Oh the places where I will go: Part 1

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away! – Dr. Seuss


Going off to university is a scary thing. We have all these ideas and dreams on how our university career will shape us. Upon applying to the University of Waterloo’s International Development program, I was ecstatic that we were given the opportunity to intern aboard with an NGO and make a change. Whether it be small or big, I was excitingly, impatiently, and hopefully waiting to finally reach that stage where I would be able to apply and be granted a placement. And finally, just a mere few weeks ago, after hearing countless stories from alumni and the graduating class, I finally received the letter. As cliché as it sounds, I remember everything about that day, what happened before and after. Getting that letter, was one of the happiest moments in my life (I literally cried in happiness, my dad thought I was crazy).

After months of waiting, it has been decided that I will be moving to Hue, Vietnam and working as an intern for the Consultative and Research Centre on Natural Resource Management (CORENARM). It’s going to be a mouthful saying that organization to all my friends and family now.

CORENARM is a local NGO of the ancient city of Hue that specializes in Resource conservation and management, sustainable livelihood for local communities, and climate change adaptation for local communities.

Through talking to the graduating class who just came back from their placements, I have learnt that placement is not about tangible roles and tasks that you complete within your NGO. It is about the experiences and opportunities that you make of it. It is about taking risks and trying new things. It is about the impact that a new culture and community can have on you.  It is about the people that you meet who change your perspectives on what is important. There will be many frustrating challenges that I will have to overcome, but I am hopeful, optimist and excited to embark on this journey.

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Abused Goddess

enhanced-buzz-13226-1378408862-44  The other day while scrolling through my tumblr, I stumbled upon an image of what appeared to be a recreated classic oil painting of a Hindu goddess. Over my life, I have seen many images of Hindu goddesses. But this particular image struck me the most. The subtle swollen lip, cuts and bruises drew me in and captivated me. Never have I seen anything like this; for an agency to have the balls to recreate a female religious figure in such way. To show the stark contrast of female figures in religion and myth to the reality of female lives in India and other parts of South Asia. To be honest, I never really thought about this contradiction until seeing the Abused Goddesses Campaign.

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The campaign was created by an ad agency named Taproot who were commissioned by Save the Children to design a campaign for its Save Our Sisters Anti-Trafficking campaign. Abused Goddesses are recreated classic oil paintings of Hindu goddesses; Saraswati, Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth), and Durga (Goddess of Strength and invincibility). The twist of these images are that the models show subtle signs of physical abuse through black eyes, swollen lips, and/or cuts.These images showcase the growing issue and program facing Indian women, violence and safety. As the caption notes in the campaign;

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Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.

In a 2011 Reuter report, India was named the 4th most dangerous country in the world for women to safely live in.  According to Save Our Sisters, over 100 million Indians, predominately women and children are said to be involved in trafficking. Last year alone, over 224, 270 crimes against women were reported in the country. That goes without saying many cases went unreported.

Many things can be said about the effectiveness of this campaign. The simplicity of the design clearly draws in viewers to understand the intended message. But to use female religious figures to show this message is ballsy. Being a Hindu, it’s easy to see that Hindu gods are worshipped significantly. Gods and goddesses are everything to Hindus.  Like many other religions, gods and goddesses provide people with a sense of hope in times of need and desperation. People spend hundreds of dollars on priests, ceremonies, and on traditions to please the gods and goddesses. Do something wrong and you will anger a god and all hell will break loose. So with people worshipping the ground for female religious figures, it raises the question, why can’t normal average women be given the same treatment?

The contradiction between how female goddesses are treated versus regular females is crazy. I know that there are many different factors that play into this, class system in particular. But, it doesn’t surprise me that Indian society is ignoring all the signs of abuse in front of them. The rights and freedom of women and children has been hindered for centuries. I know it will be hard to break traditional systems but it must be done. How can someone have a life where they are forced into marrying a man at the age of 8 or younger? How can someone have a life where they have no other option but to sell their body to pay the debt that their family has? How can someone turn a blind eye on the bruises and scars that are left on the arms, face and body of women and children?

I understand that my western beliefs cannot be imposed on their traditions and I understand that culture and tradition are in need. But traditional beliefs have allowed people to mask their ability to see what is right or wrong. Individuals should be treated equally. Why you ask?

Well first, why should you question this? Why should people be marginalized and treated differently based on class, culture, gender, race? Putting women lower than female religious figures is silly. If these goddesses were real, they would absolutely put these perpetrators to shame. But to answer this seemly obvious question;

It is our inherent human duty to respect and treat others how we want to be treated.

Women and children should be treated like goddesses. They are the future and deserve the right to have a life full of opportunities and happiness. I am grateful for the work that Save the Children has done and will continue to do. Campaigns like Save Our Sister and Abused Goddesses are needed to break barriers, to question the norms and generate discussion. Those who fail to see the importance of controversial campaigns such as this, fail to realize the impact it has on a global scale. I can guarantee that this campaign has sparked conversation between this contradiction.

And with that, I wonder if this has sparked something in you. Has this made you question anything?