No Longer Silenced: A Voice Found Through Education

Rising from the horizon to nudge a deep slumber caressed by the cool night breeze, the sun awakens me in my rooftop bed with ease.

A moment to take in the golden city view, I head to my room to begin the day anew.

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Merasi Guesthouse view of Jaisalmer city in Rajasthan.

The magic continues through my morning routine, my walls glisten in mirrors and design, a rainbow of colors from red to green.

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My room at the Merasi guesthouse.

A short walk to the office where even more magic awaits, this time in the form of music that never abates.

(Several Merasi youth enjoying a typical impromptu music session. Special guest appearance of my AIF Clinton Co-Fellow, Pallavi Deshpande)

Completing my work within the joy of song, in a place of acceptance where I feel I belong. Everybody here from young to old understands were all one, cut from the same mold.

Starting at four the joy of my day, Merasi school! Where children come to learn and to play.

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(Me helping teach students at Merasi school with fellow teacher, Seema Khan)

From teacher I turn to student so readily, to be instructed in the art of music and melody.

(Drum competition during Merasi Music School)

By evening and night, I’m feeling quite alright, at times adventuring through the city on a motorized bike. At minimum I’m fed a deliciously prepared meal, more time with my new family where I’m often at a loss for how good I feel.

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My project support staff member, Akaram Khan, on our usual ride.

Back to the rooftop where that cool breeze blows, settling down for bed in my comfy bed clothes. I drift to the horizon of sleep dipping easily below the line, does it not seem like everything is just peachy and fine?

Oh reader, how I wish it were true, but even the brightest colors have their darker hue. So read my little post that waits right underneath for information about this truth to be left unbequeathed. But a greater truth you will find at the end, “a voice found through education” as the title begins.

I am serving in India as an AIF Clinton Fellow this year. As a straight white male American, I am used to freely communicating anything I want whether publicly or privately with no fear or hesitation. To many who read this opening sentence, an understandable feeling of, “Oh, here we go again, like I need another reminder of white male privilege… is it not obvious enough at this point?” And to make it even better, I come from an upper middle-class family in America. In the game of genetic lottery, I certainly hit the privilege jackpot. Although the ultimate privilege jackpot probably belongs to the son of Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, I am in no position to complain.

But here I am! Silenced. Living and working within a silenced community. And while I could personally speak upon how all that I’ve seen and heard with little to no fear over my personal safety, publishing the truth has real and dangerous consequences for this community, especially when my term of service ends and I return home leaving the people here with no foreign witness. No defense. It would be reckless and irresponsible for me to mention any names or to write about any story specifically, as much as I might want to. This danger is called caste, and in Jaisalmer the harassment and discrimination that comes from caste politics reaches levels most would consider unimaginable in the modern era. No details will be provided to protect the Merasi from retaliation as well as impress upon the reader the intensity of the situation. Besides, being a good ally means listening without speaking and helping communities on what they themselves determine to be most important and advantageous, and for the Merasi community this is education [1].

And how excited and willing everyone is to learn! From children to adults, everyone I’ve worked with so far actively thirsts for knowledge. This intrinsic motivation to learn, this “knowledge for knowledge’s sake” mindset is the most important factor when it comes to effectively teaching students, and in a later post I look forward to delving into exactly why intrinsic motivation seems so high in the Merasi community in particular as compared to others [2]. Even beyond this intrinsic motivation, there is also plenty of extrinsic motivation, an understanding that education means power and opportunity. Simply being fluent in English opens countless doors to better jobs, raises one’s status, and enables a broader ability to communicate with the world.

So here’s to education! My work over the next several months will be to revamp the curriculum, with an emphasis on English language development. I feel honored and fortunate to not only have been selected as an AIF Clinton Fellow, but also to have been placed in such a warm, welcoming, and talented community: the Merasi community. Stay posted for more insight into this intangible cultural heritage, my place within it, and the transformative potential of education in its many forms.


References:

  1. Quarshie, Mabinty. “How to Be an Effective Ally.” AAUW, 13 Feb. 2014. www.aauw.org/2014/02/13/how-to-be-an-ally.
  2. Elias, Maurice J. “How and Why Intrinsic Motivation Works.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 14 Jan. 2016. www.edutopia.org/blog/how-and-why-intrinsic-motivation-works-maurice-elias.

Eric is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Lok Kala Sagar Sansthan in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. For his Fellowship project, he is developing curricula and teacher training modules to enhance educational outcomes for Merasi youth and to safeguard traditional musical culture as intangible heritage practice. Eric graduated in 2016 from the University of Texas in Dallas with a major in international political economy and a minor in environmental studies. Eric worked with the department of undergraduate education advocating for the on-campus food pantry, and with the international education office as the first study abroad ambassador to build awareness around the importance of gaining an international perspective. He interned twice with the International Rescue Committee aiding in the resettlement of refugees. His internship with Focus on Teens, a non-profit providing resources to homeless and at-risk students in low-income schools, cemented his passion for ensuring everyone has access to a quality education. He spent three months teaching English throughout Colombia in marginalized schools through the Houston based non-profit, Conviventia. Eric also worked with a local high school health class building awareness about the impacts of drugs and alcohol through a curriculum developed by the RAND corporation and spearheaded by the sociology department at his university. He served as a first-year leader, developing lesson plans to engage a class of freshman students about how to succeed in a college environment. As the inaugural program coordinator for Focus on Teens, Eric facilitated the dispersal of resources to schools throughout Dallas and Fort Worth as part of a year of service to an under-resourced elementary school in South Dallas with City Year. This experience propelled him towards the AIF Clinton Fellowship, where he will be developing an English and Math curriculum for a Merasi school in Rajasthan. Eric is honored to be working with the Merasi, a traditionally low-caste community of oral genealogists, storytellers and musicians with a more than 800-years-old tradition, an Intangible Cultural Heritage as defined by UNESCO.

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