One of the most impactful global immersion programs the USC School of Social Work holds is in India, where a group of Master of Social Work students and faculty traveled over the summer to visit, observe and participate in community development projects in Mumbai, Pune and Jawhar. They saw first-hand how extreme poverty forced many people to live in slums and dig through mountains of trash to find recyclables to exchange for money. They also witnessed how a social worker with a background in business started a micro-finance nonprofit organization to empower women.
Along the way, students shared their experiences and observations by blogging about them. MSW student Amber Murphy expressed how one moment in time left her “forever changed.”
I have an image stuck in my head…
We were walking to the bus. I was covering my nose from the suffocating gasses produced by the dump, carefully choosing my footing along the sidewalk to avoid human waste, when something happened that I don’t think I will ever be able to erase from my mind’s eye. I spotted a cesspool slightly ahead of me. It smelled; it was filled with waste and putrid rotting water. My eye caught the iridescent shimmer of chemicals floating on top. I was sizing up the water to make sure that I avoided it at all costs when a young boy came bounding along in bare feet and waded through the water. My world stopped. He seemed to move in slow motion as I saw the iridescent, murky, sludgy waters shifting around him and smelled the thick odor that rose from the disturbed pool.
It is this image, this moment, that represents the full degradation of the rag pickers and their families for me. Shock, confusion and anger raced through my body as I tried to figure out how this could possibly be happening and how a society could ever allow this to happen.
This experience leaves me feeling devastated. I feel as if a part of me has been left forever behind with the rag pickers. Call it naiveté or perhaps innocence, but whatever you call it, it is gone. I am haunted by their acceptance of and adaptability to these inhumane living conditions, but amazed and flabbergasted by their fierce resilience.
The question I am now struggling with is…now what? I leave this country in 3.5 weeks to return to my comfortable life half way around the world. With me I take this rawness, this hurt, but I am confused as to how to harness these emotions and turn it into some sort of action plan. Furthermore, what type of action plan could I possibly implement from 8,701 miles away? Although I have not yet worked out what I can do, I am certain what I cannot and what I will not do. I will not be the type of person that turns a blind eye to the suffering of the world. I cannot see injustice and carry on with my life unchanged.
I will never forget the boy wading through filth in his bare feet. He has left his mark on me, and I am forever changed.
To read more about how this trip to India affected MSW students, visit http://trojansgoneglobal.blogspot.com/.