By Caitlyn Fitzgerald
The NGO I have been fortunate enough to work with here in India is Sristi Village Foundation. Sristi Village is a residential, eco-friendly community for mentally disabled and marginalized adults and children. It houses about 20 residents and 10 live-in staff members and preaches self-sufficiency and independence of residents through daily hands-on farming experiences, schooling, and therapy. Karthik, the founder, is truly one of the most selfless individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. After purchasing 9 acres of land in 2013, he built Sristi Village quite literally from the ground up with no prior construction experience. During my time here, I had the unique opportunity to interview one of the volunteers. His name is Peoumal, and below is our discussion. A brief commentary on my thoughts about the interview follows to conclude.
Caitlyn Fitzgerald: AUP Interviewer
Peoumal: Volunteer Interviewee at Sristi Village Foundation in Tindivanam, India
Caitlyn Fitzgerald: Can you tell me your name and your role?
Peoumal: I’m Peoumal. I’m a volunteer in Sristi Village.
P: In the eco-village. And I’m here for last eight weeks, this is my eighth week. And I love it with children and it’s make you understand yourself better when you use it on children and you understand, try to understand them, but they understand you. But children, they have capacities and they have different capacities so its easier to come from higher capacity to lower capacity and of course you’ve got to have lot of tolerance, patience, and must take it in a big spout. This is a secret of living in a community I guess. And with everybody, you’ve got to have a smile and its great. And it gives you a lot of patience; you can learn almost anything. If you work here, you can win the world, the rest of the world, you know, humanity, so much. Nowadays, nobody has time. And when you’re here, you have all the time to yourself and children need that. Time is the most important crucial, not even the food. They want somebody to hear them and understand them. Of course, you keep on letting them and repeating the same thing but that’s the ongoing process. And I’ve seen lot of progress in eight weeks, some, some boys here, inmates. They’ve improved so much; they would be like stone when they came here. Now they’re able to hold, use their strength, they are to talk. Now, they’re telling me, do this,s do that, do that, oh it’s fantastic. So, its a great improvement in eight weeks. It’s impossible, I do not think – this is not possible in hospitals because they only give attention to them. Of course, we need to do a lot more for many more people. I hope we will do it.
P: I’ll tell you my honest opinion.
C: Okay, so it is important for you, for Sristi Village to be seen as an NGO?
P: It’s just a title. The most crucial is how you can help these people. So whatever you may call them, NGO, non-governmental organization, whatever it is. See, the meaning of NGO is that you are funded by the government or non-government. It’s a non-
government, inaudible, but they can make this expansion to a village and create in more places, so it doesn’t matter what they label you. You are you, whatever you are. So, name is just for tombstone, you know. It’s just, so it’s good enough. But if they still want to call us, we have no objection to it.
C: What is the biggest challenge in communicating your methods and what Sristi does as an organization to people who are not aware of Sristi or who have never heard of them, or you?
P: Communication is how – what they want to understand. And how i can communicate to you what exactly I communicate, you know? Sometimes we say yes but we are not – may not have understood what they said or what they meant, so we have to understand each other more and more in the world order. More and more in the world order, communication is such a big gap. And we know each other, I think we know the world, we can win the world, so it’s so, so, so, so important – communication. No matter who is talking, who wants to communicate what, but you have to – but- you have to have time to hear and listen and this is the most crucial part of this century but nobody has time. So you want to make everything short and you forget the essence. So communication is, what you say, you have to express it and you have to also know that the other man has understood what you exactly meant and that means a lot of tolerance. So you know a lot of human habits here thats fantastic. Communication is so, so important, in this age of communication let’s not forget that. Right?
C: Yes. What have you found is the most effective way to empower people?
P: Give them what they want.
C: Laughs. Okay.
P: And just tell them how to use it. So just because you gave them just freely, a freedom, doesn’t mean that they can use it any old way they want. See that they use it effectively and give them a consciousness that they know how to use it, you know? And what, adopt a way they can use it so its most effective. Otherwise everybody does everything, but sometimes, most of the time it’s not effective. So we have to crucially show them how to apply it, how to use it, of course again, communication is skill. And the subject that you’re dealing with people, and you and the opposition, you know? How to understand, to come closer I think is the best way to do it.
I chose to interview Peoumal because he was consistently welcoming and helpful each time we visited Sristi Village, but I also found his professional background to be really interesting; before becoming a volunteer at Sristi Village, he spent several years as a consultant in multinational firms. I envision working in a business environment such as that, then ultimately transitioning to living in an environment such as Sristi Village is a really significant and seemingly difficult transition to make. The different forms of communication and mediums required in each of these environments would vary significantly depending on audience, resources, cultural norms, and the purpose of the communication. The ability to transition between these is significant because of the differences in each. The first thought I had on his interview was how lengthy Peoumal’s response was to my intentionally simple, first question; (Can you tell me your name and your role?) He divulged into so much additional information than simply stating his name and role that it made me wonder that perhaps since he doesn’t have an opportunity to share his personal thoughts, experiences, and views on the world very often, he took this opportunity to share what he could. I did enjoy his sharing of an abundance of information, just found his responses interesting and reflective based on my questions. I wholeheartedly agreed with a few of the points he made; for example, the work which a company does needs to be more focused on the people it is helping than on the governmental categorization of a company. I really enjoyed speaking with Peoumal during our visits to Sristi Village, commend his ability to transition between business environments, and am grateful he was willing to share his personal insight with me.