Three months of Applied Field Experience in India.
India has been experiencing a consistently high growth rate as a result of the economic liberalization period established in the 1990’s. It has achieved excellence in several key industries related to technology and pharmaceutical and is considered as one of the fastest growing economies of the world. Despite this progress it also faces the greatest development challenges. India has one of the lowest indicators of human development, with high levels of malnutrition, illiteracy, poverty and a rising income and regional disparities. Although there has been improvement in the provision of social services like health, nutrition and education, the quality of most of these services remains poor in most of the rural areas. And an overwhelming majority of the population is still deprived of basic social protection.
In order to understand what this really means on the ground, how it influences people’s lives and the definition of national policies, I had to experience what it means to address development issues from local and national points of view. This led me to break my Applied Field Experience in two parts.
Part I, Development at the micro level: Improving quality education in rural Udaipur, India.
I arrived to Udaipur in the state of Rajasthan to participate in a collaborative effort between Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy and the Indian Institute of Management. Through this program, I conducted a field research in the rural areas of Udaipur to understand the major challenges that tribal communities face in advancing the quality of education and to propose solutions for a local partnering organization, Gandhi Manave Kalyan Society (GMKS) to address this issue. Tribal communities, also known as schedule tribes, are indigenous homogenous groups highly dependent to agriculture and considered among the poorest of the country.
This project was developed with the support of two Indian development professionals (Sushant Anand and Santosh Sharma) and was developed in a rural village located 300 kms away from the city of Udaipur. This desert region is characterized for extreme hot temperatures that rose to 48C during the first couple of weeks of our visit, making evident the water and resources scarcity on which tribal communities live.
Our project particularly focused on parent’s involvement and attitudes towards education which was resulted from the findings of the first couple of visits, where parents consistently reported their children were not learning at school. For this study we collected information from 9 villages, and developed five focus groups, 31 individual households interviews, in addition to interviews with seven teachers and members of four education committees.
In Rajasthan, 13.4% of the children in 3rd grade cannot even read and 30% can only read or identify a letter (Aser Report 2013).
As we study this problem in depth, we understood that there are several factors that influence in the learning level of kids in this region. One not usually explored, is parents and community involvement on education. How parents and community perceive education and how involved they are with the learning process of the children, can guarantee the success and completion of primary education.
Livelihood challenges significantly influence parent’s decision-making regarding their children’s education. According to our research, despite the fact that parents consistently thought that education was important and valuable for the development of their children, 78% of the parents had never visited the school to follow up on their children’s performance and development and 81% of parents utilized their children’s time after school for activities not related to school, such as farming activities, households chores, carrying water or taking care of the siblings. Parent’s illiteracy and low-income level can explain the inconsistency between their perception of education and the actual prioritization of education.
As a result of this study, we propose a series of solutions that can be undertaken with a relative low cost by GMKS or any other organization working in this field. Our solution considered activities to increase parent’s awareness on the economic and social return of education. Through training and awareness workshops, it is possible to communicate in economic terms, the benefits of education in present time, incorporate role models and after school centers to foster learning. These interventions have been proven very successful in other low middle- income countries and we think that are applicable to the schedule tribes of Rajasthan, India.
This was an incredible experience that really helped me to strengthen my field research and evaluation skills. I am happy that we were able to propose innovative solutions that can be undertaken by this organization with relative low cost and that can have a high impact on the lives of these tribal communities.
Part II, Working on policies to improve gender equality and health.
For the second part of my internship, I worked at the macro policy level with International Center for Research on Women. ICRW is the leading evidence based organization that “works to make women in developing countries an integral part of alleviating global poverty” (ICRW website, 2014).
My role in ICRW is to contribute to the development of policy documents that aim to influence policymakers in the design of health programs in South East Asia. Currently, I am writing policy briefs to influence health policies and governmental and non-governmental programs, on the need of engaging men to increase women’s access to health services and improve health practices. Influencing how decisions are made, and by whom, can have a profound affect on health status. Evidence shows that only a quarter of women in India are able to make decisions over their own health and another two-thirds reported that their health decisions are shared with their husband or that the husband is the decision maker (IIPS, 2007). Engaging men and boys in health –prevention, treatment and practices- is substantial to improve women’s health and health seeking behaviors.
Additionally, I am conducting a systematic review of alcohol policies in India to understand if alcohol consumption is correlated and can increase violence against women. Since alcohol regulations vary depending on each state, we want to understand how various facets of alcohol (production, licensing, manufacturing, sales, and regulatory mechanisms) impact alcohol consumption and increases in violence. Similar projects around the world, have found that structural policies that reduce the supply of alcohol or increase the taxes of alcohol can lead to reduction in harmful drinking practices.
What I take from this experience
I think that despite how different my experience has been during the Applied Field Experience, I have been able to explore issues that are an integral part in alleviating poverty. Being able to work at the local or micro level in addition to the macro/ national policy level, has given me a comprehensive understanding of the challenges of development in these two levels, in addition to significantly expanding my knowledge of southeast Asia. I am happy to say that after this experience I feel comfortable contributing to programs outside the Latin American region and that my understanding on initiatives to alleviate poverty has taken a much more clear direction. This is extremely relevant to me now that I am looking for research topics for my Master’s Project.
I am grateful to Rotary International, Rotarians that have contributed to the Rotary Peace Fellowship, and those who opened the doors of their homes for me in India. Thanks to the incredible support that I have received, I have been able to explore topics and connect with new people and cultures. This experience has benefited me, but is also going to benefit those that I am able to touch through my work.
Annual Status on Education Rerport, 2014.
International Institute for Population Sciences [IIPS] and Macro International, National Family Health Survey [NFHS-3], 2005-06: India: Volume I. 2007, IIPS: Mumbai.