10 days in India: A glimpse behind the scenes
Interview regarding the project visit to India in April 2018
India. The first things that come to mind when thinking about India include bright colours, the Taj Mahal, tea plantation or even yoga retreats, Ayurveda treatments, various spices, the Dalai Lama or large high-tech companies. But the second most populous country, after the People's Republic of China, is also greatly afflicted by poverty, noise and environmental pollution. Stephanie Adler, chairman of the association, has granted us some insights into her project visit to the land of many contrasts.
Together with the Child and Family Foundation, chairman Stephanie Adler made her way to India, to inspect the photovoltaic system that was installed with the help of the Greenfinity Foundation at the Dhara Children Academy, a school whose renovation is funded by the Child & Family Foundation. In addition, two projects to promote environmental awareness amongst the students were also on the agenda.
I: How long was your project visit, where did you go and which projects did you oversee?
S.A.: In April, we spent ten days in Thakurdwara, which is approximately 220 kilometres northeast of Delhi, to oversee our project at the Dhara Children Academy.
I: Why do you continue to go on project visits?
S.A.: The aim of the project visits is to evaluate whether we can implement a specific project. If the project is already underway, the aim of the visit is to see the progress or the final result. In addition, such project visits are extremely helpful when it comes to taking further measures as we are able to meet with the project partners onsite and in person.
Communication via skype can be quite tricky as a steady internet connection is not always a given. Problems can also occur during the realisation of a project for which solutions can only be devised when one is onsite. Furthermore, we can use these project visits to implement other small projects that aim to create awareness.
I: What was the aim of your visit?
I.A.: We wished to evaluate the newly installed photovoltaic system, create environmental awareness amongst the students with the help of a waste collection and reforestation campaigns and determine which other means of support were still necessary. An important part of the project visit was to discuss certain matters with our project partner, such as the additional objectives as well as administrative issues. Another aim of our project visit was to find solutions to challenges that had arisen during the realisation of the project.
I: Is it safe to assume that as you have seen much of the world there is nothing that could shake you?
S.A.: Each country is different. In each country one is met with different challenges as both the cultures and the climate differ greatly from another. The heat in India, for example, was an immense challenge. Traveling to a country where it is 40°c in the shade after having spent a very cold winter in Austria takes its toll on your body.
Such heat during a holiday is manageable as one can cool off in the sea and grant one's body time to recuperate. But when you are there to work, things are quite different.
I: What differentiates India from the other countries you have already visited?
S.A: I think that India is a country of many contrasts. The country is divided into very rich and highly developed side and an extremely poor and underdeveloped one. What was a new experience was the multitude of people. One is never alone and everywhere is cramped, including the Dhara Children Academy. The rooms are small and every inch of space is used. This is not an ideal learning environment as the rooms also have no windows nor doors, but still, it's better than no education at all.
I: Which challenges did you face during your visit to India?
S.A: The challenges when visiting foreign countries often lie in the simplest things: For example, we are not used to the local bacteria. The vegetables are treated with chemicals that are unknown to our organism. That is why one should avoid drinking tap water or eating unpeeled vegetables.
That is easier said than done. Ice cubes are quickly put in drinks and the people in India are very hospitable. Wherever you go, you are given regional specialities to try. And that can be quite a dilemma. On the one hand, refusing to eat the food is a sign of disrespect but on the other hand one wants to avoid any stomach problems.
I: How did you fare?
S.A: The typically Styrian response would be to say that I have a pig's stomach. My two colleagues were less fortunate and in the end, they had to make do with just Cola and rice.
I: What was the collaboration like on site?
S.A: We were very surprised with the people's warmth and openness, not only from our project partners but from the children and their families as well.
On the other hand, the Indians' working methods also took getting used to. Europeans are very structured; business trips have a strict agenda and are planned right down to the smallest details and one knows what to expect. It's different in India.
Here the rule is to simply trust your project partner. For example, you are asked to get into a car but are not told where you will be driven.
During such project visits one has to remind oneself that each culture functions differently and that one's own values are not always shared across the borders. One always needs a good dose of patience and flexibility when traveling through foreign countries.
I: Which experiences where most surprising?
S.A: There are many moments that spring to mind.
For instance, the people in the region are not used to seeing foreigners and have great respect for them. One afternoon we were driven to an appointment. We were sitting in a room with several Indians but nothing happened. We didn't know what we were waiting for. At the end we realised that our appointment was a press conference but none of the journalists dared to ask us a question.
On another occasion we witnessed how our food was being prepared: on an open fire pit with cow dung being used as fuel. Even though it's a great example of sustainability, from a culinary perspective it takes getting used to.
Of course, there are many more memorable moments I could mention, if we had the time. ?
I: As chairman of the Greenfinity Foundation what were your impressions when it came to the environment?
S.A: I believe that that was one of the greatest cultural shocks I have ever encountered. India is one huge waste problem. I have never seen such a high degree of environmental pollution. One gets the feeling that there is no waste disposal and no environmental awareness whatsoever.
I: Can you hold them accountable? Or is their ignorance and inactivity a result of the population's poverty?
S.A: Environmental awareness is largely linked to education. Environmental education is even explicitly mentioned in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. If there are no or merely bad schools on account of the poverty, then environmental education will fall by the wayside.
I: What will be your next destination?
S.A: The region of Bahia in Brazil. The last time I was there was three years ago when we were building wells. This year we wish to plant organic gardens in the region.