Mumbai: For a US student, working among tribal populations, Naxalites and wild elephants in India was unthinkable, but Ryan Ballard wants it all and is back in the country working with Magic Bus, a non governmental organisation. The 25-year-old studied anthropology and global poverty at the University of California at Berkeley, US.
He says his earlier stint as an intern of the Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (ISES) paved the way for his return.
“Coming face to face with serious structural, social and cultural circumstances that impede progress showed me the realities and challenges of development work. Since health was my subject, my internship at Jharkhand reified that people here need basic health care and food security”, says Ballard.
Though the stint at Tata ISES was Ballard’s second time in India, it was his first experience working in isolated rural areas. He spent most of his time in the East Singhbhum and Seraikela-Kharsawan districts in the areas of Behragora, Dumaria, Patamda, Musabani, Noamundi and Gamharia.
“For two months I stayed in Jamshedpur working under project leader, P.C. Mahapatra, Head of Tata Steel Family Initiatives Foundation. My projects ranged from adolescent sexual health to maternal to child health and family planning services. Through qualitative assessment, background research and session observations, I was able to use my holistic research skills from my anthropology background to understand the array of services offered, their effectiveness and appropriateness given the populations that they served,” he said.
Appalled at the lack of infrastructure affecting day-to-day life for most of the poor in Jharkhand and the withdrawal of the Government from the social welfare of the people, Ballard decided to tackle what he terms, “the feminisation of poverty.”
“Women are disproportionately affected by social issues. They (women) are supposed to be agents of change and have a pivotal and important role to play in society. The scene is very different here, where women are statistically affected from poverty, more so than men,” he said, adding, “The exposure fuelled my interest to work in the realm of poverty alleviation, in India.”
After finishing his internship, Ballard returned to the US to finish his degree. “Promptly afterwards, I applied for and was chosen as a 2011-12 American India Foundation (AIF) William J Clinton Fellow for Service in India and was placed with Magic Bus in Mumbai. I aim to help develop curriculum for their Peer Leader Programme, which teaches underprivileged children important topics relating to health, gender, leadership, education and livelihood through sports,” he said.
Ryan's two-month experiential internship at the ongoing corporate sustainability projects of the Tata group companies is to be echoed by 18 international students this year.
Eight students from the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, are to study and attempt to understand climate change triggers in the Indian telecom environment. They will visit the hinterland and look at the gaps and opportunities in green energy initiatives.
Four students from the University of Cambridge, UK, will measure the effectiveness of livelihood initiatives at Mithapur in Gujarat. They are then to visit East Midnapur to promote economic development of women in the Haldia region. Six students from the University of California, Berkley, US, are to look into water-saving technologies in agriculture, teaming up with Tata Kisan Sansar.
These students will form the 5th edition of the Tata ISES, started in 2008. “The programme is designed with a vision to provide grass-roots level exposure in India while bringing an international perspective to the company projects. In the Tata ISES initiative, the list of identified projects is shared with the Universities who announce this on campus inviting applications,” said a company spokesperson.
Puneeta Kala, programme director, Centre for South Asia Studies, University of California, Berkley, said the hands-on experience the students would gain would be invaluable “when one day they will have the opportunity to drive both innovation as well as social change.”
Ballard added, “I wanted to come back to India and work with these communities since I understand the context of development in India a little better. My internship has grounded me. It also taught me immense patience – one can reason with Naxalites, but not wild elephants.”