Life-changing lessons from India – Surrender

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‘In India, sometimes you have to surrender before you win’ ~ Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

It’s almost 6 months since I returned from India and I’ve finally been able to make sense of some of my experiences. I chose India for my Social work placement because it’s a country I’ve always felt drawn to explore and it was an opportunity to practice Social work in a completely different context to what I had experienced whilst living and working in Australia.

During my placement I wrote about my struggle to feel as though I was seeing the ‘real India’ and I acknowledged that I needed to surrender, and to immerse myself in the experience to understand what was happening. Reading that piece now it seems quite insightful, because I know that although that was my genuine intention I just couldn’t let go of the need to feel in control (yes, I am a little bit of a control-freak).

Only a few months earlier, I had been in Sydney for the Aim for the Stars gala weekend and had a surfing lesson with Layne Beachley! As I’d tried to be cool about awkwardly dragging my ridiculously heavy surfboard out in to waist deep waves, and not feeling self-conscious in my body-hugging wetsuit, I suddenly found myself lying on the board with Layne bobbing in the water next to me.

I felt completely out of my depth in every sense of the word. This was the deepest point I’d ever been in the ocean (much to Layne’s amusement), I was in the water with the world’s greatest surfer, and I could barely swim let alone surf.

The feeling of being completely out of control in the middle of the ocean was totally overwhelming and led to a mini-break down on my board as I could feel the tears welling, my heart pounding through my chest. Luckily Layne is too cool to be caught up in my craziness, and after explaining how great the ocean is in teaching control-freaks to let go, she firmly but calmly said ‘don’t let your fear sabotage this experience for you’. And just like that, her words snapped me out of it and after a few hilarious attempts I finally stood on my board to catch my first wave (a tiny little wave).

But only a few months later, I was in India and again feeling out of control as I struggled with a lack of structure or support around my placement, and the most intense loneliness and isolation I’ve ever felt. And no matter how much positivity or self-talk I tried, I could not fully bring myself to the point of just letting go and surrendering to the experience.

When I returned to Australia things spun further out of control, as I was suddenly trying to process my 3 month Social work experience, the end of my 5 year relationship and where I was going to live and work in the next phase of my life. But this time I finally had the space to stop, to clear my mind from distractions and focus on my thoughts and feelings because India had shown me that I couldn’t avoid doing this.

It’s fair to say that India transformed my life. Not as the gentle spiritual-awakening I’d hoped for, but as a big ol’ punch to the face. Buddhists believe that we repeat similar life experiences over and over until we learn what we need to move on. I feel like my 3 months in India placed me in that lesson (for what felt like an eternity at times) to develop my awareness of what the lesson was – letting go – and to give me the space to be honest with myself about taking responsibility for my role in it.

Surrendering is definitely not a lesson that I have mastered yet but I am grateful for my time in India for challenging me to question who I am and to experiment with other ways of being.

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My social work placement in India was possible thanks to the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

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Photo Essay: India’s national campaign to raise awareness of child rights

In 1996, the CHILDLINE India Foundation (CIF) launched CHILDLINE 1098, a national toll free, 24-hour helpline in India providing emergency phone support and outreach for children in need of care and protection. A total of 36 million calls were answered by CHILDLINE as of March 2015, with over 600 partner organisations supporting the operation of CHILDLINE across 346 Indian cities.

Childline Se Dosti is a one-week national campaign run by CHILDLINE, with the aim of encouraging community members to become stakeholders in CHILDLINE 1098 and to raise awareness of both child rights and child protection. The campaign involves a range of events and activities across India to generate a million dosts (friends) for CHILDLINE. This photo essay highlights CHILDLINE campaign activities that I participated in with the CHILDLINE BREDS Pathapatnam office, as part of my 70-day Social work placement in Andhra Pradesh, India.

 

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1. National Children’s Day – Outside a classroom at Government Zilla Parishad High School, flower garlands surround a portrait of Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime minister of post-independent India. National Children’s Day in India is celebrated on Nehru’s birthday, November 14th, and is also the start of Childline Se Dosti. Nehru is said to have adored children who gave him the endearing nickname – ‘Chacha Nehru’.

 

2. Raksha Bamdhan ‘a bond of protection’ – Children tied yellow Child Se Dosti arm bands around Police from Hiramandalam Police Station as part of a movement to strengthen the partnership between children, CHILDLINE and community stakeholders. This activity also increases children’s confidence in accessing help. Police identified that the biggest safety issue for young women in this area is child marriage.

 

3. Signature campaign – CHILDLINE staff gain signatures from community members and youth at a bus station in Pathapatnam. The signatures will be photographed and documented records will be provided to the state government to bring awareness to the work of CHILDLINE.

 

4. Mandal Stakeholders Meeting – At the Mandal Development Office in Pathapatnam, stakeholders met with CHILDLINE staff and children with disabilities from local schools. This meeting aimed to increase awareness of CHILDLINE and children were awarded prizes for their posters. This child’s drawing depicts a child calling CHILDLINE (left) and the Hindu god Lord Ganesh (right). This elephant-headed god is worshipped as the remover of obstacles and the lord of new beginnings.

 

5. Saravakota street rally – girls from the local government high school joined the CHILDLINE rally and street walk. Children held placards promoting children’s rights, in particular the rights of the ‘girl child’, and raised awareness for issues such as child marriage and child labour.

 

6. Saravakota street rally – children held the CHILDLINE banner and placards to lead two rows of school children to rally through the streets of Saravakota. Ghanis (age 14) (far left) used my video camera to walk up and down the rows of children, filming them as they rallied down the street.

 

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7. Pathapatnam street rally – twin boys from the local government high school join the CHILDLINE rally and street walk. A Police escort joined the rally on foot and CHILDLINE staff used megaphones to call protest chants in Telugu that the children responded to such as ‘Child Se Dosti – friends of children , Balaya Vivahalu, apaly apaly – Child marriage, Stop Stop and Balala Hakkulu Kapadudam – Protect Child Rights!

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My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation

Seeing the ‘real India’

Today is day 28 of placement. In addition to the social work learnings, there have been the day to day adjustments to life in India, including showering with a bucket, using a squat toilet and water instead of toilet paper, eating with my hands, and accepting that I will be served rice and yellow dahl for breakfast, lunch and dinner! There’s been public transport adventures via autos, buses and trains, the privilege of sharing meals and chai with families and tribal communities, witnessing communities celebrating Ganesh Chatturi and Dussehra, visiting temples, buying saris, seeing movies in Hindi and Telugu, and having a favourite Telugu song we sing to in the car!

Lately, I’ve really struggled with feeling ‘de-skilled’ on this placement and I’m constantly questioning how I can incorporate 10 years of knowledge and learning in to my experience here. The simple answer is that I can’t because this is community development work, not case work, but it’s almost impossible to view situations objectively in a cross-cultural setting. When I speak to family and friends and they ask me how I’m feeling, it’s too big a question for me to answer. For me, travel and living overseas create an environment of emotional highs and lows of emotions from week to week, but whilst travelling and living in India I’ve experienced this daily.

Then there’s my conflict about whether I’m going to be exposed to the ‘real India’. I first started thinking about this when we arrived on campus in September. The uni has a signs promoting safety for women and respectful relationships which I was really surprised by. But in the same month, a Tamil paper the Kumudam Reporter, posted photos (without consent) of women wearing leggings with their Kurtis (tunics) blowing up in the wind. The sensationalist paper has a history of misogyny and the article titled ‘Are leggings obscene? The youth are crossing the line’ was an attempt at moral policing and body shaming young women.

My conflict about experiencing the ‘real India’ has been present in our visits to tribal communities too. Whilst we sit and sip chai, chatting with villagers, the news reports an alarming number of rural farmers committing suicide due to the drought – an issue that hasn’t come up on any of our visits. And coming from a background in out-of-home care, I can’t help but feel that I’m not gaining a real insight to the welfare of children in India. Last month we laughed and drew pictures with school children from a an urban slum in Bhubaneswar, and just four days ago Police in northern India arrested four men over allegations that they killed two children from the Dalit community (untouchables) by burning them alive.

I keep reading that India is full of contradictions. This is true and I’ve become one too. I’m a social work student and I believe in fairness and equality, yet I’m already immersed in the class system and have drivers, cleaners and cooks taking care of my daily needs. Every day I battle with the patriarchy of living and studying in India. Issues of gender and safety mean I don’t walk anywhere alone. I’m always chaperoned, and one of my task supervisor’s 17 year old son and his friends thought it appropriate to assert themselves as our entourage at the train station. My supervisor tells me that a 7 year old boy would be considered an appropriate chaperone by some people, simply because he is male.

It’s a lot to take. I’m learning that I have to let go of the idea that I’m ‘just an observer’, to surrender, and to immerse myself in this experience to understand what is happening here.

**

My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

Reflections on life in India

It’s really hard to summarise everything that we’ve shared and experienced over the last few weeks of our Social work placement. We are learning from the moment we get up to the moment we go to bed. And I’ve typed pages and pages of reflections but my thinking is challenged so frequently that by the time I actually have wifi to post something, I already feel disconnected from what I’ve written the day before. Every situation and interaction is a lesson. This makes it both amazing and overwhelming at times, as there’s not a lot of space to stop and process each day before we’re moving on to the next. So, over the next few months I’ll post some reflections on different issues from my placement and if there’s questions that you have or an area that you’re interested in then let me know..

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My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi from Bec Jane on Vimeo.

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Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi in an urban slum in Bhubaneswar! We spent the afternoon walking through the slum and meeting people in the community and then this happened…Thanks to Georgie for the awesome footage – one of my favourite moments in India so far!

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My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

Melbourne to Kolkata

On Wednesday’s flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kolkata we were all pretty exhausted from the early start in Melbourne. Sleeping was made impossible due to the pilot switching between a torturous combination of dim mood lighting versus interrogation-style spot lights. This seemed to go on for hours and when we finally touched down in Kolkata it seemed like we had met our fate when the cabin crew announced that everyone should cover their faces and proceeded to spray a white, gassy substance everywhere. Given that we’ve lived to tell the tale, I’m hopeful that this was some kind of DEET and malaria prevention and that we’re not going drop dead next week.

In Kolkata we’ve been staying at the Bodhi Tree guesthouse and it’s amazing! The staff are so friendly and the rooms are filled with an eclectic mix of arty pieces, carvings, prayer flags, lanterns and wall hangings. It’s got a Balinese kind of vibe and the dim lighting is so peaceful to come back to after the craziness of the city.

We arrived for the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, a festival celebrating the birthday of Lord Ganesh who is widely worshiped by Hindus as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune. I know him as the remover of obstacles (and I have a little Ganesh at my front door) so it seemed very appropriate for the start of our journey! During the festival, temporary shrines (pandals) are set up for worshippers to make offerings to the idols and at the end of the 10-day festival there’s a mass-emersion of idols at Indian beaches. It’s really humbling when you see people who appear to have so little celebrate life and give thanks for what they have. A huge lesson in gratitude.

I love the sounds and chaos of the city – the smell of incense, waft of sewerage,
stalls of street food, and constant traffic horns! It’s been so much fun trying new dishes every day. My favourites so far have been masala chai tea, dal makhani (black lentils, butter and cream) and Gulab Juman (deep fried, spongy dough balls soaked in syrup). And there was a really yummy, savoury pancake-style bread that was delicious for breakfast too! I’m not great at ordering food though, even in English. Apparently, ‘we’re going to share’ also sounds like ‘I’d like a kingfisher beer’?!

My first impressions of India have already challenged some of the assumptions I had made about travelling here. Yes, the men do stare but everyone stares at us – women, children, goats! There is so much negative Western media about India but I have found that people are just curious and interested in what we’re doing and that’s a feeling I share for the people here too. We’ve had a few paparazzi moments already, posing for some family photos and we were also stalked a few blocks around the New market area by men keen to become our tour guides and take us to their shops. We managed to lose them eventually and I guess we’ll become much assertive over the next few months here.

On Thursday we caught the metro and spent time orientating ourselves with the city, and today the Bodhi Tree organised for a driver to take us to some of the sights around Kolkata including the Victoria Memorial, Mother Theresa’s Motherhouse, New market and the Indian museum. In between stops we walked along the Beautified Bank Of Ganga River where heaps of couples sat cuddling on chairs by the river bank – so cute. Jeya placed her hand in the Ganges water but neither Georgie, Bec or myself were that game and were quick to pass her the hand sanitiser. Later that afternoon whilst we waited to meet our driver, we were caught in a monsoon torrential downpour – clearly we should have put our hands in the Ganges and the universe made up for it with a drenching cleanse. As I waded through calf deep water to get to the car, my thong washed of my foot and started floating away down the street. As I hopped over to get it, luckily Bec was able to rescue it for me and we jumped into the taxi dying of laughter. The owner of our accommodation told us that monsoon season use to run from June – August, however climate change has meant that the monsoon season now runs into September. We haven’t even started placement yet and I feel like each day is filled with Social work learnings – white privilege, spirituality, climate change.

Despite being covered from ankle to neck at night, the mossies found a juicy area under my chin to feast on so I may have to step up malaria prevention to a full body suit this week.

**

My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 4,500 times in 2010. That’s about 11 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 15 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 77 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 143mb. That’s about a picture per week.

The busiest day of the year was April 24th with 113 views. The most popular post that day was leaving London and the city behind.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were stumbleupon.com, digg.com, matadoru.com, twitter.com, and slashingtongue.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for kyoto, irish family, kinsella family tree, rebecca kinsella, and kyoto garden london.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

leaving London and the city behind April 2010
12 comments

2

About Me December 2009
7 comments

3

10 Travel Quotes I love July 2010
9 comments

4

Photo Essay: Kyoto Garden, London May 2010
11 comments

5

Writing February 2010

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