I was very excited when the news that I would be an intern with UNICEF this summer arrived in my email. Not only did this give me the opportunity to return to India, but it would be a opportunity to see first hand the development processes that I am currently studying as part of my Master’s program in International Studies at DePaul University in the U.S.
My assignment is to evaluate the “Link Volunteer” program that has been implemented by UNICEF and partner NGOs to improve the hygiene conditions in the shelters that house families displaced from the Tsunami. While several of the shelters have been shut down and families reestablished in new homes, in Tamil Nadu alone there are still 19,000 families living in these shelters and are yet to move to stable housing.
Waste management and access to safe drinking water have been major problems that face the people that live in these shelters along side hundreds of other families. Several hundred volunteers from within the communities where trained by UNICEF and partner NGOs in better hygiene practices to be Link volunteers that would then example better hygiene practices within their respective communities.
I am part of a three-person group that will travel to Nagapattinam, one of the worst effected areas in India, to access the changes in hygiene practices that have been a result of Link volunteers. Harini, my group member is a native of Chennai, but has been living in the U.S. for the past 4 years. She has just completed her M.A. in Journalism from the University of Illinois- Urbana and hopeI have currently been living in the U.S. for the past five years and have a strong desire to one day return to India to work in children’s development.s to work in advocacy journalism. Swati, my third group member is from Delhi studying for a MBA from Delhi University and hopes to bridge into the development sector. I myself, am also a native of Chennai, but was raised in Australia.
After a long 24 journey from Chicago, I arrived in Delhi to scorching 40+ degrees. While I am from India and have been here numerous times, the realities of poverty directly in front of my eyes were and continue to be a difficult adjustment. India is full of images, sounds and smells that illustrate lives of happiness as well as sorrow, privileged as well as injustice. Nonetheless, it gives me motivation to make the most of this internship and contribute as much as possible to the development of my country.
A weeklong workshop was held by the UNICEF Country Office in Delhi and introduced us to the other 100 interns from various countries that are working on other UNICEF projects in several other cities around India. The workshop went well and gave a good overview of the development activities that UNICEF is involved with throughout India.
Since arriving in Chennai, the three of us have been doing a lot of background research to understand the situation in the Tsunami affected areas. We are working from our host institute, Nalandaway Foundation, a Chennai-based NGO that mentors children from impoverished families. Meeting the children was definitely a highlight of the internship so far and is helping me learn a lot in addition to our project on the hygiene in Tsunami shelters. The children are full of life and laughter and have been coming to Nalandaway to make plans for the film they are making.
Well, we are currently busy making travel arrangements for Nagapattinam. We hope to be there by the middle of next week to access the situation, meet with Link volunteers and talk with the people living in the shelters. The experience will be eye opening for me as it will be my first time visiting a village town in India as I survey the conditions of the Tsunami-devastated areas. I hope the end result of this internship will not only be a case study on the topic at hand, but also a personal learning experience that will guide me throughout my life.