The first time I learned about Mainalli and Siddis in southern India was over lunch with Professor Obeng during a Wellesley course in Ghana. My eyes widened to learn more about the extent of the African diaspora. As a woman of African descent from the United States it felt essential that I travel to India to learn more about a people who share a similar history to my own. The following summer I packed my bags and set off for Mainalli with a plan to conduct ethnographic research on the connections between race and education in the lives of Siddis and how Siddis self-identify as people of the African diaspora. It was such a privilege to be able to interact with the culture of a people who in a way I saw as distant relatives. They allowed me the opportunity to broaden my perspective on what it means to be an individual of African descent in this world and the similar challenges that await our communities. I remember vividly a moment I shared with an eloquent woman named Ramjabi who told me, in reference to communities of African descent in Brazil and the United States, that we all are one. It was a moment that solidified my hope that in unity we can all work towards combating social injustice in our societies.
It is hard to properly describe what Mainilli, a South Indian village just south of Mundgod, actually means to me. A small village that is not even on the map changed my life. I went to Mainilli with the purpose of doing public health research on the Siddi community. Besides talking to Professor Obeng and a few people who went there in previous years, I knew very little about the village or its inhabitants. I could only go there with a suitcase full of mosquito spray and an open mind. As a South Asian Studies major concentrating in public health, I thought that the internship would be a great opportunity to understand rural healthcare in India. Spending time in the village made me appreciate all the opportunities I was given, but it also reminded me that I have a duty to use my skills to help others. After my internship in Mainilli, I did a study abroad program in New Delhi studying the Indian public health system more extensively. I was able to put a face to the system that I was learning about because of my experience in Mainilli; in fact, I saw more dimensions to rural healthcare than ever before. I have a lot of hope for the future of rural medicine in India. It has gone a long way in the last decade. Truthfully, I never expected to go to a small village on my first visit to India; looking back, I would not have it any other way.
Spending time in Mainalli India is a transformative experience. From participating in the goings on at the convent of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross to teaching children in the village preschool to walking in the village and hearing peoples’ stories to worshiping in church on Sunday, one can’t help but be moved. As an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, I’ve preached plenty of sermons calling on us to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Mainalli lets you put words into actions. Before I left on my second trip, I gathered books and school supplies to leave with the sisters and teachers. Seeing the faces of the children light up as we sang, read from a book, and played is incredible. Maybe they’ll remember an English word or two. More importantly, they may remember that there are people on the other side of the world who care about them, want them to live fulfilling lives, and try to make a difference through education. Too often we hear about divisions in our world, especially along religious lines. Yet in Mainalli, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus live side by side and respect one another’s religious traditions. And people who come with a faith and/or college affiliation volunteer together, knowing that we share the common goal of improving the lives of the Siddis. In the end, I pray that our work continues to be a sign of hope.