Elizabeth in India

Elizabeth is a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering in the Lyle School of Engineering. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Internship for summer 2013 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. Elizabeth will be working in Bangalore, India, with the Leave UR Mark organization on a water conservation and literacy design project.

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The wonders of India

Visiting Mysore

Visiting Mysore

As I continue to navigate through daily life in India, I find myself constantly wondering, how did I get here?!

I think back to last semester at SMU, and everyone around me was panicking over summer plans. People were constantly updating their resumes, systematically visiting career fairs, and relentlessly networking with everyone with whom they came in contact. I cannot remember anyone telling me to do otherwise.

As a then freshman, I knew that I did not see myself in a traditional internship. To me, engineering is finding solutions to problems that people don’t know exist. But what about the problems that are prominent in the world? As an engineer, I am a problem solver, or so I like to believe. Combine with that the heart for serving others, and I started to form an idea of what I wanted to do this summer. Fast forward four months, five vaccines, and two loving and supportive parents, and that is how I ended up in India.

Touring the factory

Touring the factory

It is estimated that by 2020, India will face a serious food and water crisis due to the mismanagement of water. Years of drought and near-drought situations have made a significant impact on formerly decent soil, leaving it so dry and hard that the annual monsoon rains quickly gush through the ground without leaving any long-term moisture behind to sustain growth.

Enter Water Literacy Foundation (aka, where I intern). The founder of WLF, my boss, graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and proceeded to work at an Indian industrial company for 23 years. After purchasing farmland and experiencing firsthand the effects of water scarcity, he quit his job and devoted his life to providing water to those who need it most. My boss has worked to develop many different systems to utilize India’s most precious resource: rain! He has designed roof rainwater harvesting systems, as well as many non-irrigational methods of replenishing water to soil used for farming. However, he doesn’t stop there. His whole organization is based on the premise of educating the people. Making people “water literate.” He travels all over Southern India holding informational programs to teach people the importance of conserving water.

As for my job, I wake up every morning not knowing what to expect. Some days I am guaranteed to do intern “grunt work” (i.e. paperwork, carrying around the computer, making sure presentations go smoothly), but other days I am surprised with going on an adventure. Last Friday, I got to go to the Indian soft drink factory. The entire time I was “geeking” out! I accompanied my boss on an assessment trip so that he might help the factory conserve water. He walked me through the questions he normally asks, and even though he spoke with the clients in Kannada, Karnataka’s native language, I got to survey every last corner of the factory with him. It was so cool!

I work long days, and my hours are constantly changing. I sometimes have a hard time understanding instructions, and if it weren’t for my German co-worker, I would often be lost. She likes to make fun of my school spirit … the concept of “pony up” is lost on her. Honestly, though, it is so exciting not knowing what could possibly happen any given day. Even though I am very much a foreigner, I am treated like family. In early July, I was invited to attend my boss’s daughter’s traditional Indian wedding. I am convinced that it is impossible to have a better experience in India.

At a Hindi temple with fellow interns

At a Hindi temple with fellow interns

On the weekends, I get to play tourist. So far I have been to Mysore and Kerala, as well as many local spots around Bangalore. I travel with a group of interns with whom I live. We are all a part of the organization Leave UR Mark, which coordinates volunteer work in India. I live with people who are volunteering in hospitals, autism clinics, and environment organizations. Living with such a diverse group of people has been an experience in and of itself, and it has been great getting to travel with them.

In India, you truly have to manage your expectations. On our way home from Kerala, after spending the weekend on a houseboat, it rained the entire time. Not just a small rain, I am talking about monsoon-season rain. We crammed 10 people into a 7-person taxi, and our overnight bus back to Bangalore was late. Regardless, everyone had a great time with each other.

Renting a houseboat in Kerala

Renting a houseboat in Kerala

As I continue adjusting to the culture, one thing is clear: I have a shopping addiction no matter where I am in the world. Until next time, Namaste.

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    2 Responses to The wonders of India

    1. Jennifer Hill says:

      Elizabeth, this is your second cousin, Jennifer Wills Hill (Uncle Roland’s daughter). Your mom and dad have been wonderful to share your blog on Facebook. I have been praying for you since before you left for India! How awesome to read about your experiences all the way back in Knoxville. The opportunities you are having are definitely life changing! I look forward to reading more along the way. May God be with you and watch over you and guide your every step. Jennifer

    2. Lee says:

      Great post Elizabeth. Can’t wait for more. After reading this I remembered this video I saw on recovering drought stricken land. Interesting.



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