Evgeniya Koroleva and Nastya Sachko, both journalists by profession and members of ‘Club for Young Leaders’ from Crimea (Ukraine), have for a few months now been working as volunteers in Asia Plateau – International centre of Initiatives of Change in Panchgani, India. Their dream to get to Asia Plateau searching for answers on personal questions through new discoveries has had to overcome financial obstacles and a few months of what seemed to be hopeless visa procedure. Evgeniya Koroleva is sharing some of her traveller’s notes that still have the smell of Indian spices.
The decision to go to the conference centre Asia Plateau in India came to both myself and Nastya spontaneously but has, however, fully occupied our thoughts. Application forms were filled in, approval received, and the Swedish foundation has kindly given us money for this personal project. A charitable auction took place in Heidelberg-Centre in the Crimea, Ukraine in support of our participation in the Intern Programme. Tickets were bought. Injections were the first serious obstacle. They were not needed for getting visas, but very needed for personal security. It turned out that the vaccine against hepatitis A and B wasn’t easy to get but despite difficulties we managed to deal with this issue. When our departure date was approaching at the end of the summer we went to Kiev to get visas.
Everyone was telling us, ‘Oh, India! It is very easy to get a visa. You won't have any problems’. This might have been the case, if we didn’t want to go for a lengthy time (10 months), and if we had decided not to be honest in writing that we were journalists. So, the documents from Kiev’s embassy were sent to Delhi and we started waiting for an answer. We were calling the embassy nearly every day. No answer. We asked our friends from Kiev to visit embassy. No answer. Days passed, then weeks… No answer. We were waited for in Panchgani. No answer. Planned departure day came. No answer. Our tickets were not valid anymore. Still no answer.
About two months later, with the the planned date for our departure having passed, we submitted the documents to the embassy again, applying for six months visas this time. We got our visas the next day! India was teaching me patience way before I had arrived there.
Within a week we had bought tickets, packed our luggage and left for Delhi.
Delhi has met us with noise, the daily rush of thousands of citizens of the capital. Cows, rubbish pits, rickshaws, soldiers with guns, covered with sacks on their waiting points, which one can hide behind in case of terrorist attacks, checking bags on each metro station, striking poverty, unbearable smells, amazing architecture, beautiful parks, very spicy food, the tastiest sweets, worshipping gods and so much of interest for foreigners. All of this hit us during the first days. I was grateful to be able to see real life – without exaggeration and masks. Indians – sincere, curious, welcoming and amazingly musical – everyone sang (men more often though) and everywhere!
It was an amazing an week in Delhi. After that we went to Mumbai.
The first night we stayed with Dr and Mrs Anand – friends from ‘Initiatives of Change’. They were very hospitable, hosting us in their home, and describing places of interest that we could see in town. Two other nights we stayed in a hotel, because our kind hosts were expecting other guests ( our arrival was without advance notice, and they had no extra space.)
Mumbai seemed to be cleaner, more business-like and more organized than Delhi. People were crossing roads here in identified places, not where they wanted to. And the drivers did not forget to take their hands off the car horns, which was not the case with their Delhi colleagues, who were happy to blow the horn all day long. But Mumbai was also an Indian city with rats, dirt and poverty. However, we white-skinned girls were not stand out as much here as we did in the capital. People were used to foreigners here and didn’t pay much attention, apart from shop assistants. A drums seller started following us in the tourist district Kolaba, trying to convince me that I simply had to buy drums for my ‘brother, husband, boyfriend, friend, father, neighbour…’ He followed us for about 10 minutes. And after I repeated for hundreds, millions of times that I wasn’t ready to buy anything, he smiled, wished up a pleasant evening and went off to hunt other tourists.
To get to know India, to discover it with every new day was great, however, we were waited for in Panchgani.
As we say, ‘off the ship right to the ball’. We arrived late at night on 18 November, and the following morning the international conference ‘Caux initiatives for Business’ started. For five days, participants from India, Japan, Germany and USA were discussing how to use the principles of IofC in business.
Japanese Sachiko-san was one of the participants. I have met her in Caux, the international conference centre for IofC in Switzerland, two years ago, where she was a member of Japanese delegation. We were working together with her one day in the kitchen. There were other Japanese, but somehow I could remember only her, and was thinking about her in particular when thinking about Japan, although I didn’t know her name. You can only imagine how surprised I was to see her here! The world is so small! Such a small ball, and we still cannot care about it enough.
And also Sachiko-san was unbelievably happy to see Nastya’s last name (Sachko) on the participants’ list.
Life in Asia Plateau is running steadily and thoughtfully. When conferences are taking place there is opportunity to join sessions and seminars. The rest of the time, interns (volunteers) are helping around the house, educating themselves, going through personal development – and each one is searching for one’s own ways to do it. Some spend more time in quiet listening to the inner voice; others communicate hoping to find answers on personal questions through the experiences and lives of other people; some read books or walk around the neighbourhood enjoying beautiful nature, loads of flowers and birds singing… Anastasya finds her answers helping in the kitchen.
Grampari agricultural and medical centre is situated next to Asia Plateau, where people can find out more about agriculture and healthcare. Three volunteers are working there: Rachel (American), Etien – French, Reni (Indian). Rachel told us that they have to explain to people about the necessity of washing hands with soap. Over 5,000 children are dying daily in the world from diarrhoea, which is also called the ‘disease of dirty hands’.
Yesterday a conference ‘Heart of effective leadership’ has started in Asia Plateau. Education and business workers are taking part in it. Today there have already been sessions on effective leadership. It is such a pleasure to see these simple people from a little town, Karnaka, listening with great interest about the principles of ‘Initiatives of Change’, about the quiet time, about changing the world starting with oneself. It is so great that we do similar work in the Crimea, promoting the values of ‘Initiatives of Change’ among young people. And we really want our activities to be more fruitful and to go wider …
Translation by Angela Starovoytova