By Jennifer Jiries, MSW ‘17
This is my first trip abroad and as I was planning for my trip to India almost everyone I crossed paths with gave me advice on how to prepare and warned me to be very careful. Everyone asked if I was ready for the culture shock of going to a third world country with safety concerns and overwhelming poverty. I did my best to prepare for everything people mentioned and yet when I got off the plane in India, I was not prepared. Surprisingly it was not the noise or the poverty that I was not prepared for. It was being in a place where I was so clearly an outsider and a language that I did not speak that threw me off. Though I will say that the level of poverty is not something I am used to either, even though I tried to prepare for it. I also expected that there would be some issues or attention because I was a woman traveling alone, especially in a city that is not known for safety when it comes to women. However the biggest hurdle for me has been not speaking the language and not having a clue how to navigate this city I will be living in for the next eight weeks. After leaving the airport, I went to the place I am staying and began the process of settling in. I have to admit that I was feeling more out of my depth than I expected and unsure how well I would be able to find my place here.
Since I prefer to keep busy and because work usually helps me to feel grounded, I scheduled my first day at one of my internships for the day after my arrival. I made the choice to work with two different agencies while I am in Delhi. The first, Kat-Katha, is an agency that works with women from the brothels and their children. The other, Institute of Human Behaviors and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), is a government mental hospital. As soon as I walked into Kat-Katha I was given a hug and welcomed by all of the staff, volunteers, and students at the school. The staff immediately began to ask me how I was doing, where I was staying, and what help I needed. The warmth and generosity I received that day went a long way towards showing me that I had made the right choice by coming here to work with Kat-Katha. And even more than the staff, the kids at Kat-Katha embraced me faster than I could have ever wished for. They went out of their way to tell me their names and what their names meant.
That day reminded me of something my first year Field Instructor drilled into us during our time at his agency—programs don’t change people, relationships do. Kat-Katha is a living example of that and I left that first day so excited to not only come back the next day, but to be a part of something so beautiful. My first day at IHBAS was very different and yet equally as welcoming. I was able to observe a pre-admissions counseling session for a woman who was in the process of being admitted. The staff member I was observing made sure to prioritize the patient, yet still found the time to make sure I understood the conversation and answer my questions.
I have to say that the main reason I have begun to adjust and finally settle in is the people I am working with. Their kindness and generosity has gone a long way towards making Delhi feel welcoming and that I belong here. I am slowly learning some Hindi from the children at Kat-Katha while helping them with their English. I know that I have a lot to learn as well as contribute during my time here and I look forward to being a part of the work that both Kat-Katha and IHBAS are doing to better the lives of their clients and to change their communities.