Monday, November 21, 2011

The Trials and Tribulations of Interning....

     If you've read my most recent post from my Alliance blog, "Cause We're Like Adventurers!", then you will already be in on the fact that for our last month in Pune, members of the program become full time interns, documentary film-makers, or researchers (one of the components of the program I looked forward to most)! I had originally planned on going the documentary-film route, but was a bit too intrigued to see what organization I would be set up with for my internship to pass up the opportunity (or the great chance to build up my resume abroad!), and decided to go the intern route. 
I could not be happier with my decision!!!
For the remainder of my semester here, I will be working with an environmental advocacy/lobbying civil-society NGO that promotes sustainable development (totally up "nerdy Dachelle's" ally btw). As Parisar's main focus is sustainable development in Urban areas, they have since begun to examine the issue of sustainable transport. This means assessing the state of alternative travel modes such as walking, cycling, bus systems, etc, in order to encourage people to use more environmentally-friendly methods of travel. Upon my initial meeting with the organization, I was given a list of possible projects to take on, one of them which particularly caught my eye involved contributing to a comprehensive assessment they hope to produce regarding the Status of Transport within the city of Pune. I had originally hoped to do my project focused on the cyclability of the city-how safe is it to cycle, what are the state of bicycle tracks throughout the city, what obstacles prevent citizens from opting to use cycle as a mode of transport within the city-as Pune had previously been a city which widely promoted and used bicycles as a main mode of transportation (however, with the onset of development, the rapid growth of the city has made it no longer conducive to safely navigating on a bicycle, severely reducing the number of cyclers in the city). After a brief discussion with the organization we decided that since a lot of work has already been done by the organization in regards to this topic, my time would be best put toward assessing another mode of transport-the BRT system was suggested to me as one such topic. As I have no experience in or previous knowledge of BRT systems, we figured it would be a great way for me to gather some knowledge while also helping out with a chunk of the report.
BRT stands for Bus Rapid Transit, a system which was implemented (poorly) in Pune about 5 years ago. 
Unique characteristics of a BRT that make it different from a regular city bus include:
-Dedicated, right-of-way lanes for BRT buses only
-Limited stops with fast travel between each BRT stop
-Rapid loading and unloading of vehicles on platforms to which the buses are aligned
-Simplified, fast fare collection (off-board ticketing)
-Communications and Safety systems
In essence, a BRT is supposed to run similarly to that of a light rail transit system, with the only major difference being BRTs run above ground while a metro, in large part, runs below

*disclaimer: NOT the BRT system in Pune

So far, my time at Parisar has been spent developing the Parameters to define BRT, compiling User Surveys and Observation Checklists, and learning about the BRT system both as it pertains to Pune and how it is supposed to function ideally. I have had many successes in completing drafts of the User Surveys and Checklists, and am having an amazing experience here, but that is not to say all has gone off without a hitch- there are still quite a few obstacles that are preventing me from accomplishing everything on my own personal checklist.
Some of these issues include:
-Adjusting to office dynamics 
-Lack of expertise in BRT systems
-Developing a precise, short survey that covers many of the components of BRT

As with all new moves, it takes some time to settle into a new office's atmosphere, but this adjustment by far, did not happen over night. Parisar is hard at work accomplishing many tasks, which sets the vibe for a very focused atmosphere in the office. At times I have found it difficult to bring myself to break this air and ask some questions or for a moment of a supervisor's time in order to ensure I am on the right track to accomplishing my set tasks. 
This brings to light another issue...communication. As my primary contact for this project does not solely work for Parisar and is only in the office a few times a week, communication is primarily done electronically. This means every bit of work I do ranging from my Internship Proposal for the Alliance to the drafts of surveys, developing and defining parameters, adding on to previous bus checklists to suit BRT requirements, any questions I have, and any comments that need to be made regarding my work, have all been discussed through email! Although email and the internet are great resources, when speedy responses would help to move my project forward, it has been difficult to spend mornings or afternoons finding ways to busy myself (mainly by researching BRT systems around the world, reading blogs that critique Pune's BRT system, watching sustainable transport videos online) when I know I could be doing more work on my project if only feedback were more immediate. 
Perhaps, if I had more background in BRT systems or more knowledge of the topic I could be more confident in the outcomes I am producing and not rely on as much feedback as I do, allowing me to move forward with the next required steps. But, considering I came into Parisar not knowing what BRT even stood for, I'd say I've become pretty knowledgeable, however, considering there are many who know far more about the topic than I do, I highly value their feedback and have utilized and relied on it in order to produce sound surveys and checklists. There are, in fact, many things I am learning from researching BRTs and sustainable transport, that I don't think would have come to my attention if it weren't for being placed at this internship, but the communication factor is a definite stumbling block, putting me nearly a week-and-a-half behind my planned schedule. 
For example, according to my timetable, by the end of last week I was supposed to already be conducting field work, a task which has been moved to an unforeseeable day this week (I hope!). I was also supposed to make a presentation some time this week, regarding defining the parameters for BRT, surveys, and checklists, (in order to receive feedback from the whole organization), which has been moved to next Monday.
All of these small set-backs, however, are perfectly fine with me (even though such may not appear to be the case in this rant) as I have learned many useful skills such as how to collaborate on projects, develop surveys, and incorporate feedback into improving my documents!
...If only I could shorten my User Survey, which currently contains about 20 questions too many in my opinion (no one wants to complete a 30-question survey, do they?!). But hopefully, as I receive feedback on the questions, I can cut some of them out or combine them in order to produce a short, user-friendly survey. (you like to rant and ramble when your project is in a stand-still for the day!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Verdict is In....


Can I get a drum-roll pleaaaaaaaaaaase?!
Thank you!

After a 92 on my final exam and FANTASTIC grades, presentations, keeping up with difficult readings, and participation in a 5 person Democracy in Modern India course....I have managed to pull off............AN.... A!!!!! your grades are awesome!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


     If you follow my other blog, you may have noticed I'm a bit behind on updates, actually more than a month behind if I'm honest. But after re-visiting Mumbai this past weekend, I feel it's completely appropriate to discuss my experience visiting Dharavi when we had our first trip (with our program) to the Commercial Capitol of India. Dharavi, for a long time, was noted as "Asia's Largest Slum", until recently when at least 4 other slums in Mumbai were noted as being three times the size of Dharavi. Before arriving in Dharavi, we were given a presentation on Dharavi. There is often a mislabeling of areas like Dharavi, that they are slums, but would better be suited for a label such as "urban village". After seeing Dharavi, I would agree with this as I have seen areas where everything is completely run-down and there seems to be minimal livelihood, which I would not use to describe the state of Dharavi at all. During the presentation, we were told that because Dharavi is viewed as being a slum, the government has proposed many redevelopment projects for Dharavi much to the rejection of its residents. The consequence of many of these proposed projects would be displacement. Many of the residents of Dharavi would have to leave, losing not only their homes and sense of community, but sources of business and livelihood as well. As it was expressed in our presentation, many of the residents feel Dharavi has the capabilities to develop at its own pace, but what the government does need to do is provide municipal services to the area.
     After the presentation, we were brought to Dharavi, where we met a resident who echoed many of the views we had just learned about. Along with being a ladies' tailor, this man had other skills as a journalist/activist working mainly toward stopping the government from redeveloping Dharavi. He told us that the people of Dharavi have realistic goals-they are not asking for world class, top-notch schools (which they have been "offered" by the government in the past as part of one proposed redevelopment scheme), but want to maintain their way of life and be able to send their children to a decent school. If the government steps in and tears down Dharavi in hopes of rebuilding it from the ground-up, implementing many high-rise buildings for residency, many of the current residents are likely to leave. In such a project, the government fails to realize that many of Dharavi's residents do not have the means to maintain such a structure and would be unable to keep up with its requirements. Another possibility would be that many of the residents, realizing the property's high value (especially in comparison to their sparse incomes) would be likely to sell their property and move to another slum where they could comfortably live off the profit they made from their sale for much longer than if they had chosen to keep it.
     It seems to me that the government is extremely disconnected from the people in many instances, especially the case of Dharavi. They do not realize that not only is Dharavi a home for many people, but many generations of families have made the 557 acre area their place of business, their source of pride, and a place they truely call home. Although Dharavi has been made somewhat famous through its reputation as Asia's Largest Slum and Slumdog Millionaire, seeing Dharavi changed my mind on how I view slums. Perhaps it is because when I picture a slum, the parts of Dharavi we were guided through did not meet the photo I developed in my mind, but it could also be that seeing the human-side and personal perspectives of Dharavi residents has made me realize that development is a delicate process not only for huge up-and-coming countries, but even down to developing the smallest neighborhood or marginalized community. All people a connection to their home and a sense of pride when they think of all they have accomplished there. I have never seen a more true case of this than when visiting Dharavi. After our introduction, we were split into two groups to see two major sites of Dharavi-a Potter's Village and Dharavi's Recycle Center. One thing that struck me most from the trip, looking back, was one prideful woman (who's picture will be posted below) who posed happily outside of her home and invited me in to see all of her pots. Because we were quickly bustled through the village, I did not get to really stay too long (or even for a minute) after she invited me, but it has still stuck with me how large her smile was and how quick she was to invite me in. The room I did get to enter had shelves and shelves of pots, but it was something she was proud of, something she could show to others, an accomplishment she could share with me. The government faces a huge hurdle if they do not try to understand the people they will be pushing out of Dharavi because they miss the human side of the projects they have proposed. They see a run-down area and mean well in trying to develop it, but do not see all of the stories and lives development will effect, making their plans ill-received as it fails to address what will happen to their home, their sense of pride, and all of the memories they have made there. Maybe I am being a bit sentimental, but I feel there are ways to propose development projects and help those in destitute areas while still preserving the many things that make its inhabitants unique.

Dharavi & the Potter's Village:


The Dharavi Recycling Center:,

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