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It is perplexing to think that in all my time spent in development-focused courses, taken in Sweden, Chile and California in an attempt to derive some comparison, I found repeated emphasis on theories and inflated economic prowess without ever understanding how exactly things get done. Implementation. And yet one week into my internship in India I came to understand the decisive weight of bottom-up community solutions in generating sustainable development. Unlike a mere paragraph in a greater text, the approach is an indispensable element of grassroots projects such as those implemented by my host organization, the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation.
The idea is simple: support the formation of community-based water forums to manage water resources and contribute some, although not all, of the funds required to bring their visions to fruition. We forget that people want to help themselves but lack the proper incentives and that, unless they do help themselves, solutions will likely be inconsistent with needs. For these communities, the answer lies in the construction and repair of traditional rainwater harvesting structures to increase their capacity to collect and store water. It is captivating to consider that in many cases solutions already exist, and that they simply need to be re-embraced and relieved of the social, political and economic mentalities that initially betrayed them.
I am now about halfway through my 3 month (minimum) internship in India. When it comes down to it I have come to India to find out where all the effort goes. I want to know why development is so elusive. Two weeks ago I was surprised to find that my host organization was willing to charge me with the responsibility of writing the funding proposals on which their entire resource base for future projects depends. But I am passionate about research, and for the required assignment I was handed essentially all of the internal documents of the organization. What is less apparent is the fact that just as fascinating to me as the content of these documents is the system by which they have been generated and maintained. I am eager to understand how and how quickly information passes through the organization, what is included and what is left out. I have gained a tacit understanding of elements in the great theme of Implementation that are both general and unique to the present environment, and I feel that I have begun identifying the issues that will shape my future involvement in development policy.
I am truly grateful to be here. I know it is right because I still cannot see it happening any other way. I cannot imagine continuing my education without understanding it all more deeply. Yet I do not feel that this is an easy ride in either a personal or professional sense. The India Times just informed me that Goa’s HIV positive patients are purposefully deteriorating their health to go on a treatment that will then entitle them to 1000 rupees per month from the government… which amounts to less than one dollar per day. My 27-year-old Indian host sister recently asked me if France was in the US. And my supervisor at work re-defined the English definition of “objectives” and asked for a re-submission of my proposal. It has struck me that India only recently achieved independence and yet is grappling with all of the most wayward epidemics of modernity on an unprecedented scale. And sometimes I can’t resist getting lost in the thought of just how big this country, this world and this problem is.
All I know is that at the end of the day I am not here because of the impossibilities and the illusions. I cannot maintain that we are all drowning when people who have known despair are re-defining faith and leading meaningful change in regions like Marwar that the world never has to think of. And I cannot make the choice not to follow them.