As I was approaching my first full month in India, I had been through a rigorous orientation program that included many competency trainings about project planning and design, cultural workshops, and guest speakers of all sorts. The orientation program really helped me to understand how I would be working, and really eased me into Indian culture and society. I learned about the history of India, the medical system, how the local government systems were intricately designed, the caste system, with a few Hindi lessons here and there.
Once the orientation program was finished, it was time to visit and observe my host organization that I would be placed with for my entire internship. Maharaj Sher Singh Women Empowerment Society (MSS) became my new focus. This women empowerment NGO was made up of about 20-30 women from lower caste communities who came to two different sewing centers everyday to make soft toys such as elephants, camels, birds, and other handmade products.
For the first two weeks at the organization, my days consisted of going to the Sher Villas Center located in Airforce, Jodhpur, and then taking a cramped taxi ride with five other women to Mehrangarh Fort where another MSS center is located. These were the days when I had only one or two hindi lessons and was thrown into the organization without a translator. However, I loved spending time with these women. I tried my best to ask as many questions as I could with broken hindi, a little english, and many hand gestures. The most I could do though was watch them work, take pictures, and ask them about their daily lives. The women had no idea why I was there or what types of projects I would be doing with them, but they still welcomed me as if I had been working there for years. They always smiled when I came in, and never gave me a suspicious look I would have expected from them– seeing a foreigner in their center. They were happy to show me their work and we laughed at how poor my hindi was as they showed me the elephant ears they were currently sewing. I loved taking pictures of their hands while they worked, and later this became the main theme of the first project I did with MSS.