Immersion Stories: Sasha Paulin
I’ve been back from India for two months now, yet my experience with Drishtee Immersion is still vivid in my mind. Epitomised by a simple image on my phone’s lock screen; looking out the window of a truck while pulled over to make way for a herd of cows the streets of Taked, a small market town. Whenever I see that photo, many times a day, for a split second I reconnect with the sense of wonder and freedom that I felt.
Going back to where it all began, landing into the madness of Mumbai at 9pm. Before long driving through chaotic traffic, it felt pretty overwhelmed and somehow nervous. Perhaps it’s because meeting new people doesn’t come naturally to me. Once we made our way to our host village, Sonoshi, I shyly stumbled through introductions, being conscious not to hunch over or hug my arms to myself. Despite these urges, after only a few days I became so comfortable and confident in this community, even after departing it still feels like home to me.
Once settled into village life, the first week was somewhat of a whirlwind focused on personal reflection side of empathy, several Marathi language lessons, time spent connecting with various aspects of culture and society, and meeting many community members with the inherent challenge of learning everyone’s names! I very quickly came to love our colourful little house and the friendly neighbours who live around us.
As a part of settling into village life I had the chance to participate in an on-going impact project relating to household water. Along with the Drishtee Immersion team and another student, Louie, we visited a house just down the road to discuss water hygiene practices and the importance of uncontaminated drinking water. The education intervention had been developed in collaboration with health and design students, from an earlier program. Being welcomed to discuss with the lady of the house, Alkabai, the team explained the recently constructed water filter and other important general practices. As we sat on the dried cow dung floor of her hut, with a baby goat curled up in the corner the situation was surreal. The gravity of challenges people face became ever more apparently, as this strong, proud woman became emotional as she explained her family could not afford 400 rupees (about $9) for a year’s supply of clean water. Instead she would have to continue paying for medical care for both her husband and daughter. Ongoing health issues restrict the family’s ability for investment in any other area of their lives. As we concluded the discussion, Alkabai turned to us and blessed us. She explained that we (all humans) bleed red blood and if you’re born rich than that’s great and you’ve been blessed but if you’re born poor that’s fine too because all that really matters is that you’re kind, polite and humble. That was an incredibly inspiring experience; when I realised how deeply beautiful people can be. It is something I encountered just about every day in Sonoshi.
During the three weeks I came to know many diverse members of the community, all inspiring in their own way. I became close with the Pedhekar family, who had been one of the first families to ever move to Sonoshi. I spent a day on a farm with Maroti, the Aaji (grandpa) and Sulabai, the Ajoba (grandma). We planted a bunch of the trees that were part of the initiative to capture more rainwater into the water table. Although we didn’t do much talking, after working together on their farm I felt a strong connection with these people. I felt like we all had the same values, and that we were all working on something that would do real good in the community.
I went back to the family’s house many times and had lots of conversations about farming, ambition, and their hopes for their children and grandchildren. I got to know them like a second family and with no prompting or incentive they welcomed us and made me feel like part of their family.
My time in India with Drishtee Immersion taught me a lot of things about the universality of humanity, the importance of having an open mind and positive outlook, and it taught me a lot about myself too. I learnt that if you truly want to help someone the most important thing is to understand them first. For deeper understanding with empathy I learnt that it’s necessary to recognise and understand your own perspective before trying to see things from someone else’s. And I learnt that I can be outgoing and make conversation without fear that I’ll run out of things to say or that I’m doing it wrong. After all, if you can spend two hours having tea in a house in rural India with but a few weeks of Marathi lessons to support conversation with people from all walks of life, then anything else is a cinch, for example my university tutorials have suddenly become a whole lot easier!
My time in Sonoshi and the way it has so permanently, positively developed my world view, and my self view. For this I am eternally grateful.
Sasha Paulin is studying a Bachelor of Education at University of Queensland