Risky Business

The sense of security gained from familiar sights dissipated as I climbed the stairs of my hostel.  My NGO’s branch manager showed me my living accommodations, and it hit me that this would be my home for the rest of summer. My amazing manager, Dr. Kapoor, had arranged my room accommodations. I went into my housing completely blind I did not know who my roommates were, if anyone in the area spoke English well, nor my landlord. . The only knowledge I had before arriving were the three lines that made up the address and a phone number to call if I needed to contact the paying guest manager. One of the reflection prompts given to the Summer in South Asia recipients asks how this experience has changed us personally. After being here for a week, I can now confidently say that the most challenging part of this trip has been to take and accept risk in life.

Whether the decisions are big or small, the uncertainty about the outcome is always a dubious aspect. I will admit that I am not the biggest risk-taker in life. I have always been a rule follower and choose the safer route to reach the end goal. So when I applied to this fellowship, it was uncharacteristic because I could not speak the local language, did not know people in the area, and was moving to nearly 8,000 miles away from my home country. My entire path to Hyderabad was about learning to trust others and gradually becoming comfortable with life’s unpredictability.

After living in a paying guest hostel with 20 girls, each person coming from different parts of India, I have begun to realize parallels between their stories and mine. Each young woman has embraced the risk of uncertainty and unpredictability due to migrating to the city in search of a higher education opportunity or good name job. In between my working hours at FPAI, I have gotten to get to know 6 of these girls really well and they became my support system while I adjusted to living in Hyderabad. The uncanny resemblance of their desire to travel and work abroad was rooted in their drive for success. For instance, my friend Janvi shared her dreams of getting an MBA in the U.S. and moving to New York City for work. In a society where aspirations like doctors and engineers are revered as the pinnacle of all jobs, 2 of the girls had taken the risk of pursuing an education in interior design because it was their personal passion rather than following societal pressures. The biggest risk of all for these girls was moving away from their family. In a culture where living with family is still highly cherished, this was the first time many of the girls were  living by themselves in a new city.

Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health Seminar at a local government primary school, lead by Mrs. Raddika (FPAI – Hyderabad educational programme manager) and JNTU students

Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health Seminar at a local government primary school, lead by Mrs. Raddika (FPAI – Hyderabad educational programme manager) and JNTU students

Although progressive ideas like moving away from family do occur, something I noticed and appreciated about India is the strong preservation of traditional practices. This ideology is unique because it allows for the longevity of Indian culture, such as maintaining traditional signs of respect and celebration rituals, which are left unmodified by modernity and Westernization. However, working with Family Planning Association of India, the hold to traditional thinking methods have slowed the progression of open dialogue about smart and safe sexual reproductive health. The concept of “preservation of character” shapes the mindset of young individuals’ willingness to discuss topics like relationships, smart contraceptive options, and transparency about STIs. In one session I held to conduct a Q&A with college students, the presence of their faculty professor made a large difference. In the session, with the professor sitting in the back of the room, no one ever raised their hands. In the classroom without a professor, students were jumping out of their seats to answer my questions and even asked me about the commonality of sexual activity discussion as portrayed in Western movies. The constant term “character” has appeared in my conversations with everyone and is one of the largest factors that eliminates the possibility of discussion about sexual and reproductive health between children and their parents. Having grown up in an Asian-American household, my environment followed a similar path. The sensitivity of the subject, and being able to accurately share information on the topic, is the part that gives me joy in being a part of FPAI and the organization’s cause. To actively mention a topic that can be considered taboo is a risk itself, but I learned here that sometime prioritizing personal curiosities is much more valuable than following the safe path to match peoples’ expected perception.

Post-session Group Selfie!

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About Coleen Truong

Coleen Truong is a sophomore pursuing a dual-degree in Business Administration and Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience. After graduation, she would like go into consulting and focus on the healthcare or social impact industries. This summer, Coleen will be spending four weeks in Hyderabad working in the public health field focusing on expanding access to adolescent sexual and reproductive health education and contraceptives. She will be interning with Family Planning Association of India, an organization dedicated to providing quality reproductive health information and services to men, women, and children through educational and clinical services. Coleen’s culminating research project will focus on examining the socio-cultural and operational challenges affecting the sustainability of a family planning and reproductive health clinic in India. Through conducting this research, she hopes to propose solutions to these challenges and establish a basic framework for enhancing the implementation of reproductive health organizations in developing nations.

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