Sarah: Step Foot into India

It’s not often we look down and take a mental note, let alone a photo, of what our feet are walking upon. Nick, the programme director of IndoGenius (and soon to be friend), mentioned on one of our first bus rides to look at what we are standing on to get an idea of the incredible diversity. Not only does this make an interesting perspective but also shows how much diversity and contrast there is in India. From marble tiles in popular temples to carpeted multi-storey business buildings to litter strewn streets… the contrast is not only vast, but densely concentrated. You don’t have to travel very far at all to see this abrupt change. So enjoy many photos of my toes and the places they have been.

Infosys visit in Mysore – Tech consulting and outsourcing company that has an incredible campus for an international internship program. The campus is impressively big, with nods to European architecture and the accommodation buildings even spell out “INFOSYS” on Google maps.

One night in Delhi, a bunch of us decided to visit Gurudwara Bangla Sahib which is a Sikh temple. Upon entering the temple grounds, we covered our heads with shawls and took off our footwear. After dipping our feet into water to wash them, we walked along cold marble around the serene area, observing people worship and contemplate in silence. We were allowed to walk around inside the stunning temple full of gold adornments and luxurious carpet, seeing people authentically pay respects and worship. It was a beautiful experience, especially in the dark of night with friends to accompany you.

Walking through streets in Old Delhi, seeing and smelling the flower & spice market. Chaos on the streets and taking small pathways with stray dried chillies that got left behind getting crushed beneath our feet. Atop one of the buildings, we got a good view of the surrounding area – buildings packed in tight with temples and mosques in the hazy distance.

Pink evening light reflecting off the Taj Mahal at the end of a day trip to Agra – a tourist must see in India ticked off the bucket list.

We visited one of the places that makes hand printed and dyed products for FabIndia. Intricate patterns are printed with wooden ‘stamps’ using natural dye or with mud, depending on what part of the fabric is being coloured. Seeing a transparent part of the supply chain and the natural dyes made shopping at FabIndia much more meaningful. It’s so important to know where your purchases are coming from, what resources are used and how workers are being treated.

Exploring through the beautiful Amer Fort in Jaipur. So many different views, towers and courtyards to explore, not to mention the flocks of birds swooping all around. Definitely an underrated destination, especially compared to the Taj Mahal, with very interesting stories behind it’s construction and living quarters.

Morning yoga sessions with Susie. Even after an exhausting day the day before, an early morning rise for yoga was worth it. Not only centring and balancing your body but also your mind. A regular routine that I would love to continue back in Aotearoa.

This is the sort of photo that media would convey as the prominent sight in India: trash everywhere. I felt it is important to also show the sights that we may not be used to seeing back home in New Zealand. Here is the rubbish I was walking on in Old Delhi and similar scenes could be seen in most places in India. While this is common, there is so much beauty to hold all around in India. This perspective does make me increasingly grateful for the clean public spaces in New Zealand but also encourages me to do more to reduce my impact on the environment in any way possible.

A kolam drawn early each morning in front of almost every home or business in Pondicherry, Southern India. It is a geometric design that is tradition for many locals to partake in, often as part of their routine for aesthetic purposes but also for spiritual reasons.

The red earthy grounds of Auroville in Southern India where we saw many different sustainable solutions for basic needs, such as water recycling, clay brick construction and organic farming.

Sarah Goedhart

Sarah: Cultural Awakening – How India encouraged me to explore more of NZ culture

The wealth and richness of India’s culture is obvious everywhere you turn. Grand temples with incredible architecture stand out against the haze in the distance. Colourful street side statues and temples caught my eye regularly, even in rural fields away from hustling cities. Music and prayer calls ring out while locals decorate themselves with meaningful symbols of their religion and culture. Intoxicating smells of sizzling food paired with chutneys and spices was mouthwatering. Extravagantly coloured houses lining bustling streets contrast greatly to the plain coloured houses in suburban New Zealand. The description could go on and on and on. It’s no wonder India can be described as an assault on your senses. There is an abundance of things to take in that are usually very foreign from what we are used to in New Zealand. 

During our IndoGenius experience, we visited temples of many different religions and participated in various ceremonies and traditions. On the first official day with the Australian students, we got to experience a Havan. It’s a Hindu ceremony to cleanse, energize and protect the inner self as well as the surroundings where the ceremony is performed. Significant ‘firsts’ such as marriage, birth, death etc. are often marked by a Havan. As this program was my first time setting foot in India, it was the perfect ceremony to mark the occasion. It involved various chants and offerings of grains/ earthy material.

We also got to practise Bollywood dancing with Gilles, the Bollywood dance instructor from the IndoGenius team. Not only was it an incredibly fun icebreaker to get to know each other, it was also the perfect way to be exposed to and participate in the culture of India. 

Bollywood dance lessons with Gilles

Surprisingly, one of my cultural highlights was visiting the New Zealand High Commission. We were all suited up in traditional Indian wear for the visit, talking about how New Zealand and India can partner together as well as learn from one another. After discussions, questions and refreshments, the boardroom table was moved aside and music prepared for a performance; a test of our newly acquired bollywood dancing skills. After completing our choreography (obviously with a few forgetful steps and laughter), the team at the high commission surprised me completely. People working within the building were gathered to sing a waiata for us. A familiar tune of Tutira Mai Nga Iwi met our ears and we joined in singing together. The exchange of culture was truly beautiful. Kiwis dressed in traditional Indian wear dancing bollywood style while representatives of New Zealand High Commission (mostly Indian) singing a waiata. It was a perfect example of a respectful, appreciative exchange of culture. For me, I felt like this cultural exchange is how we should approach other cultures. To be willing and enthusiastic to learn and participate in a culture that is not our own. To be willing to make mistakes and share our knowledge, not only of the culture of our country but also share what we have learnt about another culture. To be continually learning, open minded and respectful.

New Zealand High Commission Visit

In our final week of the trip, we went to Auroville and visited Solitude Kitchen – an organic farm that harvests all the food they serve from their gardens. It’s full of native plants and follows the ‘do nothing’ method which is exactly what it suggests – do nothing except return organic matter to the earth. One of the founding members, Krishna Mackenzie, spoke about the importance of reestablishing our relationship with mother nature. When he said, “disconnecting from mother nature is like the disintegration of the human spirit”, it reminded me about the deep connection to the land that is prevalent in Maori culture. There is such a rich connection from the land to the sea and everything in between, viewing soil, water and land as taonga (sacred treasures). The strong bond to the land, Papatuanuku, Mother Earth provides Maori with identity and unity – sustaining them and giving life but also needing guardianship so the land isn’t over exploited. It makes me think that if we had a stronger, deeper connection to the land like Maori do, we would be more conscious of the consequences our actions can have on the environment. 

Learning about the vibrant Indian culture has ignited my desire to learn more about Maori language and culture. Usually coming back home to Aotearoa after being overseas and exploring new things, it’s hard to be fully satisfied adjusting to the reality of life and routine. This has felt extremely different after India in regard to nature and culture. I would love to explore our beautiful country more and be more connected to the incredible nature all around us. I would love to learn Te Reo Maori, even just the basics, and learn about the culture. India has sparked an immense curiosity to learn more about my home, just as I learnt so much in India. 

Sarah Goedhart

Sarah: Environmental Empowerment in India

Environmental empowerment. Sustainability. India. How can these words be connected to each other in a positive sense with hope for the future? When I explained to people about my upcoming trip to India through IndoGenius, I explained that we would be visiting businesses, universities, schools, cultural sites, governments etc. and seeing how India is helping solve some of the world’s biggest issues. A common response to this would be “Or seeing how India is contributing to these problems.” This is often the perspective people have towards India and environmental issues, but can neglect to see the opportunity for change. So, in coming to India, I had a mix of preconceptions, from positive curiosity to subconscious negativity.

Currently, I’m studying a Bachelor of Commerce and Science conjoint (Operations & Supply Chain Management, Environmental Science and Geography) with the aim to incorporate sustainability into businesses. Throughout the world, I see so many people pointing fingers at the ‘big giants’, claiming large companies are single handedly doing all the damage to the environment. While I’m not exempt from this, I do believe that we can empower corporations who are supposedly doing the most harm and encourage sustainable practices that consider impacts on people and the planet. So that’s a bit of background to where I stand. 
(Photo of me at Amer Fort, Jaipur)

Surprisingly, India has given me hope. If India is the equivalent of a large corporation doing harm, then they are empowering THEMSELVES to create change. In many ways, ‘clean green’ New Zealand can learn a lot from India. 

The multitude of regulations in New Zealand, while exceptional at ensuring safety, can also cause change to be reactive instead of proactive. For India, where regulations aren’t enforced as prominently, this can create an ecosystem for change. A place where ideas are thriving, being put into action and even scaled up to great magnitudes. 

In our final week while staying in Pondicherry, we visited Auroville numerous times to see what environmental solutions they are implementing. Auroville, located on the east coast of India, used to be a desert plateau where the ground was as hard as a rock. Now it’s a thriving ecosystem full of native plants and trees with immense diversity. To get to this stage, acacia was used as a catalyst for rejuvenating the desert. It is a plant, native to Australia, that is drought resistant and therefore flourished in a desert environment, creating dead matter to fertilize the ground for other plants to grow. Native plants and trees have now flourished, producing a canopy which allows for acacia to naturally die out. Nature has an incredible ability to bounce back if we allow the time and space.

We also visited Solitude Kitchen and met one of the founding members, Krishna Mackenzie, who took us through the garden. We wandered through the gardens filled with a huge array of native plants. The sun was beating down, illuminating the luscious greenery surrounding us while Krishna explained to us the ‘do nothing’ approach. It’s exactly what it sounds like – do nothing, just return organic matter to the earth and that’s all. Learning about the native Indian plants with familiar flavors, such as lemon or apple, and their medicinal properties was beyond interesting. It made me wonder what native plants we have back in Aotearoa that we don’t utilize enough. The importance of diversity in our food is like the importance of diversity in our communities and society. He spoke about how true sustainability is having a relationship from where our food comes from and the utmost importance of reestablishing our relationship with mother nature. In a simple yet profound way, he said how disconnecting from mother nature is like the disintegration of the human spirit. We all rely on the earth for life and yet we have now come to view our home as a resource that we can take advantage of and exhaust completely. Reestablishing our relationship with mother nature is hugely about having respect and being conscious about our actions. After harvesting plants that I had never heard of before, we went back to the open outdoor kitchen to cook our own lunch. I had the task of grating green papaya for the salad, which had contained none of the usual tomatoes, cucumber or lettuce. It was delicious and eye-opening. It made me really think, how can we utilize our land and native plants to feed people nutritious, delicious and sustainable food?

There were many other examples of efforts to improve environmental sustainability. Many businesses we visited were investing in sustainable supply chains and CSR practices. There were signs all around the airports about transitioning to renewable energy sources and subsidising LPG (cleaner energy source compared to coal) for impoverished communities. In Mumbai, on the back of large signs on main roads, messages reading “Green Mumbai, Clean Mumbai” also really surprised me. 

While I know it’s important to note that some of these efforts may be for political agendas or ‘greenwashing’ techniques (giving a false impression of environmental sustainability), it was still eye-opening to see. And yes, the sights that are frequently portrayed on media of open landfills, rubbish littering the streets and unfiltered sewage were things we encountered. But nonetheless, I came away still feeling hopeful for India, New Zealand and the world, that change is happening at an increasing rate. New innovations are being developed. People are empowering themselves and using their voices. Instead of getting angry at people, large companies or countries, for the degradation of our planet, we should instead direct anger at the problem. Use it to fuel your actions to create change. Lead by example and encourage others to rethink their unconscious habits that have been unquestioned for too long. Dhanyavaad, thank you India for giving me hope in the most unexpected way.

Jenna: Highlights from a month in India

India is a must-visit country. There were so many ‘wow’ moments from my 4 weeks on the Indogenius programme, and I have chosen some of my favourites to share with you (in no particular order).

  1. The people: My fellow students from NZ and Australia, as well as the Indogenius team, are an amazing bunch of people who I have learnt so much from. In India, making connections with people from all different backgrounds, cultures, and religions was a significant and very special part of my experience of this wonderful country. India is filled with beautiful, welcoming people who made the month extra special. Most of them have a good command of the English language and when you take the time to talk to them they are open and happy to share their lives and experiences. With a population of 1.3 billion, there is an extremely strong sense of community, and I am grateful that I had the chance to meet so many wonderful new people.
  1. Yoga and meditation: During our time in India we were lucky enough to be properly introduced to yoga and meditation by Susie, who has studied and practised both for over 27 years. In India, it is believed there are 5 layers of ‘self’ or ‘being’ known as Koshas, all of which are interwoven. These are the physical body, energy body, mental body, wisdom body, and bliss body. All are interrelated and dependent on each other. Yoga helps to bring each of these into balance and it works to improve posture, balance, strength. Meditation and mindfulness is something that was referred to often in India and is perceived to be a big part of the lives of many. Meditation helps to re-balance the mind and gives us a chance to stop and look within, noticing what is or isn’t. It is said to reduce anxiety, help with pain management, and aid sleep. 
  1. Bollywood dance: These sessions were always a lot of fun. We learnt a number of different Bollywood routines throughout the month from our wonderful teacher, Gilles. We performed some of these at different places we visited, such as the NZ High Commission and Gurdwara school. One of the best things I have ever done was dancing down the street all the way to the temple. 
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4. Food: The food in India is incredible. I chose to eat vegetarian during the month, a decision which I think was the right one. Every dish has been so tasty, full of spices and flavours. Paneer curry was definitely a favourite, as was the Masala Dosa. Being Gluten-Free, I found it a lot easier than many other countries when it came to finding food options. At Auroville, we harvested our own food. The photo below shows the delicious meal made out of some of the ingredients.

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  1. Initiatives Empowering Women: two that really stood out to me were the Silai School programme and Internet Saathi.
  • The Silai School program started in 2011 through USHA International. They reach out to the most marginalised women in rural villages, choosing one to give a sewing machine to and teach them how to sew. In return they have to open their own USHA Silai school and train at least 20 women in one year. The Silai School initiative aims to eradicate poverty, promote good health and wellbeing, quality education, and gender equality. We visited one of these schools to see it in action. The owner of the school had a large group of women in her home where they were sewing and creating beautiful garments. She used to work in the fields doing back-breaking work each day, and now she has changed her life through this programme, building her own home and running the school.
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  • Internet Saathi is a joint initiative between Google India, Intel and Tata Trusts. They are bringing over 30 million women from 300,000 villages online. Starting in 2015, they now have over 50,000 trained volunteers who are teaching women how to use the internet. This allows them to research and solve daily needs, learn new skills, and access medical advice and job opportunities. Data in India is cheap and easily accessible. In 2014 only 1 in 10 smartphone users were women, compared with 4 in 10 in 2018.
  1. Plurality: Everywhere we went, from Bangalore to Mysore to Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, and Pondicherry, we saw people of all different religions working or studying together. We visited many temples, mosques and churches and were welcomed into each one. There is evidence of different religions and beliefs in every aspect of daily life in India, and yet there is a strong sense of unity and peace. 

7. Jaipur Foot: A truly inspirational organization that supplies, completely free of charge, prosthetic limbs to any patient who comes through their doors. A person who has lost a leg can come through and have a prosthetic replacement measured, created and supplied within 24 hours, no matter their culture, religion, or status. It is run by volunteers of all backgrounds who have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping others.

  1. Dharavi: I definitely had preconceptions about what this would be like, many of which were challenged after my visit. Dharavi is the largest slum in Asia. It is 400 square acres, about half the size of Central Park, and has approximately 1 million people. Yes, a lot of what we envisage a slum to look like (narrow alleyways, rubbish, collapsing buildings, lack of toilets) is accurate, but the feeling here is far from what I expected. Children were skipping happily home from school, people were working hard at the many businesses within the slum or just going happily about their day, and they smiled as we walked around in our small groups. I found it surprising to learn that some of the people living here are quite wealthy, but they choose to stay due to status and the strong sense of community within the slum. The whole experience caused me to really reflect on a lot of things and it was certainly a moving and memorable part of the Indogenius experience.
  1. Amer Fort: I didn’t know much about Amer Fort before we went here and so I was blown away. This fort is located in Amer, near Jaipur in Rajasthan. Set high up on the hill, the ancient walls enclose the beautiful courtyards and grandeur of the palatial buildings. Raja Man Singh lived here with his 12 wives who all had separate apartments within the palace. It was interesting learning about the history of Amer Fort and hear the stories of the King using secret passageways so the wives wouldn’t get jealous.  Amer Fort is a must-visit if you visit Jaipur.
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10. Taj Mahal: No list would be complete without the Taj Mahal of course. Its beauty and sense of history speak for itself. The white marble mausoleum in Agra was built in the 1600s and is a UNESCO heritage site. 

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Jenna Aalbers

Why is Indian Innovation Unsung in the West?

Let us reconsider today’s narrative of innovation, and understand the reasons why India stands at its forefront in 2020.

During my third week in India I was lucky enough to visit Akshaya Patra, the world’s largest midday meal programme. A 5am start still found us late to the factory, where workers were well awake while stirring 3 metre deep tubs of curry and rice. The food was then speedily packaged into trucks which would deliver over 1.8 million meals by lunchtime. While profit-incentivised alternatives to Akshaya Patra have brought the quality of such programmes into question, sites such as that which we visited commented on the immense impact for social change that their work can have. For example, Akshaya Patra found that if they randomised the day a sweet was included in student lunches, the attendance of students increased.

The same week, I was fortunate enough to visit Dharavi, one of the world’s largest slums. Here, one would be shocked to learn that a recycling ecosystem thrives! This is because plastic collected for reuse is a source of income for individuals, and thus collection of plastic is incentivised. Moments into my entry into Dharavi, I could see that innovation was not glorified here – yet it was fiercely understood.

Photo by Mumtahina Rahman on Pexels.com

Minutes have passed, and our group finds ourselves shifting between alleyways that can only be described as cracks between buildings. As if a Shangri-La, we come across a store selling leatherware handcrafted by Dharavi residents. While the shop clearly targets tourists, it was incredible to hear the story of how leather tanners in the slums became dissatisfied making products for third parties who would conveniently omit their manufacturing location. The residents innovated, using the location in which they created their products as a mark of pride in their craftsmanship, and a reason to purchase from the slums directly. This has ensured that more money has bypassed businesses profiting off of Dharavi’s cheap labour and goes directly to slum workers.

What strikes me about India’s innovation is that it is unsung. Akshaya Patra and Dharavi alike appear to be hidden heroes, speaking to how child hunger can be combatted systemically, or pride in local craftsmanship can create community income. If we are to understand what it means to be innovative – and be so in an holistic manner – then community consciousness such as that Akshaya Patra and Dharavi demonstrate should be studied. Given 1 in 5 New Zealand children live in a family in which food insecurity is moderate-to-high, what could Akshaya Patra teach us to ensure an organisation like Eat My Lunch has systemic impact? What could Dharavi teach us about recycling, given we discard 15.5 million tonnes of waste annually? To be innovative is to acknowledge that there is more to learn; India is the perfect reminder that innovation can a conscious, frugal restructure as much as a cutting-edge breakthrough. Let’s start to reshape what it means to innovate.

– Zak Devey

Akshaya Patra: What India Can Teach the World

Before completing a four-week study tour in India, I had barely considered India’s role as a global leader. India’s influence was not taught at school and hardly touched upon in my degree of Development Studies and Cultural Anthropology. My knowledge of Asia taught at school as the Vietnam War and Edmund Hillary being first to scale Mount Everest in Nepal.

With 1 in every 4 people in the world being Indian, why is India given little weight in the education, media and business sectors?

India has the fastest growing economy in the world and it is predicted to become the biggest economy by 2050. Not only that, it is one of the few countries in the world to have more than 50% of its population below the age of 25. An aging population is a challenge which many countries in the global north will face in the coming years. For example Japan’s average age is 48, compared to India’s who sits at 29 years.  A young population means opportunity. Whereas aging populations come with challenges such as decreasing numbers in the workforce. India will have the advantage of their population entering the workforce.

Nick, one of the leaders of Indogenius, was effective at drilling this fact into our heads: for every problem there is a solution in India. From rickshaw drivers to CEO’s of start-ups – so many Indian’s seem to possess a spirit which drives them to do better for them and their families. This creates an environment perfect for start-ups. Passionate people with an idea and the drive can bring their to life which may not be realistic in places such as New Zealand. We interacted with many people who had successfully turned their vision into multi-million-dollar companies, from Delhi to Pondicherry.

This is not only limited to the world of business in areas such as tech which India is gaining a worldwide reputation for. NGOs such as Jaipur Foot and Akshaya Patra are touching the lives of millions of people in an extremely practical and productive way.

Akshaya Patra Foundation is a non-profit organisation founded in 2000 which feeds 18 million children in schools daily. It is the largest school lunch programme in the world, which believes that “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger.” We had the privilege of touring the kitchen. Their kitchen holds the title of biggest kitchen in the world which produces 1.4 million meals a day. One cooker could fit 2500 kilograms of dhal.

Making Dahl for 1.4 million people

Not only are meals an initiative for students but parents themselves as it takes the financial pressure off them to provide a meal. An article published by Education New Zealand (2019) says that between 150,000 and 250,000 New Zealand children are in poverty, depending on the measures used. Jacinda Ardern has announced that Year 1 to 8 students in thirty schools will be provided with a free school lunch, it is projected that 120 schools and 21,000 students will be provided with lunches by 2021. I think that the New Zealand government would benefit from looking at a system like Akshaya Patra has perfected. A child is fed a nutritious meal five times a week for a school year for only twenty dollars.

A simple but effective initiative that Akshaya Patra Foundation has introduced is including a sweet within the one of five days meals are served. They keep this day random as they have seen attendance increase to 100 per cent for the day including a sweet only. By switching this day weekly, attendance has increased throughout the week by five percent. When operating at such a scale this is an amazing accomplishment in attendance.

Akshaya Patra is only one example of what can be achieved in India. Good people are changing peoples lives domestically and international. With 1.4 billion brains India is a gold mine of potential that the rest of the world can learn from.

Annalise O’Sullivan-Moffat

JCB – the underbelly of an emerging India

India’s recent development is often attributed to the tech revolution or government driven initiatives such as the construction of 60 million toilets. What often goes unnoticed is the machines (literally) paving the road to India’s success in a local and global sphere. JCB was founded in England by Joseph Bamford. JCB India Limited was founded in 1979. We visited the Ballabgarh factory near New Delhi, which is the Headquarters for JCB India.

Infrastructure is vital in every society around the world. Buildings, roads and food are central to peoples everyday lives around the world and can be the difference between life and death. Governments can introduce policy to develop infrastructure and farming, but it is the people and machines which deliver their vision.

Within development I feel the focus is often on the contrast between rich and poor. This narrow focus overlooks the people in the middle. People which are often driving development, working within construction with machines such as the ones that JCB develops and distributes. The motto of JCB is simple but effective: “always looking for a better way”.

Our tour of the JCB factory provided an insight into these people’s roles in the factory and society. Along with these machines, they are transforming the landscape of India. From that moment on, during every bus ride we never failed to spot a JCB tractor, digger or backhoe.

Within the factory itself, there were hundreds of workers on a vast and precise construction line which transformed parts into yellow, shiny machines which were to be shipped off around the world.

The businesses we were exposed to were producing high quality products with an emphasis on worker safety and wellbeing. One of my highlights of the JCB tour was seeing the ‘employee of the month’s’ photo proudly displayed in the middle of the factory.

Visiting the JCB factory and many other businesses producing products made in India such as Hidesign and Fabindia developed my understanding of what ‘made in India’ means to a consumer. It’s beyond the sweatshops commonly associated with Asia. Made in India is a label which Indians take pride in and consumers should be proud of.

Annalise O’Sullivan-Moffat