When I was 16 years old, I would often dream of India from my parent’s house in New York. Staring at my ceiling fan in the humid, warm mid-Atlantic summers, I thought of land of ‘sadhus’, the birthplace of major world religions and towering mountains reaching for the heavens. Who would have thought that I would end up living in India for 32 days, interviewing people living in the Haryana villages outside of New Delhi and waking up every day as the lone American in an office filled with locals?
My journey to this point has led me through studying in Southern California, working a corporate job I hated in San Francisco and, after months of soul-searching, enrolling in a postgraduate Masters program in St Andrews, Scotland. Finally, as part of my postgraduate research, culminating in an internship with Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) in Delhi and working on their No More Boundaries project.
The No More Boundaries project is holistic, a youth-led initiative based in the villages of Sonipat, Haryana. PRIA, in partnership with the Martha Farrell Foundation, initiated this participatory project to build awareness around Violence Against Women (VAW) and prepare adolescent girls for technical careers.
The past month has been humbling, to say the least. I have been fortunate enough to have had a team who supported me in my research goals while I prepared materials to assist the project to achieve the transformative potential that is beginning to bear fruit on the ground. I saw this positive social change in many of the ten stakeholders that I interviewed while in Delhi and Sonipat. Participants of the project shared stories of engaging with the local government, or panchayat, to install streetlights in their village, move the auto-rickshaw stand closer to the village center for an easy commute of girls to schools and change the location of the liquor store to the village outskirts.
My experience as a postgraduate student in International Development Practice has taught me that the instances of structural change or institutional engagement are few and far between in the development field. The unfortunate fact is that most NGOs and development agencies work in silos – implementing projects that have been decided as a development “priority” in New York, London or Geneva. While my experience as a PRIA intern has been limited and my time evaluating the No More Boundaries project short, it has shown promising results. I hope that the project continues to be successful through the agency of youths involved and their own participation in democratic governance.
The challenge is large, particularly for a country like India, but the PRIA’s participatory research offers an approach steeped in recognizing the dignity and value of those affiliated participants. It is a view of increasing importance in the world today. Further, it is a view that my 16-year-old self regularly dreamed as I stared at my ceiling fan and drifted into far off land.
Jonathan Maresca interned at PRIA where he worked on ‘No More Boundaries’ project in collaboration with Martha Farrell Foundation in Haryana. He is currently pursuing his Masters of Science in International Development Practice at the University of St Andrews, United Kingdom.