Written by Nicole Gilmore, Winter Break 2014
Studying abroad in Mumbai, India was a life changing experience. I was able to go to India during the Winter Break with Professor Mahasweta Banerjee and eight other girls at both the Master’s and Bachelor’s level. Every day was a new adventure, a new journey that was completely different from my life at home and everything that I knew. While I was there, I was able to listen to lectures pertaining to areas such as mental health, globalization, child welfare, disability, and poverty.
I was also able to visit many agencies that covered these wide variety of different topics. When I am asked what my favorite memory from abroad was, I am always at a loss for words because there are so many distinct moments that have altered my view on the role of social work on an international level, as well as what I can apply in my future work in the United States.
One of the most impacting moments, however, was when we went to a rural village visit to see the Katkari community. The Katkari is a tribe in the state of Maharashtra and were once a group that was based off foods and goods that they obtained from the forest. As time passed, though, they were no longer able to make their livelihoods from the forest and they were left to move seasonally for employment. Every six months the Katkari people migrate from the rural to urban areas and are known most for their work in the brick kilns, where they are many times taken advantage of. Women are sexually harassed and mistreated by the owners of the brick kilns, receiving lower wages than their male counterparts, and children are sometimes even forced to help work with no pay.
When I went to the village, I was able to see firsthand a family that was working and staying at the brick kiln site. The family consisted of a mother, a father, a young girl no older than five or six, and a young boy who was around only a year old. The father told us that both his wife and he worked at the site throughout the day while the young girl, even though she could be in school, had to take care of her brother while they were working. Boys are highly favored in the Indian culture and I was saddened that the young girl was viewed as inferior to the male child and had to give up her own opportunity to learn due to this.
Education can be a gateway to understanding more about these oppressions, ways to combat these issues, and to lead a better life. Without education, many may fall into a cycle in which they repeat many of the same issues that plagued the past generations and may even affect their future generations to come. Many of the people in India are not even given an option and their caste, background, and way are life are forever imprinted onto them. In America, we many times take this for granted. I, even, take this for granted. This trip has opened my eyes to understand more about policies worldwide and domestically, so I can try to empower those that are not always able to speak up for themselves. It has also led me to pursue topics of gender inequality and to advocate on behalf of those experiencing such obstacles, as well as given me a larger scope of the world and people around me.