August 2014: I took “People and the Environment” my first semester on campus. Taught by a team of multi-disciplinary professors, we learned about an intricate web of cookstoves, deforestation and women’s issues in Rajasthan, India.
[It isn’t as simple as it sounds. Women in villages in rural India cook over burning wood three meals a day. That requires a lot of wood, which isn’t good for the land: no trees, more erosion. The land will dry up and become harder to farm. Plus, women develop many respiratory illnesses from the smoke. Not to mention all the time spent walking to get wood, a few steps further each day. So, introduce cook stoves, right? A win win for women and the environment. But, see, some engineers tried this. They plopped down some cook stoves and left. And it didn’t work, they went unused. Why? Because, women like to walk to get wood. That’s when they bond, and gossip about their husbands. Plus, in many parts of rural India, women’s duties are domestic duties. The taste of their food, a reflection of their worth. Not so simple.]
Up at the white boards, our class discussed tackling real world issues, dry erase markers fighting to keep up with the pace of our discussions. India, its people and their culture danced vivdly around my head.
January 2016: I have recently declared a major. I panic, feeling I have confined myself, my interests, and my future career to a single word: biology. I reach out to Meena, the ring leader of the faculty who had taught “People and the Environment,” the woman who refused to follow traditional boundaries within her career. She sat patiently, and listened. Her response was simple, “Come with us.”
December 2016: Through a Fulbright-Hays grant, we (5 faculty members, 3 graduate students, 5 undergraduate students), board a plane to India. We are going to meet with collaborators and attend conferences, to listen and learn. We are going to meet with women in the villages, to discover what they see as their most pressing problems. We are hoping to help and to understand how to mold a world where we all have access to their own vision of a happy and healthy life.