Dear Future Intern,
If you’re like me, you won’t know what to expect from your upcoming internship at VIDYA in Gurgaon, India. When I was hired I navigated a lot of contradictory advice from many well-meaning people, and now that my time here is almost over I’m ready to share my own advice, however contradictory and vague it may be.
You’re probably wondering what you’ll be doing here. From Monday to Friday you’ll work under strong leaders who have dedicated their lives to children’s education and women’s empowerment. On Saturday and Sunday you’ll attempt to take in all that Delhi and India have to offer – a task that refuses to be reduced to two days of the week. Accept that you’ll be planning your next trip to India before you’ve even left.
While the only difference between your morning routine here and at home will be the chai, the rest of your day will often feel a little more exhilarating. The subway will be crammed so close you can simultaneously read the romance e-book of the woman next to you while participating in discussions of marriage rituals with your co-workers. Once you arrive at the VIDYA School Gurgaon there will be assemblies where young girls from surrounding poor communities perform Indian classical dance beautifully, and you’ll notice that while the school has a 50:50 boy to girl enrollment, women are vastly outnumbered in other public spaces you’ve been in. You’ll remember this on a Sunday night when men start spilling into the women’s section of the metro, and at first you feel bad because their section, which constitutes the majority of the train, is extremely crowded compared to the women’s section. When a woman yells at a man for being in the wrong section you at first feel sympathy for him, until you remember there is a fundamental problem with the fact that there are hundreds of men taking this individual subway and less than 30 women. You’ll wonder where the women in this city of 18 million are. A woman next to you, around 45 years old and wearing a trendy jacket, jeans, and rocking a short haircut turns to a sari-adorned woman of about 70 and says, “if we don’t demand respect for ourselves than why should we expect them to give it to us”. After the younger woman leaves you’ll realize they’re not mother and daughter, just two women staking claim to the space they take up.
You’ll find that you don’t know how you contribute to the women’s empowerment movement in Delhi, but that working at VIDYA gives you a place to start. Programs like the Mandira Women’s Driving Program empowers women to take the wheel, and move freely through Delhi’s tangled streets.
At VIDYA you’ll help with anything and everything you can. You’ll write newsletters, take pictures, make databases, and write emails, and along the way you’ll learn about the day-to-day tasks of running a national NGO that has served over 300,000 people in 35 years. Your work won’t always be glamorous – if you’re looking for glamour just wear an Indian suit and some fancy shoes. Don’t worry – your co-workers and supervisors will be there to guide you. You’ll hear more “good morning ma’am’s” from cheeky kids poking out of classrooms than you ever expected to, and will be touched when a girl whose parent’s live on less that 10,000 INRs a year gives you a chocolate bar because it’s her birthday.
On the weekends you’ll visit some of the most amazing sites you’ve ever seen. If you’re like me, you’ll fantasize about having your wedding at the Amber Fort, justify buying pashminas for everyone you’ve ever been friends with (my scarf count is currently at 20), and take endless photos in an attempt to capture the energy of a country (spoiler: you can’t). You’ll read amazing books, like Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, under a single light on the train ride home while your partner sleeps above you, and you’ll try food so spicy you cry, but so good you can’t stop eating it.
The best piece of advice I can give you is to have confidence in yourself and to have confidence in India. At the end of the trip, you will know so much more about NGO management, India, and yourself.
I am so excited for you.
Queen’s Project on International Development (QPID) India Intern 2016
Watch out for the monkeys!