Meghan Luckett – India (2012) †

Dreaming of Change in India

My love for India began in 2009 when I lived in a small, rural town called Hazaribag in the summer of 2009. I had just finished my Master’s degree in International Development Administration and I moved to India to work for a Non-Government Organization in the field of women’s development. From the moment I landed in New Delhi, I felt at home and for the next six months, I kept my heart and mind open to every experience I encountered.

One blistering hot afternoon in August, I was sitting outside on the splintered, wooden bed of an elderly couple who had spent Rs 60,000 ($1200) on each of their daughters dowry’s for a total of $4,800. In front of me was their mud house, which was slowly crumpling on the far right side from the monsoon rains. The man, who was in his seventies, was wearing a ripped white t-shirt, a traditional dhoti (a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist) and no shoes, showing his weathered and calloused feet. His wife, who was a few years younger, was wearing a stained and ripped sari and when she handed me a piping hot, stainless steel cup of chai, her smiled revealed a mouth with only a few teeth remaining. This family was literally wasting away, with no sons and the financially devastating tradition of dowry, all the savings and future earnings were owed to the local money lender, who charged 20% interest on their outstanding debt.

I sat and visited with this family for about an hour and through a translator learned that they never had enough to eat and that the work the husband does get through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is sporadic and the foreman on the job frequently takes half of his daily wages of $1 as a bribe to continuing hiring him because he is past the forced retirement age of 62. As I sat there listening to the story, my heart was breaking because as this family was sharing these tales of poverty and destitution, they continued to bring very small offerings of food and drinks to us. As we drove away from this experience, I knew that India would always have my heart and that I would do anything to go back time and time again to try and bring innovations and new technologies to help families like this one feed themselves and break out of that devastating cycle of poverty.

When I returned to the US, I decided to leave my job in Baltimore and continue my education because although I knew that my life’s work would be to give back to the Indian people as much as they had given me, which although impossible, would be my unyielding pursuit. I found Texas A&M and after reading the mission of the university and the International Agriculture Development program, I knew that I would be able to dream big and achieve my goals. A&M’s emphasis on high academic standards, integrity, leadership, and service to communities have helped shape me as a professional and I know that being an Aggie will enable me to be even more successful in accomplishing my dreams of bringing change to Hazaribag, India.

I am at the stage in my studies when I can once again return to this small, rural town that stole my heart. I have been longing to return since the day I left, but this time when I return, I will have a plan and a program that will enable me to share some of my love and admiration for the strength of these amazing people by giving back. I believe that to truly make tangible, sustainable changes and to become truly immersed in a culture in order to learn as much as possible, one has to live, breathe, eat, sleep and work in that place among the people. With that being said, my program plan is six months long. I will leave on July 6th, 2012 and I will return to the United States on January 6th, 2012. This time will enable me to become integrated with the women and their families and it will also afford me with the amazing opportunity to become immersed in this lively, colorful, welcoming and amazing culture.

My Plan

I have always wanted to travel the world, but after living in India, I know that right now my heart belongs to the people of Hazaribag who suffer from malnutrition and poverty and that before I can continue to see new places, I must first finish the work that has called me back time and time again. In the last few years, I have developed and shaped a research project that will teach rural women in Hazaribag how to grow avocado and drumstick trees.

The drumstick tree, which grows naturally in India, has enormous quantities of vitamin A and iron in the leaves, bark and pods, and in each 100g of drumstick leaves there are 205 calories, 27g of protein, 2.3g of fat, 38g of carbohydrates, 28 mg of iron and 7,500 IU of Vitamin A as well as a plethora of other vitamins and minerals. The avocado, a non-native tree, but one that can grow and bear fruit in Hazaribag, is packed with calories and fat for a nutritious diet. In each 100g of avocado there are 170 calories, 2.2g of protein, 14.7g of fat, 6g of carbohydrates, .6mg of iron, 290IU of vitamin A as well other essential elements of a balanced diet.

This training program will also teach the women the importance of a balanced diet to combat the high levels of malnutrition in the area, especially among their young children. I will work with many of the same women who I met the last time I was in India. I will go to their homes and help them plant the avocado and drumstick trees. I will work with them on how to use these new foods by teaching them new recipes and also working with them on how to integrate these foods into their existing dishes.

I have spent time on my own learning Hindi, because I think that speaking the language is so important to working with and creating a bond with these women. I spent eight weeks in 2011 in Wisconsin in an intensive Hindi course and I have kept up with my studies both individually and with an Indian pen pal whom I talk with weekly. This will enable me to continue to gain the trust of these women, which will help to increase the rate of adoption of these new innovations.

Conclusions

Opportunities like those provided by the Globetrotter Grant have the ability to change lives all over the world. Although my goal is to teach these wonderful women how to improve their diets and to provide them with the tools, skills and resources to provide their families with more nutritious foods, the biggest impact will be the one that is left on me. Traveling the world and seeing new cultures expands the mind and the heart in a way that nothing else can. To increase this expansion even farther, one can live among the people in different countries and the changes that happen are so deep that they can modify the course of your life. The women and children of Hazaribag, India, have touched my life in a way that I never expected and I am doing everything in my power to repay them. This grant would bring me one step closer to that goal to help empower the people who gave me so much even when they could not afford to do so.

Budget

Expense                               Total Cost

Flight……………………………………$1300

Food……………………………………….$500

Lodging…………………………………..$600

Translator……………………………….$500

Avocado & Drumstick Trees…………$200

Imported Avocado Fruit……………..$200

Transportation…………………………$500

Total……………………………………$3800

Outside Funding Amount

Personal Savings…………………$2000

Debbie King Travel Grant……….$250

Still Needed Amount………..$1550

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