11/22/13 The arrival of 38 bustling bodies has brought excitement to every minute of the day and caused a shift in my environment. The sudden introduction of cultural differences has been hard for a lot of the kids, but as they begin to settle in, things have toned down quite a bit. Spirits are up and everyone seems to be enjoying their stay in Chamba. One day spent working with these beautiful little children is the best medicine in the world.
My role has flipped from 2011 when I was here last as a teen participant with Youth Making A Difference (YMAD). Even though the age difference between the participants and myself is negligible, I have been placed into a leadership role. Living in Chamba and experiencing the culture over the course of the last 2 months has given me the attributes to become more of an asset to the youth participants and to YMAD as a whole. I personally feel that my knowledge of the rural schools, Ashrams, and Chamba Town has instilled confidence in our leadership group as well as given me the opportunity to institute and undertake logistical tasks.
The Chamba Town market is a unique place that offers everything from goat’s feet to cell phones and everything between. Josh and I have explored the small, 2 square kilometer market in search of the most affordable and best offered items. Unlike the U.S., all manufactured goods have a set rate, so the door for competitive pricing is essentially closed. I have had many conversations about this with our landlord’s son, Abhi. I often wonder how he stays afloat running his hardware shop when there are 5 more within walking distance. In America, companies compete with each other through the price of goods they offer, whereas here they compete through which goods are offered. Everything from cement bags to peanut butter has a set pricing scheme (MRS) printed onto the packaging. The other difference I have noticed here is that there is a multi-step, multi-person process to nearly every job. For example, factories produce bricks which are then loaded into goods carriers, which are then unloaded onto the road by porters- from there the bricks are loaded onto mules and delivered to the job site, and finally laid into place. Just for that process there is a factory, a goods carrier truck, a porter, a mule driver, and a contractor being paid and employed. A simple job such as this in America would have about half as many steps and be much cheaper to the consumer. Unfortunately, I do not believe a process like this can change simply because of the immense population of India. An upside of having such inefficient operations is that it keeps a large portion of the population employed.
As our trip starts to wind down and now that we only have about a week left here, I have been thinking about the lasting, sustainable difference that I will be leaving behind here in Chamba. Josh and I have laid the stepping stones for what I believe to be a somewhat sustainable Conversational English program that provides local students with an opportunity to not only learn English but to also practice what they already know. We have also instilled a realistic idea in our students’ minds that it is possible to escape poverty and it is possible to become exactly what they want to be, whether it is a geologist, police chief, or a businessman. That it is possible to see the world and become successful, happy people. Many of our students have never been told that they can be successful or they have never believed it because realistically it is hard to do here in Chamba. I feel that I was able to give them the ability to believe that they can do it.
I was lucky enough to visit Nihan School one last time today with Josh and one of the adult leaders, Brooke. Brooke’s son had taught at the school in 2011 so it was super special to see her interact with the same kids that her son had grown to love. I got the opportunity to say goodbye to my little Indian sister, Shilpa, which I thought I was not going to be able to do, so it put the icing on top of this trip for me. And the cherry on top was the fact that I got to spend 2 hours with my Indian little brothers Yoginder and Praveen yesterday. I taught them in 2011 and grew incredibly close to the both of them. It had been a long 2 years.
Attn: DESB, Buzz Welch