I am just finishing my first week here at Navdanya Biodviersity Conservation Farm. So far I am having a wonderful experience! The farm is located in the Himalayan foothills about an hour outside Dehradun city in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. It is quite hot, but I’m told that the constant chai breaks are good for maintaining my body temperature.
There are five of us who are interning here at the moment: two Japanese women, two Indian men, and myself. Natsumi, my same age, has studied the invasion of GMOs in the Philippines and is also studying agriculture and the globalized food system. Serin, is 26 and was previously a grade school teacher. She is spending her time at Navdanya observing experiential learning. After she finishes here she will head north to Leh in Ladakh where she will work with an NGO that advocates for local knowledge to be taught in government schools. The two Indian men, Om and Diraj, are also my same age. They are completing a study on the marketing of organic produce.
There are constantly visitors and groups on the farm, all here to learn about the incredible work Navdanya is doing to support local farmers and local varieties of crops. In fact, I’m told a group from New Orleans will be coming this afternoon. There are so many interesting and knowledgeable people here. My advice to anyone who is nervous about going abroad alone (because I definitely was!): Everyone is your teacher. Every conversation is a lesson so be a good listener and learn to reflect on your own my journaling, making art, meditating, or whatever works for you. I have not even had the time to feel lonely because I’m constantly surrounded my interesting people and sounds and tastes and smells and colors.
Each day breakfast and chai is served at 8am. All of the food is organic and comes from the farm or a farm nearby. Following breakfast Anugrah, the intern coordinator, facilitates a meeting for the interns. Each day one of us will bring an inspiring quote and one of us will bring an opening game or activity. Then Anugrah will tell us our tasks for the day and make any other announcements. Shramdan, or the Ghandian principle of donation of labor, is next. We are each assigned to clean some common area. Afterwards, we are either assigned to work in the herbal garden (usually weeding), help out in the kitchen, or in the seed bank. The seed bank is in my opinion the most interesting place to work. Operations in the seed bank are run by three very strong and intelligent women: Bijaji, Shielaji, and Binduji (In Hindi, elders are referred to with ji at the end of their name as a sign of respect). Work in the seed bank is very busy. I’ve learned how to clean seeds, different methods of saving them for future seasonal use, and about the importance of showing respect to the seed that gives us food and therefore life. The seed bank is home to over 700 local varities of wheat and 200 varieties of rice paddy. Lunch is at 1pm and then we usually have a session around 3:30pm. These sessions have been garden walks, lectures on Ayurvedic medicine, and discussions on the cultural differences between our various countries. Dinner is at 8pm.
I secured this internship after asking one of my Tulane professors, Dr. Amalia Leguizamon, if she knew of any organizations on this side of the world that were doing work regarding the globalizing food system. She gave me the name Dr. Vandana Shiva, a woman who travels the world giving lectures on globalization, agriculture, and women’s empowerment. Dr. Shiva started Navdanya and her ideas and values are what run and Navdanya and make it such a special place to spend time at.
A tip for securing internships that will actually interest you and aren’t just resume boosters is to make connections with lots of different people. If you have an interesting conversation with someone ask for their email or contact information, you never know who may open a door for you in the future and people are usually flattered when you find them interesting and want to maintain connection.
I’ve only been here for one week and have already learned so much. I feel that I am growing as an individual and gaining such an important perspective of the world being surrounded by such a diverse group of people. Not to mention I LOVE Indian food and am learning how to cook it as well. I hope to continue learning and growing in the next couple weeks and to pick up some useful Hindi!