Fairfield in India - Winter Immersion Trip
“Radhe, Radhe!”— Julie Mughal heartily welcomed JUHAN student panelists and those who came to learn about their winter immersion trip to India, with a traditional greeting. Mughal, Fairfield University’s Director of JUHAN (Jesuit University Humanitarian Action Network), accompanied seven JUHAN students and three alumni on a trip to India over winter break. The two week trip was sponsored by Fairfield’s Center for Faith and Public Life, with a local non-profit, service learning partner, Montage Initiative and the Indian non-profit, Guild for Service, a long-standing agent for social change for women in India, especially widows. The group gathered last week to share highlights and discuss humanitarian and developmental issues they explored throughout their trip including: the environment; gender ratio imbalance; gender inequality and its effects on education; widows; women’s safety and empowerment groups.
Haleigh Doherty '18 spoke about India’s environmental concerns and pollution both on the ground and in the air. “The top four polluted cities in the world are in India and Delhi ranks number one,” Doherty said. “Air pollution is 50% higher than in Beijing, China.” Doherty is an active member of Leaders for Environmental Action at Fairfield (LEAF).
The gender ratio imbalance was the first thing that struck Johana Rendon ‘16 upon arriving in India. She was aware of the imbalance but the immersion trip provided context and perspective, which she shared. “As of 2011, India had 37 million more men than women. As a result, violent crime in India rose nearly 19% from 2007-2011 and in recent years kidnapping of women for forced marriages rose over 70%.” Rendon also discussed the literacy rate gap: “The youth literacy rate for females is 74% compared to 88% for males.” Rendon added, “Overall, what really hit me was the lack of freedom women possess in the decision making process and the pain they have to endure as a result.”
Kathryn Spoelstra ‘16 talked about India’s economy and gross domestic product (GDP). “While India has the fourth highest GDP in the world, the GDP per household is very low. In 2015, it was equivalent to $6,300 U.S. dollars.” Spoelstra also noted that the unemployment rate in India is the 84th highest in the world, out of 230 countries.
The topic of safety came up multiple times throughout the panelists’ presentation. Nicole Wroblewski ‘18 stressed how important it was to travel in groups and stay in after dark. She shared the experiences of students they had met at an all girls’ school who echoed the same message to be vigilant especially after sunset.
The itinerary included a visit to Vrindavan, also known as the “city of widows.” Brianna Klenkel ’18 said, “after a husband dies, women are discriminated against through long held traditions that still prevail. Women become bad luck, an ill omen. It’s unlucky to look at them.” The group visited the Ma Dham Shelter for widows and was inspired by their warmth and faith. “They have a sense of purpose and strong faith in God though they are in difficult circumstances,” Klenkel said.
Lynanne Bopp’s ‘16 presentation focused on the NGO’s in India who are working on change and empowering women. “One NGO taught community girls self-defense classes and how to stand up for themselves.” Remembering the trip, Bopp said she learned the most from the widows, “how they find comfort in each other and their religion. Their lives are hard but they have great hearts and still find joy in the mundane. They offer a sign of hope that change is possible.”
On March 15th our students will be attending the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, sponsored by the Federation for World Peace, International (WFWPI), in New York City. Featured speakers include JUHAN alumna, Sharon Pedrosa ‘13, who participated in the India trip.
March 18th JUHAN will sponsor a luncheon with Ms. Meera Khanna, the Joint Secretary of the Guild for Service and Ms. Ranjit Jayanti, Guild for Service’s permanent representative to the U.N.
Created by Alvin Jerome Arulmani,
Graduate Assistant & Social Media Manager, Center for Faith & Public Life
International Student Ambassador, Office of Graduate and International Student Life