My time in Mainalli was one of the most memorable experiences from my time at Wellesley. It transformed my understanding of India and its people, and allowed me to form meaningful relationships in a country that had previously been foreign to me. Learning about the history of the Siddi people and particularly learning from Jairam and other Siddi activists and professionals who have been working for equality inspired me to continue to work to address inequality in my work now with displaced people. I still hope to return one day to see my friends. I am [currently] in Minneapolis – I have been working as an intern with the American Refugee Committee (just finished last week) and am now in a moment of transition.
During my first summer in Mainalli, I spent time co-teaching with the full-time teacher at the local nursery school and assisting Pash with his research. I felt during that time that I was just taking some of the work load off the hands of the full-time teacher, but when I returned this past summer, I realized that it was the friendships and the bonds between the women and me, especially, that actually helped alleviate some of the emotional and mental weight of some of the people. This past summer, I interviewed local teachers and sat in on teacher sangha meetings, sharing my experiences as a teacher, asking for advice, and exploring non-formal education in the community. Once the locals understood that I wanted to learn from them, many of them started to admit that they didn’t realize that education issues in the U.S. are similar to those in India, and that teachers across the globe all have much in common. We all discovered that a teacher is not just the person in a classroom but that the woman with little or no formal education can be a teacher in her own way. I think this communication between us within a confidential, safe space helped them to feel more supported and to make us all feel like a cohesive unit working to improve the conditions of youth in Mainalli and, as a result, their families. It gave all of us some perspective on education and on human nature.
Stephen Kofi Obeng
In July 2015, I was able to return to India after going for the first time the previous year. Both of my trips have provided me with inward and outward journeys that have required fancy footwork, an open mind, and a heart able to expand from the love others and I have always been greeted with and carried with us. My original purpose in traveling to India was to get a glimpse of what exactly it was about India, specifically Mainalli, that had drawn my dad for these many years and to have a new shared bond that would transcend geographical boundaries. My bond with my dad has since grown as has my purpose. Being a teacher and holding a BA in Psychology has shaped my everyday lens. While in India, I gained the knowledge that Southern India has a suicide rate three times that of the US. Thus, I decided I wanted to explore different culturally appropriate ways to provide outlets for adolescents that could nurture their physical and emotional well-being. That is my current longitudinal goal and I plan to continue travel now that I have a 10 -year tourist visa. Until the next trip, I will hold close the India I am beginning to know, yet already love, full of complex beauty, and individuals I call my sisters and brothers.