As an Indian American, I had the opportunity to visit India several times. Cows in the road no longer surprise me. Truthfully, watching my classmates various reactions in India became more amusing than the colorfully painted elephants crossing the street. I am pretty sure I witnessed every possible human emotion register across my peer’s faces.
Like anything with substance, India is complicated. It is overwhelming, chaotic, and overpopulated. However, when you meet Indians who are committed to making a difference, despite all these obstacles, India suddenly becomes a place of hope and infinite possibility.
Our group was able to witness this firsthand. We worked with the Shantipath Peace Centers. The Peace Centers began as a result of the 2002 Gujarat riots. These Peace Centers are designed to help women find jobs within their community. Overtime the Peace Centers created life education centers, vocational training, and knowledge centers for children. Our group’s goal is to develop a business hub for the Peace Centers. In addition, we will write an impact assessment.
In preparation for these projects, we met with several women. We sat in the small, ornate Peace Centers and spoke with both women and children to learn about their stories and lives before joining the Peace Centers. The stories we heard both broke our hearts while reminding us about how powerful the human spirit is. We listened to stories from women who never left their homes prior to joining the Peace Centers. Once they joined the center, they often started vocational training. From there they began earning their own income and subsequently found their voice as a result of their financial independence. We heard this story often from several women, and we were reminded about how we take our lives for granted sometimes.
We also heard about a young boy who joined the Peace Center at the age of 7. Prior to joining his teacher told us he chewed tobacco and cursed like a sailor. We could not hide our amusement at the idea of such a young boy exhibiting this type of behavior especially since as we sat with him, he was polite and well behaved. The knowledge centers provided a place for him to focus on his abilities. Today, he is doing exceptionally well and is considered a leader among his peers.
Not all stories are inspirational though. We met a 12-year-old girl whose father recently passed away. Her mother observed the traditional Muslim practice of being a new widow and stayed inside her home to pray. As a result, the young girl was the sole breadwinner for the family. We met her briefly and our hearts broke a little while we watched her roll incense sticks in a frenzy. She is expected to roll 7000 sticks a day while sitting in an awkward position and inhale the toxic incense substance.
Throughout all of this, one person sticks out in my mind. She is the Peace Center supervisor. Her name is Prutha. Each day we worked with her directly. At first she appeared shy. She is also insecure about her English. One day, our translator called into work sick, and Prutha had no choice but to speak any English she knew. Now that she was officially in control of the situation, our group saw her magic unfold. When she walks into a Peace Center, each person reacts. Every individual in the Peace Center whether they are a teacher or a pupil, respects Pruthaben. She possesses the perfect balance of being compassionate and stern. She knows how difficult Shatipath Peace Center member’s lives are, but she is still honest about what changes they need to make and how it can be done. She is truly committed to the Peace Centers and its members. One night she invited to her house for dinner and once again we were amazed at her chameleon abilities. Now she was the happy homemaker who looked after her loving husband and ten year old son.
Pruthben definitely taught us a lesson in leadership. Despite all the obstacles she faces in order to reach her mission, she keeps pushing through. She literally will knock a door down if it means reaching the Peace Center’s mission. Her leadership skills, including being creative and flexible, remind me of India overall. India is not a place you fly to and suddenly understand how she works. However, if you take the time to get to know India, you suddenly realize her incredible power, magic and abilities.