely content by having such a rich experience, looking back at my exposure to such warm and welcoming community keeps me motivated and pushes me to work more for the grass root sitting in my fancy office back in the city. I am very eager to explore more new communities and spaces across country coming time!
(From the AIF blog on Fellowship)