Today’s the day! I leave tonight for the adventure of a lifetime– though that’s a bit hard to imagine from my middle seat on the plane for the next 19 hours.
This whole process started months ago when I stumbled upon this fellowship and immediately felt like the stars had aligned for me. India has always been a part of my life in a distant way, having grown up hearing stories of my father’s treks through the Himalayas or nights spent camping in a tiger reserve. My sister also spent four months in India studying public health, and I was enthralled by her stories of the prayer service she attended with the Dalai Lama, and her wonderful homestay family in Delhi. The stories of their adventures have stuck with me, and I’ve always felt a calling to follow and share these experiences with them. This fellowship will make me the third in my family to go to India at the age of 20– an incredibly unique bond for us.
After about three months of talking through the application with Janelle–my life saver throughout this whole process–I finally got the email that I was accepted to SISA. I was overwhelmed by so many emotions, but mostly excitement. I am honored to be a part of this program, along with nine other students, who will all have their own unique and life-changing experiences. One aspect of the SISA fellowship I found especially appealing was the independence it affords students to completely design their own internship and research. This independence led to a wonderfully diverse cohort of fellows, all working in different regions of India in many different fields, but all about to share a common experience.
I’ll be spending my fellowship in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, known as the “Pink City.” From everything I’ve read and heard, Jaipur is gorgeous, with majestic forts, colorful markets, and stunning architecture. I can’t wait to explore, and most likely get very lost, in this beautiful city.
In Jaipur, I’ll be interning with an NGO called Frontier Markets for two months. Frontier Markets aims to provide rural communities in Rajasthan with safe, clean solar energy. The Indian government recently has made a significant push towards transitioning from coal to renewable energy in response to India’s rapidly growing energy market, however, solar energy rarely reaches rural areas. Frontier Markets addresses this poor rural electrification rate by using an innovative distribution method, partnering with local entrepreneurs to distribute their solar products. One aspect of their distribution model is their Solar Sahelis program, which trains rural women to sell their solar products to other women, empowering them and providing them with employment. I will be researching the methods Frontier Markets uses to convince rural women to use and sell their products, and what part of this marketing tactic and solar energy in general is attractive to the women.
Each student is coming into their fellowship with a different perspective, and hoping to get different things out of their time in India. For me, I intend to pursue a career in international development, however, like most soon-to-be Seniors, I don’t know where the next chapter will take me. I’m passionate about female empowerment and global health, but also I recently have become increasingly interested in environmental issues and conservation. Frontier Markets satisfies both of these interests, and I can’t imagine a more perfect fit for me, since Frontier Markets empowers and employs women in their innovative solar energy business, spreading renewable energy in a world and country that desperately needs it.
I have few expectations going into India, other than that I know it will challenge me and thrill me in ways I cannot yet imagine. As someone who despises the heat, and gets deeply sad seeing poverty, especially in children, I know that my time in India will challenge me. However, I am always up for an adventure and willing to try anything, and I hope that these qualities will carry me through this trip. I hope to come away from this experience with new and broadened perspectives, and I genuinely cannot wait to learn so much from my fellowship: from my Frontier Markets coworkers, from my research, from the people I meet on the street, from the city of Jaipur, and from all the small, intangible moments that make up Indian culture.
Upon hearing that I won the fellowship, my dad gave me his battered, worn book about Gandhi he has kept with him for years. I’ll end this blog here with one of Gandhi’s famous quotes that I hope will guide me through this fellowship: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” I’ll carry this message with me throughout my time in India, and the next time you hear from me, I’ll be out of my middle seat and on the other side of the world.