A Year in India

The Art of Giving
May 28, 2009, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Development | Tags:

Some interesting studies find that philanthropic donors contribute more when shown a single image of a starving child rather than a photo of multiple in-need children or a photo accompanied by text:

“In one experiment, researchers found that information about the scope of a crisis may dilute the emotional impact of an image of a single victim. Subjects in the experiment were shown a photograph of Rokia, a 7-year-old girl from Mali who was facing starvation.

A second group was shown the same image along with information about the scale of poverty in Africa. The image of Rokia, without the accompanying statistics, won the charity more money.

“It really puts fund raisers in a fix,” said George Loewenstein, an economics and psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University and one of three researchers who conducted the study. “They want to appeal to the mind and the heart. But if they do, there’s a real risk of undermining the heart.”

In another study, Paul Slovic, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon, found that people were more sympathetic to a single starving child than they were to two children facing the same plight.”

-“New Research Sheds Light on What Works in Charitable Appeals,” by Caroline Preston, The Chronicle Of Philanthropy

These studies show just how powerful individual stories can be, a concept I often think about when writing, filming, and sharing anecdotes about my time in India.


May 22, 2009, 1:59 pm
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags: ,

Sight + sound from my window last night:

Word of Mouth
May 21, 2009, 11:30 am
Filed under: Culture | Tags: ,

I constantly find that communication methods are different in India than they are in the US. In India, information is exchanged by word of mouth much more so than in the US. This may have to do with illiteracy, a lack of technology and infrastructure, and a large percentage of the population living in isolated, rural settings.

A few examples to back up my claim:

1. My dad’s uncle lived and worked in rural Bihar on a farm with no running water or electricity. Every time he heard a piece of information – whether news, gossip, fact, or story – he confirmed its validity by checking in with four or five others. He shaped his version of the truth around strength in numbers.

2. Indians rarely find their way around a city using maps or written directions. The common practice is to leave home with a vague idea of destination (street numbers mean little in India; landmarks, instead, guide us). Along the way, Indians will ask strangers – oftentimes auto rickshaw drivers who know the city well – how to get where they’re going.

3. India is a country of languages. It has 18 official languages divided across regions. Hundreds of other local languages and dialects are also spoken. Communication, then, is often based on knowing several languages. Latha, the woman who cleans my apartment and is teaching me how to cook, does not know how to read or write, yet she speaks seven different languages. For her, speaking so many languages is more practical than literacy.

Coming from a culture largely dependent on the written word, it has been at times refreshing and at times frustrating to learn how to live in a country where word of mouth dominates communication.

Indian Elections
May 19, 2009, 3:07 pm
Filed under: Elections '09 | Tags: , , ,

Congress Party logo

India’s left-of-center Congress Party won a solid election victory this past weekend. The news is exciting – and surprising – for a few reasons.

1. Indian elections have a history of anti-incumbency, meaning that with each election, a new party is voted into power. This year, for the first time in over 40 years, Congress was re-elected. What changed? India’s economy remained resilient despite today’s global climate. (The growth rate hovers around 6%.) India’s voters realized that even in a time of crisis, the current government was doing something right. For example, agriculture yields were high this year. Those working in agriculture comprise the bulk of India’s voters, so their satisfaction with the status-quo government helped Congress.

2. Congress is a secular, non caste-based party. Its opposition, the Bharatiya Jananta Party, pushed its Hindu nationalist agenda forcefully during election campaigning. Voter preference for Congress’s less extremist messages is hopeful for a more stable Indian society, particularly during a time when issues as delicate as Pakistan and Sri Lanka are at the forefront.

3. The re-election of Manmohan Singh as India’s prime minister marks a shift in the nature of politics in India. A startling number of Indian politicians are uneducated, have criminal records, and landed their government positions through corrupt means. Manmohan Singh, on the other hand, is educated with a strong background in economics. Before serving as India’s finance minister and subsequently prime minister, he worked at the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations. His pro-business, pro-reform mindset indicates a progressive perspective, one that can direct India from its “old” politics towards redevelopment, globalization, and a new face for Indian government.

Desi Girl
May 19, 2009, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags: , , ,

If there’s one song that’s defined this year for us AIF fellows, it’s been the Bollywood favorite, “Desi Girl.” Not much explanation is necessary except for the fact that the song is obnoxious, catchy, and somehow has had a bonding effect on the AIF crew. Listened to on repeat, it inspires some of the best (worst?) dance parties. Song and video below.

Dancing to our fellowship theme song at an AIF reunion in Ahmedabad

(For context, desi means “of the homeland,” i.e., a pure Indian. The song is from a recent Bollywood movie, Dostana.)

Student Film: Freedom
May 11, 2009, 1:28 pm
Filed under: Video | Tags: ,

Below, an Adobe Youth Voices film, Freedom, that students from Barlane Government High School recently finished. The video is about the way female children are treated differently than their male peers.

An interesting side note: Freedom was spearheaded by 17-year-old Mubeen, whom I’ve previously written about here (and who is the film’s leading lady). Toward the end of the video, you’ll notice an older woman being interviewed about why she loves her son more than her daughter. Keep in mind that the interviewer in that interaction is Mubeen; the interviewee, her mother.

An Animated Summer
May 7, 2009, 8:28 pm
Filed under: In the Field | Tags: ,

Tiger Tiger 2 Tiger 3

“And we don’t even have an art teacher,” Vivekavardhini High School’s headmistress said to me after I mentioned how impressed I am by a short animation film her students are making.

The project is a mixture of story, voice, and dozens of student-drawn characters (a few of which are pictured above).

The Vivekavardhini teachers are going the extra mile to support the arts despite an education system that formally fails to do so. (Government-run schools in Karnataka do not provide funding for arts classes.) They are not only producing a film without an art teacher, but they are handling the project entirely independently: teachers and students are coming into school during their summer vacation to complete the video. It’s inspiring to witness the Vivekavardhini spirit, one driven by a pure desire to educate, learn and infuse some summer fun into students’ lives.