I. Where I’m coming from:
Before I embark on the questionable mission of defining who I want to be as a person in one year (which assumes a great deal about my level of self-awareness), I must address how I came to specialize in rural environmental justice and sustainable development in agriculture.
I decided to pursue ecology after I realized (in a lecture during general chemistry class) that my older sister’s chosen field, cellular biology, wasn’t right for me. After hiking and looking at ways that I could graduate on time with the course credits that I had haphazardly chosen, I completed a major in ecology. Upon graduation, I decided to turn from the arcane calculus and complexity theory of ecology to the problem of translation: making the biological humming of the earth work with the mysterious reality of modern human life. To take this turn, which I called ‘environmental policy’ at that time, looking at the different worlds that peoples in Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Jamaica, and the diverse rural and urban places in the United States live in throughout my prodigious foreign study schedule in college. Upon graduation, I took a long-term public policy internship at an NGO called ‘Grupo FARO’ in Ecuador. The work developed my understanding of creating social change and influencing political debates. At the same time, I wanted to know more about traditional ecological knowledge, development, ethnobotany, and any ways that policy and politics connect to environmental science and ecology. To solve the problem of whom I wanted to be and what I wanted to know, I returned to school for a master’s in anthropology at Northern Arizona University, where the large Native American population of the Southwest provided ample opportunity to explore topics related to indigenous and traditional ways of living and knowing.
Four years after graduating university, I have two years of work experience between social justice/teaching/public policy and ecological fieldwork. I also got a two-year degree in anthropology that I decided to pick up along the way, working on the economic and ecological anthropology of indigenous farming in Salasaca, Ecuador.
Now I am looking for ways to become a better professional in NGOs and civil society organizations, while I also hope to gain valuable specific insight from the Indian approach to the sector. However, I ultimately want to work with my competitive advantage, in the Americas, with an area where ecological/environmental issues meet social justice.
II. Some ways in which I hope to develop over the coming year:
1) After the short cycles of undergraduate semesters, graduate fieldwork, grants, and projects, I want to settle into something that will last for the time that it takes for real social change to occur. I know, this fellowship lasts one year, but I wish to gain a sense of what Seva Mandir has accomplished through four decades of work in its district.
2) I wish to know even more of the ins and outs of running a unit at an NGO. With a fancy fellowship on my CV, along with a master’s, I am (fortunately) beginning to place myself beyond the entry-level research associate positions. At the same time, I am not a manager; my academic knowledge of agricultural development, indigenous issues, and other expertise has little to do with the daily requirements of a person in charge of organizing intervention, advocacy, and policymaking efforts.
3) I wish to be ready to focus on the local. Another great aspect about Seva Mandir is that it works in the context of the district in which it is located and the surrounding districts in Rajasthan province. I wish to work and live in one place and feel connected to it. How can one continually feel like a transplant while championing civil society and local politics? I reached that point living in Ecuador for almost 1.5 out of the last three years, while continually researching and communicating with Ecuadorians, but now I wish for something even more permanent. To be honest, I haven’t lived for more than eight or nine continuous months in a single place since 2003 when I began college in 2003. It begins to wear on a person, even as it grows into an unavoidable habit, as you continually wonder what comes next.