It’s been a while since my first post and in that time a lot has happened. As reminder, my capstone team is working for GAIN – the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. We started work in Delhi on July 13, though I took my time coming to India making stops in England and Bombay to visit family and friends. Delhi – hot, humid, and dull, Delhi - was made all the more bearable upon meeting our capstone clients finally and realizing just how lucky wer are. The entire GAIN-India staff is extremely generous, hospitable, and supportive. I don’t want to jinx us, but I really think we’re a very lucky capstone team based on the stories I’ve heard from previous years.
We spent less than a week in Delhi and then hit the road to visit several locations in India where GAIN’s partner – Naandi – operates kitchens providing nutrient-fortified meals to students at government schools through India’s mandated Midday Meals Program. (Or, “Middy Meals” as was posted on one government official’s office door.) I should mention that during our time in Delhi, one thing that made me appreciate our client all the more was their willingness to allow us to format the scope of our work with a great deal of freedom. Most importantly, we were able to opt for only one case study, dropping the research related to universal salt iodization. Although that topic seemed immensely interesting and one which could have had a great deal of policy impact, we didn’t feel that we could do justice to both it and the Midday Meal review. In the end, we opted for MDM since it was a more clearly defined assignment and would allow for more field study.
Since leaving Delhi, we’ve been to Udaipur, Rajasthan, and its environs; Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh; Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh; and are now in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Having been to India, it’s been wonderful revisiting some old stomping grounds like H’bad, but also great going to new places like Bhopal and Vizag. This amount of travel is just one more way that we’re being spoiled by our experience.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not all a cake walk for us. Our days are starting at 3:40/4am regularly so that we can arrive at the central kitchens early enough to see the lunches being prepared and the the delivery trucks heading out on their routes. We spend some time in each kitchen speaking with the managers, route coordinators and staff (cooks, cleaners, drivers, et al, as possible). Then we head off to see some of the schools receiving their meals with time to speak with headmasters, teachers, and students. Before and after lunch, we go for meetings with government officials and end the day with debriefings, typing up notes, and prep for the next day. If we’re lucky, we get two nights in one place before flying/training off to the next site.
Overall, my impression has been one of amazement. Amazement at how much India has changed since 2003/2004 when I was here for study abroad and amazement at the work that Naandi is doing. Everywhere I turn there are western or western-style stores. Each city seems to have a brand new airport that puts JFK to shame (not that that is so hard to do). Even though I spent 6 months in Hyderabad, I could hardly recognize the place given all of the new construction. When I first came to India, it was easy to miss the US and understand why those who wanted a better chance in the world to send their children to the States for school or work. Now, though, India has become a much more appealing place to live, at least for those who are upwardly mobile and have the option to attend school.
Naandi. What Naandi does with a staff of five and on a shoestring budget would put any fat American NGO to shame. Providing nutritious meals to children for whom it is often the only meal of the day, in four states, in different languages, with different tastes. All while combatting local prejudices, political tensions and Indian bureaucracy. I can’t help but want to drop out of Wagner and stay on full-time to help out. I don’t think I’ll be that rash quite yet. At least not until I take a look at my fall semester reading list. But, honestly, Naandi, and in particular, the Naandi Midday Meal Director Leena Joseph, are inspiring. Being here and participating in work like this is a strong confirmation that Wagner is the right place to be and that international public service is the right field to be in.
June 3, 2009
We had our last Capstone class for the summer yesterday night and now all that stands in the way between my team and India is getting the dates from the client and a few other logistical details. It is weird to think how far we have come since this time last year when we were all in a different life and in a different world. I was still teaching seventh grade and was counting down the school year with more anticipation than my students; waiting for my life to start all over again in New York City and at Wagner. I would never have guessed last summer that this summer I would be heading to rural India to study water and sanitation provision.
It has been quite a journey that has brought us to this place. I remember meeting second year students on the bus on the way to the retreat and thinking they all seemed so knowledgeable and looking at them with such awe. And now here I am, in the same place as them. Only now am I truly understanding the wisdom of John Gershman who said in our very first class, my very first day that this work is often like drinking out of a fire hose with too much information. The learning curve at Wagner is very steep but once you are on the other side the view is totally worth the climb.
I thought I’d take the plunge and get us started. Here goes.
Along with fellow board members Tara and Maulin, I’ll be heading off to India for summer-fall capstone. Within Dr. David Winder’s undernutrition capstone, I am part of the team working with GAIN – the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition – a Geneva-based NGO. I’m lucky enough to be working with IPSA’s 2008-2009 secretary, Kristina Corvin; our NYUMI rep, Cecelia Tanaka; WHN co-chair, Debbie Koh; and Rubina Khan, our resident Hindi expert and second health specialist.
For the first part of our work with GAIN we’ll review and evaluate two projects currently underway. The first is a partnership with the Naandi Foundation which provides midday meals to underprivileged youth. We’ll travel to Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan to visit several food preparation centers and assess the decentralization efforts and successes. The second is a salt-iodization program for which we’ll travel again to Rajasthan to conduct interviews to help us explore challenges and develop suggestions to help mobilize local salt-iodization collectives.
The second part of our assignment entails working with GAIN and its Washington-based partner Ashoka to facilitate a global online competition to identify entrepreneurs in the field of nutrition.
Honestly, it all seems a bit daunting at the moment, but after our first class tonight, I’m extremely excited and eager to move forward. I’ll keep you posted as the summer goes on with more information about the work and, more likely, tales of the trials and tribulations of capstone team work in the middle of monsoon season.
PS. I’m totally new to blogging, so I still don’t know what I’m doing. This will be a work in progress for me.