Namaste from India

Namaste from New DelhiIMG_0906.jpg

Thank you for keeping up with our UNESCO Fellows 2018 blog. I am excited to share my experience thus far in India with all our readers! With the start of July in New Delhi, the oven-like heat has begun to subside as the monsoon makes its way up the country. New Delhi is situated in north-central India, bordered by the Thar desert to the southwest, and the Himalayas to the northeast. Because of its location, it is known to receive less rain during the monsoon than other parts of India, but as it is July and the monsoon season runs from mid-June thru September, I’m preparing for anything!

For the summer, I am interning at the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP). It is a category 1 research institute, which means it has quite a bit of autonomy in its work. MGIEP has a variety of projects, all of which focus primarily on achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.7, Global Citizenship Education. More about projects below!

Cultural Immersion

Home Stay

Unlike my fellow fellows (pun intended) I have the amazing opportunity to stay with an Indian family for the summer! My awesome colleague from GWU, Aishwarya, who completed this internship last summer, is natively from New Delhi and her family has been graciously hosting me. Funnily enough, although she is not here for the summer, she has a twin sister, Aashna who has been the best tour guide and friend I could ask for as I acclimate to such a big city. Being a teacher myself, I was so glad to learn that I am staying with a house full of teachers in New Delhi. The mother is a teacher and tutors on the weekend, Aashna is a special educator, and their father even tutors economics to high school students in addition to work. Their spare room is converted into a classroom. We never have a shortage of things to talk about, and I have even gotten to know the neighborhood children! Here are some things I have learned thus far about Indian hospitality:

  • There is nothing like it in the United States, no matter how friendly or loving a family may be, there is literally no comparison to the level of thought and care that is put into hosting a guest in India. I refer to the parents as “auntie” and “uncle” and they refer to me as “beti” which means “my daughter.”
  • Food is offered at all times, whether you are hungry or not. Meal preparation is practically an art form. Most things we buy in the US (butter, yoghurt, bread) are made in house, most of them made daily.
  • The family is the center of one’s livelihood and community. It is unheard of for children to move out of their family’s home before marriage, unless they are moving to a new city for work. (Not sure if this would drive my parents at home crazy or bring them joy, probably both).
  • It is quite common to have someone who helps at home with cleaning/cooking, at least part time.

Life in Delhi

Similar to many of my colleagues placed in other cities for the summer, New Delhi shows signs of its past colonizers. As such, English is one of the 22 nationally recognized languages (with over 700 other spoken languages), and with New Delhi being the nation’s capital, it is quite easy to communicate with only English. Hindi is the most commonly spoken language though, so I have picked up a few key phrases, ranked in order of importance:

  • Khana kha le – “Eat it” I am asked at least 15 times a day, notice it’s not written as a question
  • Nei kana – “no food for me” this is crucial because otherwise food will just keep appearing on my plate, and I usually need to say it three times and physically cover my plate before it is heeded
  • Kya Hua – “What happened?” Necessary in order to get the hot gossip

Getting around on the road in India is like nothing I have seen before. The best way I can describe it is total and complete chaos. A friend told me before coming “make sure you get to drive sometime while you’re in India, it’s fun… there are no rules!” Don’t worry, that will absolutely not be happening but her statement pretty much sums it up. The road is shared by pedestrians, vendors, cars, trucks, auto rickshaws, bikes, dogs, and free range (holy) cows, and driving on the correct side of the road is more of a light suggestion than a rule or law. I’m at the point where I just laugh when I see the stunts people pull. There are no crosswalks or walking signals.

This is why I prefer to take the metro! New Delhi’s metro was constructed only 15 years ago and it’s already one of the largest systems in the world. The cars are air conditioned and run every 3-5 minutes without fail, which is more than I can say for the D.C. metro. They have this brilliant system where colored footprints help direct passengers where to go when they switch lines, making it impossible for even somebody who is directionally challenged (like me) to get lost! IMG_0097

The first car in the train is also reserved for women, which is a safe and much more pleasantly fragrant way to ride. Unfortunately, the creation of the women’s car was in response to sexual and violent crimes against women throughout the nation. Frequently, the Indian government is condemned for not taking enough preventative measures for these crimes, and they also are condemned for not taking the crimes seriously when they occur. I suppose the women’s car is a step in the right direction. Women will get nasty if a male from outside of Delhi accidentally steps into the women’s car, it’s pretty funny to watch.

The Food

Where to begin!? Indian cuisine was one of my main sources of excitement prior to coming to India and it continues to add to my adventures every day! Huge shout out right now to my Auntie Poonam who has ensured that I not only eat well- but get to try a wide variety of delicious Indian cuisine under her roof! Due to religious reasons, many people in the country are vegetarians and when you order at a restaurant you look at the “veg” section or “non-veg,” they even have this choice when shopping for dog treats!

A typical Indian meal always includes some sort of bread- and I learned very quickly that it is rarely naan, as we so commonly eat in the U.S. The paratha is Auntie Poonam’s specialty, and we have joked that she should come to the U.S. and open up her own shop to make and sell them, she’d make a fortune. You roll wheat dough in ghee and spices, twist it in such a way that there are yummy, flaky layers, and then frequently fill it with potato, onion, or cheese and fry it up! The closest thing I have had in the U.S. to compare it to would be Salvadoran pupusas, but with Indian masala (spices).

Whatever bread form you are eating with your meal is then used to scoop the vegetables, sauces, meats or cheeses you are eating in addition. My three favorites so far have to be daal makhni (lentils with spices and a bit of cream), shahi paneer  (mixed vegetables with pieces of cheese), and palak pata chaat (lightly fried spinach leaves, served with some yoghurt, spices, pomegranate). Below are some highlights:

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The Dogs

While this might seem a strange heading, as this is supposed to be a blog about work with UNESCO and Indian culture, to leave it out would be an inaccurate account of my experience thus far. India is home to over 30 million street dogs, they are part of the landscape and loved by most people. The dogs in Delhi are more docile than one would expect, living the rough life that they do. There is a pack of about 5-10 on each block that have staked their claim over the area and interact peacefully with each other and the humans around them. It appears most dogs have attached themselves to a family or two who feed them regularly. However, spaying and neutering even one’s own pets is not common practice in India, so the persistence of street dogs continues to grow.

I volunteer with an amazing dog rescue organization based in D.C. called Operation Paws for Homes (OPH) and I learned prior to my arrival in India that they actually partner with a dog rescue organization here in New Delhi, Kannan Foundation (KAW). This made me excited to continue some of the volunteer work I do in a new cultural context. On my first weekend in India I visited the facility, which is about 1.5 hours outside of New Delhi. KAW only takes in the most extreme cases of street dogs- giving a home to all of the adorable street puppers of India is just not possible, but they have about 60 at a time. As you can imagine, with so many street dogs, there is no shortage of dogs in extreme need. After rehabilitation, many of these dogs even get sent to partner organizations in other countries who find a family for the dog. It was extremely heartwarming to meet their sweet dogs and staff who care so much for them.

Luckily, the family I am staying with are dog lovers as well, so they don’t find me crazy for having a few favorite neighborhood buddies!

The Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP)

The office I am working with is quite specialized in terms of UNESCO offices. Within the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), goal 4 focuses on education for all, and my office focuses on a portion of that, SDG 4.7:

  • “By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

This is stated very broadly, but hopefully it gives a general idea of the kind of work we do. As a teacher myself, I find the work extremely relevant to my job at an IB school back in Arlington. Most importantly, I feel that I bring a practitioner lens that is often overlooked when conducting research and informing policy in the field of education. Below is an overview of the two projects I have been working on and my responsibilities within them:

LIBRE – this project has been getting ready to be launched for the first time, so there is lots of work to be done. Essentially, we are constructing a curriculum that is delivered online through 6 modules to 12-14 year old students around the world. The goal is that it will improve mindfulness, empathy, critical inquiry, and compassion in students. It is a big task, but the team I am working with is awesome. All three of us have been teachers so we are able to take a very practical approach to constructing the curriculum. My tasks within this project have been:

  • Compiling comparisons of ways to assess social and emotional learning (SEL). The US is a big leader of SEL assessment, due to our assessment dominated culture, and although SEL has gained traction in other nations, frameworks are usually highly dominated by western views of what is appropriate for social interactions, empathy, etc. This has made it challenging to find existing frameworks and assessments that will be culturally relevant to the countries we are trying to target. Nonetheless, my first deliverable was a comparison matrix of 17 different SEL frameworks and assessments so that we could try to find a useful one to use for LIBRE.
  • Writing storylines to go along with the modules, so far with the theme of migration. I am glad that my knowledge of planning engaging lessons and child development has proven incredibly useful as I write.
  • Drafting various research designs for LIBRE. As this will be the first time we are launching it, we need to decide how we will choose the schools we will target, how we will structure a randomized control trial, and the risks and opportunities for each research design. This has been a new type of task for me and I am gaining many new skills along the way!

Left: LIBRE team, small but mighty  

Right: Vrinda, presenting to a network of Indian teachers on LIBRE

The second project I am working on is called DICE, which stands for Digital Intercultural Exchange. This project is in its third phase, so it has been really interesting to compare the two projects in their different phases, and the challenges that present themselves at each phase. This is an amazing  project that connects students, ages 12-15 around the globe to engage in discussions over issues like climate change, migration and gender equality. The hypothesis is that through engaging in meaningful dialogue, students can learn to see issues from multiple perspectives and gain a sense of empathy. For this project my responsibilities have been mostly:

  • Reviewing and editing previous research on the project
  • Developing a rationale that we can present to get more schools on board, this needs to be done differently at the policy, administrative, and educator level in order to appeal to all stakeholders
  • Drafting many pieces of a paper that will be published about the DICE project, including research about the importance of dialogue as a means of instruction and 21st century learning
  • Outreach to schools in the U.S. who might be interested in participating

Other Highlights

A weekend trip to Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga

Top: Photos taken from the famous bridge in Rishiketh called Laxman Jhula. The bridge is made for humans, cows, monkeys, bikes, and motorbikes to cross over the Ganges River.

Bottom: Daily in Rishikesh, and other cities along the Ganges throughout India, the Hindu faith celebrate and complete the Ganga Aarti ritual to worship the river and the goddess who is personified through the river during sunset. After prayers, you send burning flowers down the river.

While in Rishikesh, we woke up at 4:00am to watch the sunrise over the Himalayas from Kunjapuri Temple and then hiked 16.5 kilometers downhill, back to the center of the city.

Attending an (extravagant) Indian Wedding

So lucky that Aashna’s cousin happened to be attending a wedding and invited us to join as the last minute!

These photos were taken during the entrance to the party. The groom enters on a carriage pulled by white horses with a full band and comes to a stage. Then bride is escorted in by her brothers carrying a rose filled structure and meets him on stage.

The venue and experience as a whole was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I was just trying to hold my tears of joy inside!


Thank you so much for reading my lengthy post, but I’ve really only begun to capture a month spent in India!

Emily. Meet Fellows 18

Emily is working at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Education and Peace. She will be assisting in their Libre and DICE projects which infuse global citizenship education into school curriculum and teacher training. She has just finished her masters in International Education and also works as an elementary school teacher back in the United States (New Delhi, India).

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