CIF India Exchange Program 2009
Almost 6 months have gone by since my return from India where I took part in a most interesting and fascinating C.I.F. program. Six months… and the weeks spent there are still part of my daily thoughts.
Being on the program wasn't my first visit to India. For many years I have been traveling the country, from north to south. I fell in love long ago with the people, the tradition, the colors, the endless commotion, markets, beautiful women and gorgeous temples. I even like cows roaming the streets.
But the C.I.F. program gave me a glimpse into daily life in India.
It started with meeting an outstanding group of people, mostly women, totally dedicated to their work and families, but not less to developing international professional and personal relationships. Strong, highly intelligent women, who try to make a change through C.I.F.
We started the program with a week of orientation at the lovely Tata Institute. Interesting lectures (personally I'd have liked more), field visits, a chance to get to know each other and our Mumbai hosts.
Mumbai! How can I describe a "city" like Mumbai? Busy, bustling, overcrowded, noisy, …. ..and at the same time fascinating, beautiful, interesting.
The week came to an end with all of us both excited and exhausted from the long days and wonderful hospitality and dinners given by C.I.F. members in Mumbai.
Off we went to the various cities for our field and family life experience.
Lucky me!! After a 16 hour train ride with Kristin from Switzerland we arrived early morning at Hyderabad train station where we were immediately picked up by Zennobia's lovely and warm family.
In the afternoon our host families came to pick us up and we separated for most of the 3 week stay. I am endlessly grateful for having been taken in by Nevidita and Murali Kumar for the first 10 days and then by Pinki and Kersi Patel.Both families opened themselves and their daily life to me. Letting me share and participate from morning till evening in their meals – ah…what food.., work, family events etc. The best part was simply spending time together, getting to know each other more intimately, being exposed to religions, traditions, beliefs and personal life. I'd give a lot to be seated again at the Kumar's dinner table and discuss our so very different lives and feel so extremely close. I miss my host "mothers and fathers" and often find myself thinking of them with warmth and deep affection.
As for my professional experience – here too I was lucky. I was placed with 3 different organizations, each one as interesting as the other..
1. F.P.A, Family Planning Association of India
The FPA are working in one of the most critical and difficult field – reducing population growth through education, medical services and birth restriction.
2. SATHI, Society for Assistance to Children in Difficult Situation
SATHI works with lost, abandoned and runaway boys who are found at the train station every morning, basically trying to return them to their families. Can you imagine the possibility of finding the family of a lost child who often hardly knows where he's from in a population of ? He will most probably spend the rest of his young years in an orphanage.
SATHI bring the children found at the railway station to a hostel where they are looked after and cared for while searching for their families. Many of the boys who abuse drugs and alcohol are sent for a month to a detoxification camp.
An organization that works with the Devi Dasis, women/girls of all ages who have been offered to the temples in hope of receiving good fortune, prosperity and success.
Having been given to the temples the girls are married to the Goddess Yelema and become half goddesses themselves. They are also the property of every man who wants them, live out side the temple and beg for a living.
AASHRY work with the women and girls, encourage them to leave the temple to live a productive life. They help them find accommodation and work, and to be able to look after their children.
In all three services I met with a warm, caring, devoted staff working in such difficult conditions that none of us westerners, a bit spoilt, C.I.F. visitors, would ever dream possible.
It made me admire the services even more.
Back to Mumbai and on to the Rural Camp. A tiny village on top of hill with mud houses and lovely hospitable people, who gave us their houses to sleep on the floor, as they do, show us their accomplishments in agriculture and communal life. We received a reception suitable for kings and I simply loved every moment we spent there. I was deeply impressed by the fantastic and professional work SHARE, our host organization, does with the villagers in the field of Self Help groups and agriculture. It reminded me of the work done in my country among Bedouin and Palestinian groups, creating self help projects, mainly with women.
Our last days back in Mumbai were spent at the Methodist Hostel in Central Mumbai, where we toured the city, did our last shopping and got ready to return to our homes.
We were preparing for long journeys, back to family, friends and workplaces where we would share our extraordinary experience.
An experience which exposed us to a vast colorful country, gorgeous landscapes , Interesting professionals and Social Services, but most of all the opportunity to meet and share time with wonderful, warm and loving people, host families and C.I.F. members all over the country. They all opened their homes and hearts to us. Writing these words again touchs my heart as it did every day I spent there.
I thank C.I.F. India for planning such a rich personal program, my women companions who shared the experience and of course C.I.F. Israel who enabled me this experience.