Megan Streeter shares how her interest in social welfare led her to spend a semester in India, learning Hindi, visiting NGOs, and studying rural birthing practices in the Himalayas.
Why women studies: I took “Transnational Feminism” with Serene Khader my sophomore year. It was an amazing class that made me want to be a women’s studies major and get involved in international development and women’s rights.
Total immersion: I found out about SIT through my good friend Nadila Yusuf, who told me within a few days of knowing me that I needed to do an SIT program, which really allowed me to understand and experience the real cultures in India, and it was indeed the perfect program for me.
Social studies: I spent August through October in Jaipur learning Hindi and taking classes on Sustainable Development and Social Change in India. The course I took was a mix of politics, human rights, education, and social movements. It was fascinating, and the speakers who came to lecture were top scholars in their fields. We also spent time out of the classroom, visiting non-government organizations such as schools, hospitals and nonprofit organizations. I got to be in both urban and rural areas, which have their own issues and require different solutions for their problems. What I took out many of these experiences is the importance of education. Having minimal education could be the difference between starvation and survival, and in general, the women I met who were educated had better lives than those who had no education at all.
Midwives in the mountains: I spent a month in Sikkim, a Himalayan state of India south of Nepal researching maternal healthcare. I visited villages to talk to women about their birth experiences, and met with midwives and doctors in nearby health care centers. I focused my research on a group of women called ASHAs, which stands for Accredited Social Health Activists. They are volunteer health workers who live in the villages and act as a first responder to medical needs. The ASHAs take women to prenatal care appointments, and make sure they are vaccinated and have access to additional food and vitamins. They focus on disease prevention, providing education to the villagers on topics ranging from HIV/AIDS, to polio, to contraceptives, to anemia. The women I met in Sikkim were awe inspiring people who have used their resources to their best advantage, and have created for themselves an affluent and egalitarian society.
Heart of Hope: I had the opportunity to work in a school for disabled children in Varanasi, where the Ganges River is. The children I met were so sweet, and had overcome so much adversity to be where they are today. The woman who ran the school, Sister Sangeeta, worked with Mother Theresa before starting this school twenty years ago. I have never seen so much joy in one place than in that school; it was truly a heartwarming experience, and I hope to go back some day. This experience was bar-none the hardest and more rewarding thing I have ever done. I will be processing and trying to understand every thing I experienced, saw, heard, felt and ate for the rest of my life. I would love to pass along the advice that my host mother in India once said to me: “You have to do things in life that scare you. That is the best way to learn.”
—Elizabeth Meyer ’14