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Still, My Heart is Indian

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The Navdanya Bija Vidyapeeth, or Earth University, is hidden far up the Old Shimla Road. It is the kind of place that frustrates taxi drivers because there is no way of knowing the exact distance between Navdanya and downtown Dehradun until you are a mile from the campus.

One of the most important things I can do in a new environment, as a student of conflict management, is to develop a relationship with the administration, interns and farming staff. At Navdanya, I was able to do so by partaking in several of the classes offered to the organic farming course participants. These included making a puree of various herbs and plants (including <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melia_azedarach“>bakain</a>,a distant cousin of the famous Indian <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neem“>neem</a> plant) to make pesticides, and using fruit peels and other organic garbage to make ‘<a href=”http://www.bmsorganics.com/eco-classroom/garbage-enzymes.html“>garbage enzyme</a>’, a version of organic all-purpose cleaner that can be used for anything from shampoo to car polish.

The courses have ranged from forgotten foods with <a href=”http://www.vedamsbooks.in/no55533/food-ways-indians-holistic-perspective-on-nutrition-health-anna-powar”>Dr Anna Powar</a> to natural crossing with <a href=”http://www.solibam.eu/modules/smartpartner/partner.php?id=20“>Dr Salvatore Ceccarelli</a>, both renowned professionals in the fields of dietetics and agro-ecology, respectively.

Volleyball and Good Company

I have made some lifelong friends and connections by immersing myself in the life here. We play volleyball together, consume copious amounts of chai, harvest rice, and sing songs at night.

Towards the end of the course, we visited a group of women who run a seed bank affiliated with Navdanya. The group of seed-savers spanned three generations and were gracious hosts, receiving us in their homes and offering us tea and snacks. We shared a great deal of information on the art of saving and selecting seeds, and preserving indigenous knowledge and practices. One elderly woman, the mentor of the seed-savers, took me aside and showed me her house and farmland, and introduced me to her grandchildren. A friend of mine milked the cow while I attempted to get a picture of the kids on the tractor. I was unsuccessful, as they were very curious but very camera shy!

My Work Thus Far

My intention in coming here was to explore the role of NGOs such as Navdanya, large agribusinesses, and farmers in the context of the growing conflict over seed patents, industrialization of agriculture, use of synthetic chemicals in farming, and genetically modified organisms.

My central point of inquiry was whether the actions taken by the two actors in the conflict – agribusinesses and organic farming advocates – were effective in meeting their stated interest in protecting farmers and their livelihoods.

However, as is the case with many of my plans, the situation on the ground has something very different in mind for me. Through my interactions with the course participants, I have noticed some growing concerns with how the course was run and the existence of communication barriers.

In response to an opportunity to contribute my training to improve internal communication, I decided to develop a set of interview questions from a conflict management perspective to obtain feedback from course participants on their experiences at Navdanya and with the course. The questions centered on expectations, what worked well and what could be done differently. Interviews were conducted by audio and remained anonymous.

In consultation with the Intern-Volunteer Coordinator, Ms. Aditi Punj, I have cross-referenced my results with the written feedback that Navdanya requests for its courses, and we drafted a report providing recommendations on making the course as effective as possible in meeting participants’ and Navdanya’s, long-term interests. By the time I leave Navdanya, I hope to have a clear idea of how these recommendations will be implemented. I’m optimistic that this will help both interns and the organization.

On the side, I gave a lecture about wastewater treatment and renewable energy generation and by popular demand (and definitely not on grounds of having expertise in teaching languages). I also teach Hindi twice a week to the interns and volunteers.

Present and Future

As an Insight Fellow, I have been challenged to pursue mindfulness of the present and to plan for the future. These seemingly opposing goals can be reconciled if you embrace the beauty of scheduling!

My hope is to pursue environmental law next fall, after returning from the Fellowship. Every morning I wake up at 6 AM to study for my law school entrance exam, the LSAT, doing practice questions and tests until breakfast at 8AM.

Over the third weekend in September, I traveled to Delhi for an interview to study at Cambridge University, and managed to meet up with some old classmates from McGill University who have moved there for work.

The interview went well, and I know that in the future placements of my Fellowship, I will be making some very important life decisions. Still, reconnecting with old friends seems to indicate that no matter how mindful of the present I am, and no matter how much I plan for the future, there are always nice things from the past to revisit.