After spending 16 hours in transit, including one layover in Kuala Lumpur, I was itching to get into India. In Australia we always hear so many stories about India - the food, the religion, the traffic, the people, the poverty and the population density . For some people these stories create a sense of fear and apprehension, for me it created a sense of excitement. As soon as I got off the plane and into the streets, that familiar sense of adventure and excitement came over me. It was hot, it was sticky, and people were everywhere. Everywhere.
The first night I stayed in a "wealthy village" and it illustrated the discrepancies of living standards between here and Australia. We all too often take the luxuries of western life for granted. It is only when we are humbled by the those who live with nothing can we appreciate the quality of life at home. It sounds cliche, but living in rural villages instills a deep sense of gratitude for life in Australia.
The second day I was escorted by my team leader to my village, Bannikuppe, about two hours south of Bangalore. I arrived at midday and was greeted by the rest of my team which included students of all disciplines from UNSW, UTS, UOW and USYD. Everyone was still adjusting to the local conditions and culture, but we were all happy to be here. We were happy to share a moment of collective relief that we had all arrived safely after months of preparation.
The next day we began planning our project. Our focus was to improve the energy problem in the local village. At the moment the villagers have only 3 hours of electricity a day, which rotates on a weekly basis between night time and day time. The solution that had been presented to us was the use of solar panels. This was evaluated as the most appropriate solution by the last team to visit the area. The solar panel is very small in size and its sole function is to charge light bulbs for use in the homes.
This week we have spent most of the time door-knocking in an effort to gauge interest in the solar panels and build relationships with community members. We have had varying success to date, selling five solar panels to the local villagers. The main obstacle has been finding the right time of the day to talk to the men in the community. The women are not allowed to make decisions regarding the purchasing of the solar panels and unfortunately they are the only people who are home during the day. We are currently planning a community meeting in which we can publicly advertise the solar panels to the majority of the village at the same time. Other difficulties include the cost of the solar panels. Unfortunately, those villagers who need the lights the most, are the ones who can't afford it. This has been a source of emotional frustration for the team, as we are all willing to help and improve the life of the villagers, but to offer the best solution for the village, we have to maintain a long term approach.
All in all, it has been a huge week of discovery. Discovering the best way to talk to the villagers. Discovering what it's like to work with students of other disciplines. Discovering the difficult of making an impact in a country riddled with corruption. Discovering Indian food (not just Butter Chicken). Discovering your own limitations and stereotypes. I look forward to more discoveries throughout the rest of the journey.