Friday, August 30, 2013


By: Ariel Katrina Robertson, Hinckley Institute of Politics Internship in New Delhi, India

This past summer I Interned in New Delhi, India with a humanitarian organization called Maitri. ‘Maitri’ is a Sanskrit word that is interpreted across various cultures to mean unconditional love, kindness, and friendship. This organization is committed to facilitating citizenship rights, basic services, dignity, and respect for the most vulnerable populations in India. Working with them changed my life in so many ways as I worked on their various initiatives: assisting migrant workers, raising awareness and preventing violence against women, helping underprivileged communities such as widows in vrindavan and children from slums, HIV/STD awareness, and their homeless resource center.

Each time someone asks “How was India” I stumble trying to come up with the appropriate response. The truth? I can’t. It’s amazing how such a simple question requires such a loaded response. Put simply, it was unforgettable. This journey confronted me with numerous realities about the world, about the place, about my home and about myself. Although I was happy to return back home after my three month adventure, my eagerness to return derives from a new appreciation for what ‘home’ is and for an eagerness to live my life more fully.

I’ve never experienced or seen such stark contrast. There were days where I felt overwhelmed because I wasn’t able to see any solution to the frustrating and devastating issues that exist. Issues like violence against women, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and a government and culture that does not properly care for its most vulnerable populations- its children, its women and its elderly. At times I was bewildered and even disgusted as I was confronted with characteristics about myself that are incohesive with the type of person I want to be. Tears of frustration, sadness, confusion and shame have followed these more troublesome experiences.

Yes, there were hard days, but on the other end of the scope, these more negative aspects existed alongside beauty, enchantment, hope, faith, and above all love. India has some of the oldest cities with remnants of ancient worlds. Places and structures like McLeod Ganj, the Taj Mahal and the many other tombs, monasteries, temples and forts left me mesmerized and in awe. They transported me inside a different culture of another time and expanded my imagination and intellect. The many different cultures that exist in this chaotic country are rich and deep. I’ve been enlightened by the many different religious practices here, especially when I was fortunate enough to listen to the Dalai Lama and visit the Lotus temple where the beauty and positive aspects that exists among all faiths are stressed and valued.

Along with the many different places I visited and monuments I saw, I met and developed relationships with many different people who have truly opened my eyes and my heart. My admiration, gratitude and love are immeasurable for them, as they taught and did so much for me. Some of the best memories were during the many rickshaw rides and movie nights in our apartment laughing with some of the best girls I know. I have been fortunate enough to work for an organization that is creating lasting and impactful change. An organization that truly values all people, no matter their age, their gender, their race or their background. I am honored to have worked alongside these individuals, because they push forward through the wreckage, and the chaos. They do and they love. They love complete strangers and have taught me what practicing compassion truly entails as they sort through the devastating details of the endless tormenting and heart wrenching cases of abuse that come in. They continue because even when they are fatigued and overwhelmed they still believe the world to be a beautiful place. Some of them are survivors of the issues they now help others escape, and I can only hope to be as strong and inspiring one day.

Because of these individuals and these experiences I’ve learned so many things.

Researching violence against women in India and around the world combined with the individual cases and stories that make their way into Maitri’s golden doors each and every day has taught me just how prevalent of a problem this is. It is wrong that this is viewed and accepted as part of a culture. It is wrong that human beings are ostracized and belittled for reasons outside of their control and stripped of their own identity and dignity. I have learned that gender equality is not only necessary to alleviate poverty, but is an overall indication of global stability and health. From these women I have learned that the freedoms I have, to choose and design my own course through life, are luxuries.

I’ve learned the power that one individual has to create positive change. Whether it is by their example or sharing of their own stories where they have overcome abuse, poverty, illiteracy and sickness.

Lastly, I’ve learned even more that there are positive and negative elements in all cultures. I want to focus on those things that are good and work to be a positive engine towards change.

Where will I go from here?

I’m not certain what my future holds, but I will be forever grateful for the time I have spent here. This adventure has helped me discover more about myself than I could have ever imagined and lead me to make some huge decisions concerning my education and what career I would like to pursue.

I now know that it’s okay to be vulnerable and imperfect. I have an immense appreciation for the individuals in my life who love me unconditionally despite of my imperfections. To all those who have been apart of my Indian adventure, supporting and encouraging me from here and from home, I can’t even begin to thank you. You have helped me stand in moments of struggle and uncertainty.

The future is full of promise and adventure. I plan to move forward with strength, because I have been blessed enough to have the luxury to design my own path. To make my own mistakes. To make my own decisions. To live without fear. To be able to choose. To be able to love and to be loved in return. I know I will be strong, because I have to. I have to for those who do not realize their own strength yet and to show my gratitude for the life I am blessed enough to live.

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