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Notes from the Field - a Volunteer's Perspective

Travel Journal - September 13, 2007

At the beginning because it was purely a communications project I had to constantly and actively fight back the feeling that I didn't do anything here - the dissatisfied feeling - the voice that told me I should have actually done something - build a house, outhouse, school etc. But it's slowly becoming easier and I now am convinced that this type of work IS better. This is the type of NGO that you can actually work for after - not a tourist type of NGO that spends it time and money organizing trips for students to go on - it actually DOES something - carefully researched communications projects through entertainment and art. And my experiences with the organization deepened my convictions.

You should have seen the audiences at villages - 600 to 700 people sitting in front of this small platform that Nalamdana transformed into a stage - full with lighting, sound, 2 screens and a yellow cloth sign with Nalamdana written in red. Rows and rows of children sitting wide eyed in the front - parents, grandparents on the side and the back. Young men and boys sitting on a large rock by the stage that was taller than the double roomed building in which we changed.

About going to the College
The best part was after the discussion a few girls came up to me and we talked in my broken Tamil and their broken English about movies and other things. They told me about how when they go on the bus boys or men bump into them purposely, perhaps touch or squeeze them inappropriately. We asked them if they did anything about it. They said no and said that even if they talked to the boys about the issues the boys wouldn't stop. We told them to punch them. Jokingly of course. They told us about eve ragging - when boys rag on girls - especially when they are going to school. About how there is a law against that in Tamil Nadu. But how the law doesn't stop many. It of course takes more than a law to change behavior.

Besant Nagar Fishing Hamlet
This proved to be the most memorable experience. Before visiting the hamlet we were briefed: many of the fathers here were alcoholic and would crowd the bars after a days work out at sea. In addition the suicide rate, especially of women was high. Despite the briefing, we weren't prepared for the nonchalance with which the girls described their fathers' drinking habits. The girls, identifying alcoholism as an important issue that affected everyone in the village, wrote a play about it and performed it for us.

The few girls that had performed it previously were phenomenal - filling the whole room with their acting. The girl playing the drunk father was surprisingly convincing with her stagger. Nalamdana's ability to help these girls find their voices - to empower them and enable them to communicate and discuss these issues through plays is amazing."

Roopa Chari 
Dartmouth College '09