By Kathleen Buchholz, AUP
Today is our last day in India, and as we all pack our bags to head on to our next adventures, we reflect on what we have learned and accomplished in such a short time. Some of the best memories that I will have of this trip are tied to the relationships I started here. As I ran around town yesterday saying goodbyes and finishing up last minute errands, it really hit me that the most meaningful thing that I have done in India was sitting and listening and drinking tea.
In Three Cups of Tea, the non-fiction bestseller that chronicles how Greg Mortenson helped to build schools for girls in rural villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he discusses how plans are made and relationships are established over tea. He writes how these first communications and in fact the act of sharing tea is vital to establishing goodwill and creating a context in which plans can be made for a future act. The idea is to avoid rushing into any project but to first take time to think about what the best action is and create positive relationships.
Yesterday after we all finished our presentations, we sat and had tea with our organizations. I sat at a table with the heads of both my organizations, The Auroville Institute of Applied Technology, and Sunlit Futures Solar Energy. We talked about our projects, about the organizations’ futures and what they would like to see happen next year. It was conversations like these that led to the projects creations in the first place, we listened to their needs and wants and tried to match our skills to help.
From there some of us went into the village, Kuilapalayam where we had a cup of tea with a shop owner that Karen had befriended early in the trip, and with his mother. Even with a language barrier Karen was able to build a friendship with a woman she would never have met otherwise and we were all able to gain her insight into what life in the village is really like.
Our last cup of tea of the day was with a new friend originally from Kashmir. He shared tea with us as we sat on the floor and listened intently to his stories about the village, about the upcoming festival and about what daily life is like for him.
These interactions not only made this trip, they put the idea of sustainable development into a bigger context for me. Our communications projects matter only if they impact the people and this cannot happen if the people are not first consulted. NGO’s and development workers often face the criticism that they follow their own agenda and do not meet the needs of the locals they mean to help. There cannot be development without first building lasting relations, and relations can only be made if people take the time to listen to others.
Soon we will have our final dinner in India and head out to the airport, leaving behind our mosquito spray and hopefully some amoebas, but we take our experiences and friendships with because these remind us why we came and what we are working toward.