The American Way

BUT FIRST A shameless plug

Dear readers,
I have almost been in Delhi for two weeks, and I am just now realizing (to my shame) that people have no clue where I am, or what I am doing. Ooopsy!

I am currently working with the Hope Project. An organization dedicated to supporting and building a safe and healthy community for the residents of the basti Hazrat Nizammudin, a slum in New Delhi.

I am staying in the guesthouse in the heart of the basti in Nizamuddin. I literally just have to walk down three flights of stairs to get to my work space.

The Hope Project provides educational, vocational, and health services to the greater Nizamuddin area. I am currently assisting the pre-primary classes which consists of students who are 2-5 years old. Basically, I get to teach classes and let the children play in my hair for four hours a day, five days a week.

I wanted to spend some time observing the community and culture found in marginalized communities. It has been an incredible experience working with the Hope Project. To an outsider Nizamuddin may seem crowded and desolate, but there is a strong resiliency in the community that would inspire even the toughest of hearts to follow his or her dreams.


I am writing this with much guilt in my heart. I am realizing that it will be more suitable for me to volunteer at another place, but I feel horrible because there is such a need at the Hope Project. Even though part of my Watson proposal was to indeed merely begin at one organization in order to properly execute my project, I do not know how to break the news to my host. As I explained to one of my dear friend’s last night, I miss environmental work, and while in two short weeks I have observed and talked with people about their connections to the outdoors, it is more appropriate for me to switch over to an environmental organization that now tries to address the issues of living in a slum.

I call this blog the American Way because realizing that I was not the best fit for the Hope Project only two weeks in, made me reevaluate why I chose this wonderful organization in the first place. And to be honest…it was my love of convenience…something I associate with American culture. The Hope Project offered quick access to a marginalized community, housing, food, and transportation from the airport. Even though the organization itself was not aligned with environmental concerns, I compromised so I would not have to stress about housing and food. I am realizing that the things I value in America are not the best way to approach my journey this year. If I had simply did a little more research, I would have found a plethora of environmental justice organizations in India that were aligned closer to my interests, instead of spending four hours a day chasing after precious little monsters. This is in no way to insult the work of the Hope Project, or to educators around the world. Actually, I am saluting them, and I am wondering how they find the stamina and determination to wake up each morning with the burden of educating our future. I realize that even though I always appreciated my teachers, I never appreciated the preparation and the work that goes into teaching. These last two weeks have also assured me that primary and secondary education is not for me lol.

Finding out that I do not like something is equally important. I came to India to come to terms with no longer loving what I loved. And in just two short weeks, and no more than 40 hours of in classroom experience, I can say with confidence that I am a nature girl. I will gladly leave solving the problems of educating our youth to those with a passion for it. I hope this does not come off as selfish as it sounds. I guess that is where the guilt comes in. The Hope Project has contributed more to my development than I have contributed to the education of the 115 children I came across. I feel like I should stay longer and help more, instead of secretly searching for the nearest nature reserve. I feel as if I used this organization for its convenience, a very American mentality, if you consider how we as consumers are willing to overlook certain consequences that come along with our purchases for convenience and luxury. However, what kind of person would apply that same logic to volunteerism. Trust me readers I have learned a valuable lesson! Over the years I have become very critical of myself, which led to a lot of self doubting. But, I will no longer doubt what I like. I will embrace it. I am happy to say as SELFISHLY as I can that I like environmental studies. That’s what I am interested in. That’s what I want to do. I want to specifically look at how the social and environmental connect. That’s my niche. I have no interest in separating the categories and working in one or the other field. It is all or nothing for me. I have to thank India and the Hope Project for giving me my swagger back.
In short, I have to remember what this project is really about. I want to see how marginalized communities participate in different forms of outdoor recreation. However, I quickly learned that first I have to deal with the fact that impoverished places are also likely to lack green spaces. To be honest, I have no desire to run around and “play” outside of Nizamuddin because to put it bluntly it smells of sewage. I can only imagine that other people feel the same. Before I can even attempt to answer the question of whether or not people of color play outdoors, if poor people go hiking, or if outdoor recreation a legacy of Western culture; I realized that I have to look at the ways the quality of one’s surroundings influences one’s relationship to both the built and “natural” environment. As my hero Majora Carter puts it:

race class are extremely reliable indicators as to where one might find the good stuff, like parks and trees, and where one might find the bad stuff, like power plants and waste facilities.

While they are no power plants or waste facilities near Nizamuddin (none that I can see) there is a huge waste management problem, a poverty problem, an access to clean water problem, and a lack of green spaces problem…. I have to mentally work through these issues before I can even begin to assess how marginalized groups overcome these obstacles to run wild outdoors. Please stay tuned there will be more on my experiences, conversations, and observations.

Lessons learned…

I have learned to be weary of convenience. It makes you lazy. It only creates more work later. It keeps you delusional. It prevents you from finding something that makes you anxious to wake up each day just so you can work on it some more. With that I say to all my readers as best you can stay away from the Convenience Monster. Whether it is switching from fast food to cooking a meal. Walking instead of driving somewhere. Or reading the book instead of simply catching the movie. Try to do something the longer way, you may find as I have that it saves time in the long run.

With the utmost love and respect for everyone who takes the time to tune into my ramblings…I bid ado!