Monday, 17 March 2014

Be the Change: Sangam March 3-9 2014

I set out for my visit to Sangam, one of the Four Girl Guides World Centres on Sunday 2 March, flying from Adelaide. After a brief stopover I arrived at Mumbai and went in search of the driver who would take me to Pune. Once we were united, my real introduction to Indian began. Traffic seemed to be everywhere, even though it was 1am. There were whole families riding gracefully on motor scooters, trucks you had to sound your horn at to pass and bilingual signs which led us to Pune.

After being greeted by Laura and signing in I fell asleep for a few short hours when I was awoken by new Guiding friends who were also there for the Be the Change (MDG3) event. We had breakfast together cereal and toast with homemade peanut butter (a big hit, I had it almost every day) and we were then given some free time before our sessions began. A trip to towards Wadi in hunt of an ATM and sweet lime soda meant that we could see our local neighbourhood and get to know one another. Monday was rounded up by introductory sessions, a visit to an Indian home and several trips to local temples. During the evening an Opening ceremony was held which incorporated both Guiding and Indian traditions. Later on the Be the Change group headed up to the library for some badge swapping and chocolate.

Tuesday was one part an introduction to advocacy and one part cultural tour. We spent the morning learning about WAGGGS, what it meant to show leadership in community and were briefed on each of the MDGs. After sharing items which represent our life as a woman in our country we were given lunch and more time to reflect on our situations. After chai we headed out for a whirlwind Cultural Tour of Laxmi Road. I slept incredibly well after our huge show-and-tell of sari purchases which lasted well after 11pm.

Wednesday saw the Be the Change participants breaking into groups to visit three of Sangam’s Community Partners. I visited one of the Maher homes which house women and children where we met some of the women and children. During the visit we were shown the different rooms allocated to crafts which the women make and sell. From my background I found the home very different to how I envisioned it being - it was very lively and active. While we were there we met women doing a range of different things - holding a cooking competition, sewing and looking after the children. 

On our return we then shared about our country’s MDG3 story and each of us gained a better insight into different country’s beliefs, needs and attitudes. We began a Memorandum of Understanding to help us indentify needs in our country which we could campaign to help come to fruition. After dinner we watched a Bollywood movie called English Vinglish. With some rain and uninvited mosquito visitors banished by mosquito nets, the day ended on a peaceful note.

On Thursday we developed our Community Leadership and Advocacy plan, and received feedback on our ideas. Dr Mune from Green TaraFoundation came to speak to us about her life and work at the Foundation. After dinner we were treated to an International Fair. Scotland, England, Australia, New Zealand, Tunisia,  India, Canda and Denmark all held little displays for us to visit at our leisure. Amanti and I decided we would teach our new International friends ‘Kookburra’, a well loved Australian Guiding song, but to our surprise our audience joined in with our singing straight away.

Friday saw us indulge in some Laughter Yoga, followed by the Wadi Challenge which was an opportunity for us to visit a neighbouring suburb just up the road from Sangam. During the afternoon we were taught how to wear a sari, attempted rangoli  and had mehndi applied by some local women. Then we had a Maharashtrian Dinner, served traditional on the floor and without cutlery. It was a fun challenge! Bollywood Dancing was the evening’s entertainment which as great fun but also a bit of a workout.

Saturday was our last full day at Sangam. It was also International Women’s Day which we celebrated in three different ways. Firstly we were visited by a number of women who held a panel about their role and understanding of what it is to be a woman. Each lady told a little bit about their past which was both inspiring and encouraging. Secondly we headed to a Green Tara site to present a small program to young women – we sang songs, played games and did a small craft activity with them. Afterwards we were treated to a dance concert. During the evening each of us were asked to dress as an influential woman from our country. I was Olympian and lovable larrikin Dawn Fraser.

On Sunday we celebrated our time at Sangam by having a morning of reflection and farewells. There were a few tears and a lot of encouraging words. During the week I felt that we had grown as a group and had experienced a lot of new things together. After chai we were presented with a Sangam badge and those of us who had finished the Sangam Challenge also received a badge. The Sangam Challenge was one of the most fun (and sometimes most challenging) things about our event and very well earned!

A few days after my return to Australia my Guide unit held a sleepover with a special Wide Game. Their Patrol mascot toys had been smuggled to India and the girls had to complete a few quests to retrieve them. The toys (Jamie and Penelope) were a big hit while I was away and featured in many photos. The girls loved this. At our next Guide meeting I held an information session about my trip and gave the girls little Sangam goody bags. One of them has asked when they will get to go on an International Trip with Guides – how exciting! I loved my time at Sangam and hope to return again soon.
Phir Milenge!