“In Their Own Words” is an ongoing series featuring the experiences of Middlebury students at their summer internships. This summer Esme Lutz ’12.5 interned with the Rehwa Society in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, India.
My project focuses on the Rehwa Society, an Indian nonprofit organization established in 1978 dually to promote a regional craft and provide employment specifically for women. Before traveling to India, I conducted research using many of Middlebury’s online resources in order to deepen my understanding of Indian culture and gender relations. I planned to compile a photographic documentary—using images combined with text to illustrate Rehwa’s story to a viewer—and thus spent my time in India observing the weaving process, interviewing key figures associated with the organization, photographing a variety of individuals and objects, as well as traveling to a few different workshops to compare and contrast the methods utilized there. Now near returning back to school, I am in the midst of collating the materials I collected in the way I described in my proposal (with a few small additions): composing an article to publish in a campus magazine, working with curators to exhibit the images I took at Middlebury, sharing the pictures with Rehwa to be used in a promotional “look book,” submitting written material to Rehwa to include in a future application to UNESCO to become a living heritage site, and displaying the photographs publicly via the web.
What did you learn?
My experience was not easy: I was living alone, in a small town in a rural area, unable to speak a difficult-to-just-pick-up language in a country with drastically different from the one in which I had spent most of my life. While at times being in Maheshwar was incredibly enchanting and filled me with an effusive sense of love for the world around me, at other it was exhausting, lonely, and incredibly frustrating. This being said, besides the factual knowledge I gained, the benefits of interacting with people whose lives are very different from my own, of encountering norms and problems unfamiliar in my home environment, and of pushing myself into a situation in which I initially felt very uncomfortable, are undeniable.
What are your plans for the future?
As my studies wind to a close (in February) and I think increasingly about my next motions, my experience in India will definitely register strongly in my mind when considering characteristics I desire in a career. It was incredible to encounter people with different circumstance and background, to push myself further into situations that were momentarily uncomfortable, and to have an expanse of time to think critically about a single subject. My interests have definitely taken a more international focus, and I hope to, in part, address the fundamental challenges I observed firsthand while in Maheshwar.
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