We had an early start to the day, which began with the Swami Vivekananda Youth Mission (SVYM) officials giving us a brief history of the founding of the mission, its progress, and the success it has had so far.
We then set out on a scenic ride to explore and learn more about the tribal school and hospital that were set up by SVYM.
We first visited the tribal school. It was right in the heart of nature with small, open buildings.
The medium of instruction is Kannada. The school is for children in grades 1-10 and has about 300 students currently enrolled, with a drop out rate of 3-5 percent.
The school was equipped with the all the necessary infrastructure that would be present in a general school. We also saw that the students at the school were great at art. The school sells the students’ artwork for nominal prices.
We then visited the first hospital in the area. The hospital is unique in the sense that it provides care to the tribal population at a very cheap price, which would not be provided by any other hospital.
It also strikes the right balance between ayurvedic and allopathic medicine. We were told that doctors practicing both type of medicine sit in the same room while consulting the patient and give the most appropriate therapy.
It was a great experience to learn the challenges the doctors and teachers have to face while dealing with the tribal and rural communities. Everyone appreciates the efforts put in by them to make this mission a success.
This afternoon we hopped on a train and traveled to the historic city of Mysore.
Looking out the window, we saw snapshots of life in India as we passed cricket games, sugar cane farms, and coconut trees.
As we moved away from the city, we got to see the natural greenery of India, which provided a peaceful backdrop for us to reflect on our adventures so far.
One of the most important lessons we’ve learned is that black coffee is next to impossible to find here. It always comes pre-sweetened, and even then it is only available in Dixie cup-sized portions.
We’ve grown accustomed to the traffic situation, and we always look both ways and “put our hand shields up” before even thinking of crossing the street.
We’ve learned to maneuver through the unforgiving obstacle course that is the sidewalk.
We’ve accepted the sounds of the cuckoo birds and the saxophone man serenading us each morning, as well as the constant sound of honking horns throughout the day.
We’ve learned to always wear shoes that can easily be slipped on and off.
We’ve learned that if you hire someone to do your laundry, you may not get it back for 4-5 business days.
We’ve learned that when people say “bucks” here, they’re referring to Rupees, not U.S. dollars.
We’ve learned to never underestimate the power of a selfie to bring people together.
We’ve learned that if you tell people in a market that you’re from the U.S., they may refer to you as Obama, Hilary Clinton, or Bruce Wayne.
We’ve learned to always conduct a “lizard check” before using the bathroom.
We’ve learned how to take bucket showers. A select few have mastered the art of using an Indian toilet without completely soaking their pants with water.
We’ve had to learn a lot of things the hard way, but hey – that’s just part of the adventure.
During our previous tour of Bangalore’s metro, we experienced a top-down approach of how to improve a city.
Contrary to that tour, today we discovered that bottom-up, individual efforts can have an equally positive impact.
Today we worked with a group called The Ugly Indian, an organization with the philosophy that too many citizens complain about issues such as littering, crumbling sidewalks, and dirty walls instead of taking action.
The Ugly Indian organizes citizens to change their neighborhoods for the better. Once an area has been cleaned up, it tends to remain clean. Similarly, an existing pile of garbage suggests that it’s socially acceptable to litter there (aka the “broken window theory”).
When we first saw our work site, we noticed trash piles, burnt rubbish, broken and uneven sidewalk bricks, and the overall uncleanliness we’ve become accustomed to seeing in parts of Bangalore.
We quickly got to work picking up garbage, scooping up dirt, planting ivy, painting walls, and laying bricks.
By the end of the morning, we had completely transformed the space.
Working with The Ugly Indian taught us that you don’t have to wait for an administration or government to change a situation for you. As citizens of a democratic society, we have more power than we often realize.
Gandhi is famously quoted for saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” After today, we felt a greater sense of empowerment and capability to be initiators of change rather than complainers.
After the entire class reflected on our morning visits to some of Bangalore’s slum communities, my team of five headed to the rooftop of SELCO’s building for a beautiful view of the surrounding city while we re-evaluated our proposed project.
Our goal was not to create a perfect solution to the challenge – which, in our case, is to make education more engaging and accessible for children living in slums – but rather to learn about the process of designing a solution.
Speaking with the women, children, and men of a temporary housing community near a construction site in the city helped us realize first-hand the importance of going out into the field early in the design process.
Respectfully learning from people living in slums both inspired us and helped us to ask critical questions about our initial proposals: What are we assuming about our audience and our solution? Are the problems that we perceive the same as those that the people perceive? How does our proposed solution fit in with their current lifestyles and behaviors? Has our proposal already been implemented, or would it be rejected by the community? Would our solution be sustainable in this particular situation?
Most importantly for implementing change and expanding upon solutions, interacting with the community showed us how to build relationships with them based on empathy and trust.
Through skits, storyboards, and chalk talks, the four teams in our class all presented their revised solutions to each other and to SELCO Foundation members.
As one of our professors summed it up, “good ideas are hard.” SELCO guided us through their innovative workflow and taught us how to integrate a solution into the specific circumstances of a particular community with a mutual exchange of ideas and respect.
We will carry forward this new understanding of the solution design process and the communities we wish to impact as we continue to explore the challenges facing Bangalore.
We set out early in the morning to visit four of the communities that were selected by SELCO, our partner organization for the workshop to develop solutions.
We were given an opportunity to go directly into the communities and talk to people who would be direct consumers of the hypothetical solutions we had developed the previous day and get their feedback.
Our team visited a temporary settlement that was a mix of tents made with plastic sheets and a couple of structures made of bricks and cement.
We had an opportunity to interact very openly with the local people, and we learned about their way of life, their needs, and their aspirations.
The community we visited was very satisfied with the current situation. The people mentioned that they had access to clean Kaveri river water that was provided by the land owner, whom they really loved. They made enough money to sustain themselves and also send some back home. All the kids went to school. They were happy about their lives in these communities.
When we pitched the idea to use biogas for cooking as a cleaner and healthier fuel than firewood, which was currently being used, it was immediately rejected by this community. They didn’t want us to sell things to them, but rather teach them how to use the technology and provide a solution that did not require many infrastructural changes.
Upon seeing the happiness of this community, we then wanted to explore one more community to see what kind of problems they were facing. This community had better housing conditions and had some of the same luxuries as the previous community.
Similar reactions were obtained when the biogas solution was proposed to them.
Upon closer observations, we realized that the women cooked indoors and the smoke remained in the house. This means the women and children were exposed to serious health issues.
This is when the idea of creating a chimney-like structure that could suit their needs struck us, and we decided to follow that idea as our solution.
We realized that developing solutions by sitting in a room with hypothetical situations is not the best way to go about innovation and change. Exploring the field and getting the consumers involved in the design process of the solution is the ideal way toward development. This was the take home lesson from the workshop.