Self-Employed Women’s Association 2014 – First Week

SEWA“No. Never. Absolutely Not.” are the words my mother stuttered from the phone when I first announced that I had been accepted to intern with the Self Employed Women’s Association in Ahmedabad, India. Somehow, only three short months later, I now sit under the blanket of humidity that coats the entire city of Ahmedabad, and I would venture to guess, the rest of the country. How long can I survive in this over 100o temperature?  How can I work in India for over a month despite having never left the United States for more than a week? Will I be able to assimilate into a workplace that does not always use English for communication?  Only time will tell. However, while the odds may seem to be rapidly rising up against me, I can certainly say I have found these questions to be exciting challenges, and I have found my first week in India to be incredible.

Upon arriving at the Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Ahmedabad on Saturday, the other interns, and I were all acquainted with the rooms, our campus, and one another. The institute is divided between five different buildings surrounded with well-manicured lawns, foliage, and the occasional dog, peacock, and even monkey. Located in the rural district, the campus is detached from the main part of the city. Despite the fact that classes did not begin until Monday, two days after we arrived, some students were already on campus. We found all of them to be very nice and welcoming, and they gave us advice about the city and the area. A few even brought us with them to a beautiful Hindu temple down the road. The campus quickly became our base and, even more importantly, a home-away-from-home.

These lazy first two days were quickly interrupted by the Monday we all started our internships. The four interns working with EDI remained on campus while the six of us working with SEWA left for their office in our first visit to the inner city. The bustling chaos of Indian traffic lived up to all the stories we had heard. Driving laws, lights, and lanes are merely suggestions, and horns are used by drivers simply to declare: “I am here.” Amazingly, the bustle of cars and bikes flow like water through the streets. Once we arrived at our destination, we learned that our first week would serve as an introduction to SEWA’s goals and purpose. The first facility we toured was the textile branch of SEWA. On the first two floors, women were trained to sew with machinery and put together various articles of clothing. Only SEWA’s most skilled worked on intricate hand stitching on the top floor. We then toured the Gintanjali and SEWA Manager Ni School. Gitanjali helps women learn to turn recycled papers into notebooks and other paper-based materials. SEWA Manager Ni School provides management and basic business training to literate, illiterate, and semi-literate women. Overall, meeting new and senior members of each branch of the organization allowed us to see the opportunities SEWA creates for women throughout Ahmedabad and India.

On Wednesday and Thursday Michael, my internship partner, and I finally learned about the group we would be working under directly: Rudi. Rudi provides agricultural assistance to villages to help promote village and farming sustainability for its members. We visited two separate processing plants and met some of the women we would be directly working under. It was quite comforting to find such kindness and hospitality behind the dust and sand of Gujarat’s more arid regions. Even more surprising was the fertility of this land. Not only could the land be farmed after the rejuvenation of the seasonal monsoons, but there were also vast amounts of valuable and profitable salt deposits. Rudi is concerned with all resources produced by the land as well as the farmers cultivating them all.  The drive to these destinations were two to three hours long but passed by quite quickly thanks primarily to our very entertaining boss, Dimpleben. Between comparisons of British and American culture to Dimpleben’s Hindi lessons, the fields of Gujarat quickly raced by our cars windowsills each day.

Now I wait to leave for a village in Surendranagar district where I will work for the next twelve days. There, I will analyze and write the business strategy for the Rudi’s Surendranagar branch and then create a new business plan for the next five years. Once completed, this analysis will be given to Rudi and SEWA for consideration. Meanwhile, the other SEWA interns will each work for their respective departments within the organization. With introductions of SEWA, the country, and the other interns complete, I look forward to the approaching rainy season and the next five weeks on my exciting adventure in India.

-Tim McCall