Going in to this whole GCELE experience, I was a little unsure of what I would inevitably take from it. I feel like any time you make the decision to leave your comfort zone (whether it be travelling abroad or trying something new for the first time), there are definitely going to be perception shifts that will take place within you. I just wasn’t sure what they would be exactly. Over the course of my time spent in India, there were a number of things that really resonated with me. I think for me, the biggest shift in perception probably came after one of our first lectures (I’m not sure of the village name or even the name of the woman conducting the lecture). The lecture was on health care accessibility for women in India (particularly women who came from smaller villages). It is not necessarily the content of the lecture, but more the demeanour of the presenter that shocked me. If you had asked me two weeks ago what I envisioned a traditional Indian woman who lives and was raised in a small village would be like, I probably would have said something like, “She would probably be very meek, soft-spoken, uneducated, passive, etc.” This woman was anything but that. She was strong, powerful, confident, brilliant, charismatic, and every other thing I did not expect her to be. So while may initial expectation of what it means to be a traditional woman may be correct in certain cases, I must also acknowledge the fact that there are other traditional Indian women who defy this stereotype in leaps and bounds. Hemming her in with what western people believe a certain demographic to be like can be really problematic. Not just in this instance, but also with every other stereotype in existence. It is so important to make space for the different realities that are sometimes beyond our comprehension. Our thoughts and beliefs and realities are not the only ones in existence and moving forward, this will be a concept that I carry with me for the rest of my days, both personally and professionally.
Another thing that really challenged the way I thought was the fact that this woman was also illiterate. She shared this with us towards the end of her presentation. I believe this was done deliberately so as not to taint the content of what was being said. In western culture, people kind of make an association between being illiterate and being stupid; so much so that the words “illiterate” and “stupid” are often used interchangeably. When she told us about not being able to read and write, it totally caught me off guard. How could this strong, brilliant, confident woman who was out there saving lives and changing communities be unable to read? She gives lectures in front of thousands of people, is such an inspiration to everyone she meets, and is able to lead this organization in their pursuit of social justice, yet does not possess such a basic skill like being able to read or write? I remember leaving the lecture feeling like I had more questions than answers from what had just transpired. This was something I reflected on for days to come. In the end, I came to the realization that not being able to read and write was not a matter of intelligence, but a matter of accessibility and maybe even culture. This woman was not so stupid that she could not have been taught to read, given the opportunity. She was unable to read because men and women do not have the same rights and accessibility to resources in that part of the world. Again, I feel like the same lesson can be applied to both scenarios. It is important to acknowledge the fact that we do not have all the answers. There are things beyond our comprehension and we must make space for that reality. It is best to always give people the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions about who or what they are and allowing them to share their story.
In conclusion, there were other realizations that were had on my part throughout this experience. I have learned so much about the world, about myself, and about other people and their cultures. I feel truly blessed to have been a part of this learning experience. These memories and lessons learned will be things I take forth with me into the future. They are things I will never forget and will always cherish and will be invaluable to me down the line. Thank you Centennial College for allowing me to be a part of this experience. It has definitely made a huge impact for me and for anyone I may encounter in any future endeavours.