I was so excited by the development of building work on my last visit that I glossed over the lack of women there, this region of India seems to have ongoing festivals so it wasn’t much of a surprise they were not there last month. However now the building is finally complete it’s time to ensure we better understand how to engage the people of the project to create more confidence and atmosphere.
The six students on the project, still appear very shy and timid and it is really hard to communicate. I need to understand the students better but as a white, western man I am struggling to connect. There are so many obvious cultural and language barriers and I can’t seem to find a way to reach out to the them without appearing either intimidating or condescending. The more I try to gloss over it, the more I probably overcompensate. Sounds funny, but it’s like there’s this pervasive cloud of colonialism hanging in the air, that’s probably more my self-consciousness than anything else. Despite all the hard work that’s gone into getting the project this far, the lack of ‘connection’ with the students can almost make you feel like the whole thing is a big sham; something we’ve done just for show or to make ourselves feel better. Of course it isn’t, and I know that, but I can’t help but question what our motivation is, and what we are trying to achieve. All really valuable questions to ask yourself I’ve no doubt.
It’s all in the training
Another part of the difficulty is that I feel little affinity with the person training our students. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s used to training and managing the male stitchers in our main production unit, but he seems tough and not particularly caring and empathetic to the students – perhaps I simply don’t like him?
I’ve always felt it should be a woman running the Cocobagh training program, but there is a strong feeling, in this patriarchal society, that it should be a man – what do I know? The trainer was suggested by the local panchayat and i’m getting the impression you don’t want to upset the apple cart, but it is clear that the trainer is key to improving attendance and communication.
After much deliberation, we’ve agreed to find a new trainer. There’s also a renewed commitment to spending a little more time on the ground to monitor more closely what is being done and how it is done and really try and keep the momentum going. I feel very relieved.