Department of Environmental Sciences
Geography / Urban and Regional Studies
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Participants 2009-2010

Marisa Fricker

Personal Background. During my studies of Geography and Social Anthropology at the University of Basel I have developed a keen interest in other societies and cultures. A number of lectures have given me a closer understanding of development theories and policies and directed my attention towards the work of NGOs. The possibility to accomplish an internship with a local NGO in India therefore offered me an excellent opportunity to pursue these interests and gather some firsthand experience in the field of development cooperation.

Preparation. Before heading off for India, a time of extensive internship preparation began in Switzerland. In collaboration with the NGO Swapath Trust a suitable research topic for a small-scale study in India was identified. Through their daily work, the local partners in Ahmedabad got attentive to the problem of high school drop-out rates amongst children in poor urban slum settlements. In order to be able to counteract the hopeless situation of these uneducated youths and take steps to rehabilitate them, Swapath Trust was interested to learn more about the root causes of the phenomenon. An intensive literature study and the elaboration of a seminar paper provided first insights into the complexities of the whole problem. The development of an accurate methodological approach and research tools, in this case questionnaires, constituted another important part of the preparation phase. Finally, research proposals and funding applications had to be written and submitted to several foundations.  Although the preparation of the internship was very time consuming and represented a lot of additional work, it proved to be highly valuable for the outcome of the fieldwork.

Internship experience. The eight weeks of internship in India constituted a very diverse, instructive and challenging time. On the one hand, the internship provided the opportunity to gain first experiences in conducting an own little research project and getting acquainted with quantitative and qualitative research methods. On the other hand, it offered the possibility to get an insight into the work, management and daily routines of a small NGO in the Indian education sector. Finally, it represented a unique chance to immerse oneself in the rich and mesmerizing culture of the Indian people. Personal encounters with local people- at work, in the host family or during leisure time- remain unforgettable and deeply touching experiences.

Challenges. Working and living in the context of a developing country implies a great degree of openness and respect for highly diverse norms and value systems. The visitors from abroad, as well as local partners were required to engage in a challenging, but also vivid and highly instructive cross-cultural dialogue. Daily project work in slum communities of urban Ahmedabad further involved numerous encounters with people living in conditions of extreme poverty. The impressions of these encounters were overwhelming and stirred up a lot of emotions. Dilapidated settlements lacking any basic amenities, child labourers and seriously ill and weakened people belong to the life worlds of the people in these slum communities and did not leave the visitor untouched. Language barriers were omnipresent and could not be surmounted without the support of local interpreters.

Recommendations. A NGO internship in a developing country is a unique and very enriching experience. It broadens one’s personal horizon, but also opens up new perspectives for future employments in development related work. It is recommendable to students with a strong interest in international development cooperation, who are willing and curious to get to know another country and culture. It implies personal openness, tolerance and commitment and different climatic conditions and living circumstances should not constitute an obstacle.

Sophia Völksen

Personal background. As a student of Social Anthropology and Geography with a major focus on Human Geography I am highly interested to learn more about different cultures, societies and countries. Therefore, I was interested in completing my compulsory internship during my bachelor studies in Geography in a developing country with focus on practical research. I didn’t hesitate a moment when I got the chance to complete my internship in India in cooperation with local development actors. The internship in India made it therefore possible to combine a number of personal interests with my study subjects.

Expectations of the internship. By doing my internship in India, I was very motivated on the one hand to broaden my horizon regarding the practical work of a local NGO and on the other hand to learn more about Indian culture which was relatively unknown to me until then. I was foremost interested to understand how an NGO is working and organizing itself in order to achieve its development goals. Furthermore, I thought the conduction of research would provide valuable experience to me, not only in general personal terms but foremost with regard to future research possibilities.

Preparation. The preparation for the internship began in Basel, some months before leaving for India. By written communication, a relevant research theme was elaborated in cooperation with an Indian NGO (MST). First, literature research has been conducted in order to learn more about the complex research theme of school drop-outs in poor urban settlements. Subsequently, a preparatory seminar paper was elaborated, assisted by a fellow student, and a first draft of the methodological approach was presented. According to the methodological approach selected, research questions were formulated along multiple dimensions and first drafts of questionnaires were designed. In order to accomplish valuable preparation, much time was invested besides regular lectures. However, the preparation proved to be of great benefit for cooperation and the conduction of research on-site.

Aspects of the internship. The internship offered the possibility to learn more about the daily life in India but furthermore depicted a valuable opportunity to make first experiences in conducting a study. Culture, people and the country were encountered in a totally different way as a mere holiday trip would have made it possible. To live and work with local people are some of the most valuable experiences I could take back home with me.

General impression and experience. The 8-weeks of fieldwork in Ahmedabad City depicted a great chance to gain firsthand experiences in conducting empirical surveys in a developing country. Undertaking research in a developing country as well as the close collaboration with local development actors implies openness and respect towards local norms and values. Cross-cultural learning was demanded from all research partners equally. Working within the context of poor urban slum communities imposed a further challenge in many ways.

Fieldwork challenges. The local circumstances were characterized by foremost restless, crowded and loud surroundings and therefore imposed a challenge to the respondents as well as to the interviewers. Furthermore, distinct indicators of extreme poverty had to be faced during fieldwork. Poor, unhygienic living conditions, weakened people and a high number of children strolling around characterized the research setting in slum communities. However, the conduction of research made it possible to get directly into contact with the local population. The personal encounters with the people remain a unique experience.

Recommendations. I would strongly encourage students with interests in international development cooperation to complete their internship with a local NGO acting in a developing country. Such an internship allows getting first hand experience in development related work. Furthermore, the close collaboration with local actors of development gives an idea about possible future engagements in the subject of Human Geography. Needless to say it constitutes a valuable recommendation for future employments in the field of Geography and Development Cooperation.

Esther Gloor

What I expected from the internship and from India: Before coming to India, I was talking to several people who have been to India before. They all said about the same – India is so different. With this attitude, I came to India. I was told that especially the noise in the city, pollution, hygienic condition, the wet climate, the food, poverty might be very difficult as a Swiss to get used to. Another thing I could hardly imagine was that there would be people every time and everywhere. From the Internship, I did not really have an idea what would be expecting us in India in terms of conditions of work and in the office. Though I was eager to get to know friendly people at AIDMI and to work on my project.

Preparation: The preparation program for the internship was very extensive and thorough. Thus, a lot of time had to be invested besides the regular university classes. This was not always easy. At the end though, I really felt prepared and secure concerning my research topic on disaster recovery of small businesses. It was definitely worth to take this effort. Aspects of the Internship: Working in Ahmedabad, India: Working in India itself is so different to working in Switzerland. Circumstances, time management, cultural aspects, climate and other working conditions were sometimes very difficult. I had some health problems and therefore had some weak and difficult moments besides many great experiences.

Aspects of the Internship: General impressions: The internship itself was a time full of experiences and impressions. There were many things I learned – both in relation with the topic and also for my life. I think life experience was the main thing I gained here. We went to visit slum communities. There is such a big difference in knowing things and seeing things on pictures and experiencing them in your very real life. Now I feel like understanding poverty and humans a step better than before. Another good, though sometimes difficult experience was to learn how much and how good I am able to work under most difficult circumstances like hot and wet climate, sickness, difficult cultural aspects and at the same time having to deal with so many new impressions within a very short period of time. It was good to experience my very own limitations, though not always easy.

Working in an NGO: Working in an NGO was a great experience, as I had heard and known about NGOs and their work before but never really could imagine how work (office and field work) of an NGO looks like. Now I can at least refer to one example, although I have to keep in mind that it is a regionally concentrated and a rather small NGO – it would be wrong to generalize my experience on other NGOs. People at AIDMI were very friendly and cooperative. The atmosphere at AIDMI was very comfortable for working on the project.

Empirical study in slum communities: This work was very impressive and new to me – as it is not about theories, but it is about livelihood and life. To meet people in their environments and to gain knowledge and life experience from them was a great experience – they could give me so much – besides the data requested in the questionnaires.

Personal conclusion: All in all, I found this internship most interesting. It was an experience I would never like to miss. My own perception of both the life of other people and my own life has changed so much. I have learned how less it needs to become happy and how much I should appreciate my own life and every thing I have.

Recommendation and opinion about this internship: I can truly recommend this internship program to anybody. Still there should be some interests and personal attitudes like one has to be very simple and open for everything, and spontaneous to make the best out of any situation. Physical problems (climate, illnesses) should not be underestimated. To me, this internship was mostly about life experience besides the big knowledge I could gain for my Geography studies.