I have spent the last 3 months living in the city of Bhubaneswar in the state of Odisha, India. I have been interning as a Project Officer Intern at the organization NIRMAN, which is a grassroots organization that works to promote equitable, just, resilient, and sustainable human-environment systems. During my time here I have learned a lot about not only the organization but also living abroad in a completely different environment than what I am used to. It has been very challenging but also an experience that I will never forget.
My job here was to develop a project proposal for the area of Chilika Lagoon in order to improve their livelihoods and overall well-being. Proposal writing is not something I had very much experience with before coming here, so having the opportunity to be a part of this process has provided me great exposure that will come in handy in the future. I had studied Chilika before coming to India in courses through the MDP program, but experiencing it first hand was very different. I spent my first week in India participating in a field school that took place at the lagoon where I had the opportunity to visit 5 different fishing villages and hear about their experiences with the changes occurring in the lagoon. This was an incredible experience, and also when I realized that not speaking the local language of the state would be very challenging. Although many people in Bhubaneswar speak English, it was definitely a setback for me not to be able to speak Oriya as I could not participate in certain meetings or help with certain work that was done only in Oriya. I have also learned how much work and dedication goes into running a small grassroots organization. I have so much admiration for all the staff here who spend endless amounts of time working both in the office and travelling to the field sites to ensure projects are running smoothly. It was quite the surprise for me to find out that I would be working 6 days a week during my time here instead of the 5 day work week that most Canadians are used to, but I learned quickly it is because they have so much important work to do!
There are some things that I will not miss about living in India. The biggest one is the many different bugs and lizards that have been living in my room with me. During my first month here I learned that just because I have a bed net to keep the bugs out, it does not mean that lizards can’t get in! I have gotten very used to the sounds of the streets here. I no longer notice the grunting of cows or constant honking of horns from the busy traffic. It is going to seem very quiet back home. I am writing this blog post during my final few days of my internship and I will be leaving Bhubaneswar soon to explore Northern India for a week before returning to Canada. My experience here has been nothing like what I expected but it is an experience I am grateful for. Being so far from home was definitely a challenge, but with the help of a few new friends, I have made it through. An example of this is the older woman I live with who speaks no English at all helping me get rid of the flying cockroaches that flew in my window late one night. I also experienced unexpected kindness from strangers that I will never forget. I am looking forward to getting home and sharing my experience with family and friends and using the knowledge and skills I learned through my internship as I finish my final semester of the MDP program.
Rebecca is a student in the 5th Cohort of the Master’s of Development Practice Program. Her research interests are poverty alleviation, human rights, gender equality, sustainable cities, community development, food security, water security and sanitation, and environmental justice.