Janine Stephenson completed her ICS placement in India this year.
I’m a 22-year-old from a small town in Wales called Pontarddulais. I have been engulfed in the privileged British culture with a vague understanding of the outside perspectives of how others lived thousands of miles away, the only knowledge I had was what was shown on my TV screen or the snippets in the newspapers. The sad truth is, I wasn’t too bothered. I was more than happy to have the ‘ignorance is bliss’ attitude and to continue with my, at the time, ordinary life. Now I can see a life that is well and truly blessed.
I wish I knew how lucky I was growing up. All I wanted was the materialistic things that didn’t matter or enhance my life in any shape or form. If anything I was sadder, striving for things that are so unimportant. My education or future was not a priority, neither was feminism and most importantly my inner happiness. ICS allowed me to experience how our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world live. It also gave me a huge insight into how happy everyone could be without having all the things that I thought I couldn’t live without.
I embarked on my ICS adventure to India in April, before this in all my 22 years of being alive, the only time I had ever travelled was when I was 14 to a five-star resort in Turkey. To say the least, I experienced major culture shock. I stepped off the plane into 40-degree heat and stood there for a moment to absorb my environments and surroundings. Truth be told, my heart sunk.
It didn’t take me long to notice how poor some people were, of course, wealth divide and poverty exists in Britain, however, this was on a much larger scale. When I was on the minibus on the way to my training centre in Chennai, I couldn’t help but notice all of Indias social norms. More or less on every other home was a child sitting with their mum creating hand-rolled cigarettes, at first this wasn’t alarming. But then it hit me, why are these children not at school getting an education? I mean it is a human right, isn’t it? But nevertheless they were still sat there on the porch of their thatched homes, with no shoes on their feet but a huge smile on their face. I then had the realisation of my privilege, at this point, I never felt more ungrateful. I always considered myself as poor, because I grew up in a council house with no swish cars or yearly luxury holidays, but at this moment and time, I realised how rich I was and how much I took for granted.
Restless Development helped me flourish in so many ways and the experience allowed me to witness another world in the best way possible. The opportunity to be able to dive head first into such a beautiful culture will stay with me forever, I truly believe that I have changed and grown as a person. Before travelling, I had this ignorance embedded in me that I didn’t realise I had. I didn’t understand much about the culture and a different way of life from my own, I now know how accepting and amazing all people can be. I believe I have become more grateful with anything that comes my way. I have learnt to treat everything that comes in my direction, good or bad as a blessing.
I have also learnt to speak out! I learnt from my placement that many women in India are oppressed, they rarely get the same opportunities as men. That single fact alone pushed me to be more vocal about things that mattered instead of hiding away and bottling things up. As a woman I now know the importance of making my voice heard, I am lucky enough to have the freedom of speaking my mind, the freedom that my sisters in India are sadly restricted to.
Whilst me and the team were going to schools delivering empowering sessions, it was so encouraging to see the children take on board that they’re fantastic individuals. I really felt like I was making a difference. It was one of the best feelings in the world knowing that I could enhance somebody’s life by doing something so small. This has now encouraged me to pursue a career in social studies! I learnt from this experience how rewarding it is to give back and help.
I want to thank ICS for helping me grow personally and professionally, and for also giving me the opportunity of a lifetime!