An eleventh grader from New York, Anokha Venugopal, interned with us for a month and here’s a lovely write up from her visit to our fieldwork. She adds colour to her words with her beautiful photographs.
Armed with my backpack filled with oreos, a cheese-tomato sandwich, buttermilk mixed with protein to combat my jetlag, and a camera, I set out for Bangalore’s Goraguntepalya train station. It was my first field day as an intern with Buzz India. Once off the train, I attempted to dodge traffic as best I could, and navigated until I found my faithful guide to Bangalore, Buzz India’s Ashwini. After a quick stop at a vegetarian roadside restaurant, where Ashwini and I broke down the basics of Indian street food (to the best of my American knowledge) to Fatou and Suzanne, observers from Gambia and the Netherlands, and where I spilled half a cup of chai on the table, we were on our way to Tumkur.
Upon arriving, I began feeling the nervous anticipation that one feels as an outsider. Would I get funny looks, ostracized for being an Indian with no ability to speak Kannada? However, nothing of the sort happened. The women, jasmine and orange roses adorning their hair smiled back the meek smiles I exchanged with them, hoping this would be sufficient compensation for my taking photos of them.
As the training began, Manjunath, the Buzz Trainer, broke into song. While I didn’t understand the meaning of the song, I occasionally heard “Buzz” sprinkled into the lyrics, and soon learned that this was a tune used to describe the core beliefs of Buzz India’s program. The melody was sweet, and Manjunath’s deep voice was complemented nicely by the singing of the small crowd of women who repeated the verses after him
Manjunath, during the training session
Throughout the three-hour training session, the language barrier was made more apparent to me, but instead of becoming a discouraging element on my first day, I realized it was possible to work around it by having Ashwini skillfully translate for me. I found that the playful yet enlightening vibe of the moment was enough for a general understanding of what was going on. The women engaged in group role play, first enacting a scenario representative of what a businesswoman should not do, such as chat away on the phone while customers wait impatiently, or to let their personal problems interfere with their professional life. The women broke into laughter as one of their own completely ignored two ladies, chattering away on her mobile while they pleaded and clapped for attention. Despite not understanding what was being said, I too found myself laughing at the theatrics of the situation.
What most intrigued me was the age range of women in the crowd – in front of me sat a woman with completely gray hair, wrinkles on her smiling face, while a few feet away from her was a girl who couldn’t have been more than a couple years older than me This age range demonstrated to me the ageless desire for these women to learn how to manage their finances, and to progress beyond day to day saving so that one day, hopefully, they could perhaps manage their own businesses, or become entrepreneurs.
One hour later, we were in another village of Tumkur, sitting in the red glow of a tarp. Under the tarp, new participants of the Buzz India program came to listen to women who had used the organization to jumpstart their lives with training such as the one I had just witnessed. These women took the microphone with seasoned confidence, gesticulating and speaking with excitement, about how their lives had changed. Soon, they also broke into song, perhaps a celebration of their achievements as women on the way to achieving financial freedom. They then approached us (me, Fatou, Ashwini, and Suzanne) with limes and roses, covered in water droplets, a sweet welcome to their village.
Right after this, the Buzz team conducted interviews with the Buzz Gelathis who were women who are part of the program, and women who traveled village to village helping manage the implementation of the program. We heard from Tara who dreams her son will one day become a veterinary doctor, having already deposited 50,000 rupees for his future. Before Savita, a Gelathi, was trained by the Buzz community, she didn’t go anywhere outside of her family, but now her husband was incredibly supportive, having recognized the changes in her character. Not only does she serve as the Buzz Gelathi or the community coordinator for Buzz, but just as importantly, when there are no other villagers able to sing for Buzz events, she steps up to the challenge.
Suzanne, Fatou, Ashwini and Anokha with our trained women
As we prepared to leave the village, several of the villagers gathered outside the car to wave goodbye. Ashwini and I tucked our roses into our hair, but not before I mistakenly placed it behind my ear, only to have Ashwini quickly correct me. Apparently, I was imitating the tradition of single men looking for potential suitors, she said, laughing. As we drove away from Tumkur, roses in our hair, I realized that not only had my first day in this village taught me about the strong impact of Buzz India on the lives of villagers like Tara, Divya, Savita, and Roopa, but that I too had much to learn.