Taking a Sick Day

As I lie in bed sick today, I have been reflecting on what it would mean for a woman at the Dolls4Tibet workshop to take a “sick day”. The other day, a Tibetan woman from the workshop was telling me how for the past couple of months she has been trying to figure out what is wrong with her and find medication that will help alleviate some of the pain. She ended up having to take a month off of work to travel to New Delhi to seek medical assistance, however when she returned to Dharamsala the pain and other symptoms continued. She went back to a hospital in Dharamsala, but because her Hindi or English isn’t very good she wasn’t able to communicate her problems to the doctor very well. Thankfully, Mona, the owner of Dolls4Tibet has arranged for a translator to go with her so that there would be less miscommunication this time.

This makes me wonder how many other Tibetans living in Dharamsala have had the same problem of miscommunication while trying to seek help for medical conditions. Are they aware that there are services available for them, such as translators, or other means of assistance? This experience has shown me that one of the major problems in the health care system is getting the word out there on the types of services that are available. I think this is also a major problem in Canada as well. We can create all of these programs, and services but if no one is aware of them, then what is the point?

I think this notion can also be applied to development programs in general, if there is no involvement of the community or no awareness then the program would be stuck at a standstill. As we had learned in our preparations, negative impacts of development programs can occur when the local community does not manage the volunteer program, or if the there is no cooperation between the local community and the foreign volunteer program. This can lead to tense relationships between the two actors, and can disrupt the power balance. Furthermore, when there is no collaboration between the two actors it can also disempower the community members and lead to actions that resemble colonialism behaviours.

In addition, when women at the workshop miss work due to an illness, it doesn’t often mean that they are at home lying in bed all day. Most women will try to do as much piecework as they can at home so that there are not missing an entire day’s of work. Like in many small businesses there is no one to “cover” their shift, so often when a woman takes a large amount of time off work it not only impacts the livelihood of the woman, but it also takes its toll on the business as a whole. This makes me wonder if there is government support in situations like these where an employee is required to take a long leave of absence due to an illness? This is a question that definitely requires more investigation.

Health care and the role of the government are key aspects that almost every state struggles with. When thinking about how complex and diverse the cultures are in Dharamsala alone, I can’t imagine trying to implement government programs or health care services that are readily accessible to everyone in this environment.


Small Business Dilemmas

Having had experience managing a small business in Canada, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn more about how small scale, socially aware businesses are run and organized here in Dharamasala, India. For the past week I have been volunteering at a doll workshop named, Dolls4Tibet. Of course there are the typical challenges that occur here that also happen at home. For example, trying to find reliable, trustworthy and hardworking employees that will bring something unique to your business or petty drama that occurs between the employees. However, in my opinion, the challenges of running a small business in Canada are minuscule compared to the obstacles that I have seen here. Dolls4Tibet, has been trying to create a work environment where women from Nepal, India and Tibet can come together and work as a team and break down prejudices. While this is often the case for the majority of time, there does seem to be some hurdles. In our preparations for our India field school, we learned that tensions could exist between the Indians and the Tibetans. While the women at the workshop are all very sweet and welcoming, it seems that from time to time the personalities of the Indian/Nepali women tend to clash with the personalities of the Tibetan women. This can create tensions in the workshop that are challenging to resolve. While tensions like these can be seen in Canada due to our diverse populations, the social dynamics of Dharamsala are so unique with so many polar cultural groups that the tensions seem magnified. Another thing that I have noticed is that the work culture here is very different from what I have seen in Canada. For example, in order to get anything accomplished or to get information from venders, they must be nagged multiple times a day in order to encourage them to get their work done. Furthermore, the women at the workshop will come in everyday at random times, give very short notice of time they need off and when asked why they are late or why they need time off they only give a simple excuse like, “ I have something to do”. It appears that there is no sense of urgency in their work culture or that they don’t take into account the implications that their behaviour can have on the business as a whole. However, from what we have learned from our preparations, when making ethical judgements I must consider why these work ethics exist from the other culture’s perspectives. By recognizing that these work cultures occur, I must learn how to adapt to these differences and realise that these are not personal work ethics and that it is a part of their culture. While there are many challenges in running a workshop with so many different cultures, religions and work ethics, it is definitely helping to break down prejudices, which is a major positive outcome. – Erin

More than just Mountains

The other day I had the incredible opportunity to go with the women from my placement, Dolls4Tibet, for a day trek up to Triund. The trail up is approximately 9 km long and it took our group close to 3 hours to reach the top, this of course included time for essential chai and snacks. This trek was not like any I have had before. Along the way many of the women would stop, pull out their cloth bags they had brought and venture off the trail to gather medicinal herbs and flowers. Once they had returned to the trail they would explain to me the medicinal purpose of each plant. By the end of the journey almost everyone had an entire bag full of flowers and herbs. Throughout this trek I realized that they see the greater potential of these plants, while I had only seen the aesthetic value. This experience has shown me that the way individuals are brought up may influence the values that are placed on different objects and or beings. These values then seem to determine which cultural knowledge is passed on to future generations.

Throughout our preparations for our India Field School, we learned the importance of authentic cultural exchange. With this notion in mind, during the trek I took the chance to discover more about the lives of a few of the women from my placement, as well as attempting to share my own life experiences and trying to find some commonalties. I have learned that humour is universal even with the language barriers. For instance, while one of the girls was using nature’s washroom, her friend that was across the valley on the trail began to point and yell what I can only imagine were humorous remarks as we all broke out in uncontrollable laughter. A few of the things that I have learned about their lives have really struck me and have allowed me to reflect my own privileges, the culture I grew up in, and my own family dynamics. For one of the girls it had been her first time travelling through Mcleod Ganj, even though she has lived in Dharamsala her entire life ( approx. 5km apart). By reflecting on this aspect of her life, I have uncovered some of my own privileges and restrictions that I had been oblivious to.

I am looking forward to getting to know more about the women at my placement as well as discovering more about my social position and how I can use my newfound insights in my everyday life and volunteer work.

– Erin

First day in Gu-Chu-Sum english class

The composition of Jillian’s and my class consists of young Tibetans around our age. To begin with we were at a loss with how to go about teaching a class of mixed skill levels of English, not really knowing where to begin. We went into class with almost no knowledge about what the class had already completed or what they had a firm grasp of and what they still needed to work on. Our intention for our class was to make it very much interactive and to make our students feel as comfortable as possible. We re-arranged the classroom to foster more group participation and interaction. We began with a few basic activities to get a feel for the skill level of each student.

Toward the end of class we asked our students to tell us their reasons for wanting to learn English. Most every student had a similar answer for us; being that English is such an international language, it would be helpful in communicating their ideas and experiences in Tibet to the outside world, experiences in and coming to India, to share their dreams and wishes for Tibet’s future. They really seemed to feel that their situation is not understood well enough in the international community and would like to be able to express themselves. What surprised me after working so slowly through the first few, relatively basic activities, was how eloquently some of the students were able to articulate this desire and convey their feelings and passion about the situation.

We played a simple game where we had each student stand and answer simple yes or no questions by standing on one side of the room or another. To follow up, we had students try to explain why they answered the way they did. Trying to keep it simple, we asked questions such as “Do you like the color red?” Their answers went much deeper than what I had anticipated; stating their dislike of the color red came from its connection to the Chinese flag and Chinese culture and it being the color of blood and pain.

We asked the class for suggestions for future activities and topics they want to be able to discuss and skills they know they are lacking in. The students discussed in a few moments what they wanted in Tibetan, and then related back to us what they wished to work on for the month that we are here in Dharamsala. To my surprise they wanted to have a debate, taking sides in a debate on Tibet’s future. I have since learned that debate is actually an important part of Tibetan culture, to really speak up for what they believe and foster deep discussions about important issues. I was taken aback with how open and honest they are with their political views and desires for what Tibet’s future should look like. My original reluctance came from not wanting to bring up sensitive and potentially taboo topics, making our students uncomfortable. While I have a desire to hear what they feel about these issues and their own life experiences, I was worried to overstep my bounds and selfishly use these interactions more for my own learning than what would be beneficial to my students learning. My realization after the completion of our first class was that our students really want to tell us about their lives and foster an open discussion about Tibet, despite the sensitive and sometimes painful associations that come with that. As much as we are here to teach our students, they have so much to offer and teach us.