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CSA Interns Learn and Grow Through Service in Pune, India

Mary Harrison with students from Matoshri English Medium School, where she interned through the Center for South Asia's Summer Service Internship Program.

provided by M. Harrison
Feb 10 2015

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The Center for South Asia (CSA) is once again offering their Summer Service Internship Program to undergraduates entering their junior or senior years.  Launched last year to great success, the program offers students opportunities to work with non-profit organizations in Pune, India, in the areas of education, women’s issues, public health and environmental sustainability.

"We are thrilled at the outcomes of the first round of our service internships. Their experiences surpassed our expectations,” said Associate Director for the Center for South Asia Sangeeta Mediratta. “They worked shoulder to shoulder with disadvantaged communities and learned a tremendous amount in the process, not to mention the significant contributions they made over a relatively short period of time.”

The first group of students returned from their internships enthusiastic and energized by their experiences.

“Most gratifying to hear upon the students' return to Stanford was the excitement in their voices and the motivation to participate further in such global service projects," Mediratta added.

Sustainable Sanitation in the Home

Saniya Kishnani, Human Biology, ’16, spent 10 weeks as a public health intern with Shelter Associates, an NGO devoted to housing rehabilitation and sanitation projects.  Her main project was working with “One Home, One Toilet,” which aims to address the growing sanitation issues prevalent throughout the developing world.

“I was able to work on a variety of different projects.  I built a model toilet, helped redesign a health survey to assess the impact of the initiative, and also worked on publishing informational documents and outreach materials,” Kishnani said.

Among Kishnani’s many roles, she spent much of her time with survey teams in the communities themselves, synthesizing data to create educational materials in English so that people around the world could get a sense of the harsh ground realities in these struggling areas.

“I had seen many of these communities but had never been in one,” Kishnani reflected.  “I was confronted with tremendous wealth inequalities, striking poverty, and some heart-wrenching conditions of humanity.  It was an eye-opening experience.”

The Waste Picker Union

Claire Thompson, Earth Systems, ’16, immersed herself in the self-founded, self-operated union of waste pickers SWaCH.

An offshoot of the cooperative KKPKP (Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat), SWaCH is a growing organization that works to bring structure, safety, and dignity to more than 6,000 women waste pickers throughout Pune.  The broad scope of this organization gave Thompson the freedom to delve into a number of aspects she was interested in—advocacy, women’s rights, and sustainable practices.

“I had a lot of freedom in mapping out my internship,” said Thompson.  “My supervisor took great care in showing me the ropes but also gave a lot of independence in my work.”

Through these efforts, Thompson had the opportunity to be directly involved with SWaCH’s nirmalaya collection project, which is a huge initiative planned around Ganpati Visarjan, an annual festival celebrating Lord Ganesh.

During the festival, citizens celebrate by making offerings (nirmalaya). Traditionally, tons of flowers, fruits, cloth, and plaster Ganesh idols are tossed into the rivers, which further harm the already polluted waterways.  To effectively deal with this problem and help minimize the amount of material disposed of in the rivers, SWaCH members mobilized a massive collection effort around the event.

“It was very hectic.  There was a lot of office work gearing up for the festival—compiling data, taking inventory of materials, etc.,” said Thompson.  “And during the collection days, my supervisor and I were on the ground from morning until night, visiting different stations, troubleshooting with coordinators, and checking in with volunteers.”

Thompson’s efforts with SWaCH certainly did not go to waste.  The organization nearly doubled the 100 tons of offerings they collected the year before.

“This year we collected over 170 tons of nirmalaya—which is 170 tons not clogging up the rivers!”

The Akanksha Foundation           

Mary Harrison, Economics, ’16, spent her summer interning at the Akanksha Foundation, an NGO that operates schools in Pune and Mumbai.  She began her internship just as Akanksha was piloting a new curriculum program.

Harrison’s efforts primarily revolved around the Matoshri English Medium School, where she observed classes, collaborated with the Akanksha curriculum team, and worked with teachers on how to best implement the program.

“I met some of the most brilliant and inspirational teachers,” said Harrison.  “Children come to school in torn uniforms, without school supplies, and without having done their homework, yet the teachers never gave up.”

As dedicated as the teachers were, Harrison understood the struggle they and their students faced daily trying to teach and learn within a community without sufficient means.

“All of the students come from challenging homes.  None of their families speak English and very few have parents who finished high school,” Harrison noted.  “Getting help on schoolwork at home is nearly impossible, which is a big piece of education.”

The experience was so moving and profound for Harrison that she has started to seriously consider education as a future career path.

“This summer, I saw the transformative power of education and I want to be a part of the educational system here in my own country.”

Get Involved

Students interested in service internships similar to the ones described above are encouraged to apply through the Center for South Asia.  Internships include accommodation and a small stipend for living expenses.  All interns must make their own travel and visa arrangements.  Deadline to apply is February 16, 2015.  Applications and further details are available on CSA’s website.

The Center for South Asia facilitates teaching and learning about the South Asian subcontinent, which encompasses the nations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka.