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Oral History of d.tech’s First India Trip

By: Emily Hom

Photo by Greg Fenner

Traveling to India with friends instead of sitting in Design Lab seems like the ultimate dream. And it is, but it takes more than a dream to accomplish a trip like this group did. In the early morning of March 17, 14 tired students and 2 teachers crossed 14 time zones, and embarked on a journey through New Deli, and the villages of Balla and Mcleod Ganji, to explore and build toilet facilities for local families. Here is the story of their trip, in their own words.

So what inspired these d.tech students and staff to dedicate themselves to making this trip happen?

Ms. Mizel — Julia [Green] and Anabelle [Gutman] started coming to me with this idea to go on a service trip…I was having pretty regular meetings with them, helping support them. I held a class at the end of the year called white space and…Daniel [Pang] and Izabella [Guerrero] came in and really poured their energy into building out this idea.

Mr. Fenner — I was really inspired by the fact that students were initiating a travel program and I like being part of exciting things, I guess I’m a glutton for that.

Melissa, Mr. Groat and I were…the only adults that seemed really committed…[Mr. Groat] and I kind of talked through our own motivations for going…he told me…he didn’t have the same kind of deep connection or curiosity about India that I have.

Daniel Pang –– Julia asked me if I wanted to be on the planning team and when asked the question: do you want to got to India? The answer is “yes” for me…and I just sorta got thrown in.

Julia Green — One of the reasons we chose to go was the culture shock factor and to get us out of the Silicon Valley bubble to experience something new.

Mr. Fenner — There was always sort of like a sense of mystique about India…I also hear about how a lot of people who go to India for spiritual reasons. I wouldn’t consider myself a super spiritual person but at the same time I do try and be very aware of myself and my place in my surroundings and in the world. I was super curious to start learning about how people in India see themselves in their world.

Malakhi Martinez— I really wanted to get the third world country perspective and really get out there because I feel like…we hear about a lot of stuff happening in other other countries but it’s totally different when you actually go out there and experience it firsthand.

I was also hoping that it would motivate me and change my perspective so I can have a better idea of what I want to do in college. For the longest time I was just thinking: how do I make money? But after the trip, it really made me want to help people and do something more impactful and less for the paycheck.

Tyler Campos There was someone on the trip that I wanted to be friends with and they hated me. So I was like “I’m gonna go because they can’t hate me after spending 10 days in India together”…and now I’m dating her.

 

Building Toilets

Photo by Greg Fenner

The group booked their trip through the program Rustic Pathways, a company that puts together service trips for foreigners. The d.tech students and staff worked nearly everyday building toilet facilities for a few families.

Ms. Mizel — We didn’t make toilets per say. Toilets in India aren’t like toilets here, a lot of the toilets are just holes in the ground.

High percentages of women in India get raped and molested, and often times that happens in the middle of the night when they have to use the restroom and there’s predators out there that attack them. So, we were working on building the external structure of the toilets in two locations, one in a small village called Bala. We were passing bricks, making cement, just helping with the overall process, it was amazing.

Julia Green — So basically different groups through the program Rustic Pathways come to communities to build different parts so by the end there are whole facilities in different locations around the community.

Mr. Fenner — We knew that what we were doing was accelerating a process that could have happened on its own but we were helping make sure that the process didn’t take longer than it needed to where more women were going to be vulnerable.

[We worked for] probably between one and a half to three hours a day. We made sure that we got [the toilets] to a point where we had pretty much done all that we could do.  

Tyler Campos — We would pass bricks, we wouldn’t do most of the mechanical work, there was this guy who had his own technique who did that stuff but we did the heavy labor stuff like making the cement, and soaking bricks.

Daniel Pang — We were building two structures. One was for two families that were connected by brothers and the other one I think was for one family.

Malakhai Martinez — It actually was a lot of fun…We even got to use a little bit of design thinking because the method that they wanted us to use was kind of inefficient, so we figured out a quicker and easier way of doing it. I think they noticed that and really appreciated how we were enthusiastic about it and…trying to get it done in the best way.

Ms. Mizel — It was something I’ve never done before and the cool thing about it was that it was like addictive and everyone just wanted to keep doing it. We were so tired from the overall trip but everyone was so laser focused on the service work. At one point, I think on our first day of service work, it was raining and our program directors from India were like, “You Americans aren’t used to this weather, so you guys go sit under there.” We were just sitting there drinking chai, but we wanted to be out there, so I went up to her and said, “We can do this, let us get back out there.”

So we spent hours [working]. It was cool because the local village kids would congregate and were really focused on Tyler Campos. He was just super charming to them and I think they have little crushes on him. It was really funny, he was like a little celebrity…a cool part of it was that there were always just these kids around hanging out with us.

Julia Green — All of the girls liked Tyler and they were like love struck and it was really funny.

It was a good experience. I think we want to even maybe go back to that community to continue helping them with the project and building a sustainable relationship. Our trip was 10 days but I think we could have done even more if it was longer.

 

Himalayan Highlights

Photo by Greg Fenner

With only one day of rest from their volunteer work, the travel group chose to take a hike in the foothills of the Himalayas. After a four hour hike, the group reached their destination, which had a spectacular view.

Anabelle Gutman — besides doing the volunteer work and all that stuff…we went on this hike…and finally getting up there was really worth it.

Ms. Mizel — Our main day there we were gonna do a hike. I was like, how hard can it be? I’m wearing Converse, white ones at that, everyone else has hiking boots on. We went up a mountain for four straight hours that was super steep. It was so much fun just talking and hanging out.

Ms. Mizel — And so we get to the top of the mountain and Daniel Pang videoed people’s reactions. I can’t even explain it. It was easily the highlight of the trip. You would just look out at the foothills of the Himalayas.

Julia Green — Hiking in the Himalayas was a goal of mine in high school. [It] was really cool.

Daniel Pang — “Shockingly beautiful”. I didn’t expect it to be that amazing.

Ms. Mizel — Of course Mr. Fenner is like “let’s meditate” so some of us sat on these really cool granite rocks for 10 minutes straight in silence and we were watching birds navigate, the clouds moving, it was just such a spiritual moment.

At the end of it, it started hailing, I mean it was magical, how could anything top that?

 

Funniest Memories

Photo by Greg Fenner

Ms. Mizel — Probably seeing Mr. Fenner get sassy. On the train, I think he was really overly tired and he had gotten to a point where he wasn’t going to take my bossiness anymore. So I was like, “No, you have to stay over here on this bed,” and he was like, “No.”  He wouldn’t stand down to me. But it was actually really funny because he’s always just super mellow, an amicable kinda guy and he was just being sassy. But of course two minutes later it was normal.

Daniel Pang — In Hong Kong [enroute to India], Tyler Campos went into the middle of a square and was paid five Hong Kong dollars by Tyler Sanderville to yell “Scotland forever” at the top of his lungs and without hesitation he did it. It was wonderful, there were a lot of Tyler moments like that but that one was particularly memorable.

Mr. Fenner — There were some Sikh guys who came up to me when we were visiting a Sikh temple and they just started asking to take pictures of me. I think it was maybe because I was a tall white guy and I was wearing a headscarf, which is the custom when your going into a temple, and I was following all of the customs.

 

Crazy-good Chai

Photo by Greg Fenner

It would be hard to travel to India and not enjoy the incredible cuisine. The d.tech travel group had the opportunity to explore local dishes and restaurants, and experienced  a homestay where they tried homemade delicacies.

Anabelle Gutman — The houses around [where we stayed] were more colorful and prettier than the ones here. And there are flowers everywhere and most of the houses had a rooms on the roof that you can go up and drink chai on.

Ms. Mizel — So we stayed in homestays and they would cook for us three times a day. The cooking was better than restaurants, and I’m a foodie so that’s saying a lot. They treat you as if you’re a god when you come into their home. So every time you sit down they’re like “Do you want chai?”…And they just cater to you.

Tyler Campos — I loved the green beans. And the chai, the chai was good.

Ms. Mizel — The chai is so freaking good, it’s like the best chai you’ll ever have.

Specifically for breakfast one day, we had Indian french toast. [The homestay mother’s] name was Babita, and she deep fried two pieces of bread together with these amazing spices and then you dip it in this tangy sauce.

Mr. Fenner would take his plate and [put it on his lap] because the homestays were just like, we want to feed you. We were trying to be respectful but we also didn’t want to get sick.

Anabelle Gutman– [It’s] rude to stop eating so you had to eat as much as you can. After we came back home, I wasn’t hungry for three days.

 

Least Favorite Thing

Photo by Greg Fenner

Unfortunately no trip is perfect, and this group’s trip to India was no exception. From facing the reality of poverty in India to taking an unplanned trip to the hospital, the d.tech group shared their least favorite memory of their time in India.

Julia Green — One of my least favorite parts was actually on the way there when we were at the Hong Kong airport. We already started getting sick of everyone, like the first day felt like a whole month. But then it got better…We were there for like 8 hours.

Tyler Campos — I just hated everyone, if they talked to me I just wanted to slap them.

Ms. Mizel — My least favorite part was also something I enjoyed which was fear of the unknown. When you go to a new country, sometimes it’s not natural to feel comfortable, with for example, the poverty. Sometimes people seemed a little shifty, and when we were… taking care of 14 kids, it’s a lot on your shoulders to make sure they are all safe.

You would go to a stop light and there are so many poor people around and I didn’t like it when they came up to me because I wasn’t supposed to give them anything. But I had so much empathy for like a three year old that’s tugging on you and trying to get money.

My privilege made me uncomfortable because there was so much poverty around and it was just a different culture.

Mr. Fenner — Probably Griffin [Trumpler] going to the hospital. We went to this amazing vegetarian restaurant and there’s a dish that should never have nuts in it, but…they…decided to put cashews in this dish. Our leaders were furious because they were giving super clear instructions to the restaurant to not put nuts in these dishes.

Anabelle Gutman — He was anaphylactic and…was carried away on a rickshaw to the hospital.

Tyler Campos — Taking the plane back…was really long and we had to think about all of the fun things and how we were leaving it, so that kinda sucked

 

Bollywood Blunder

Photo provided by Greg Fenner

Bollywood is one of India’s premier dance styles and an important part of its entertainment culture. So, how could the d.tech group have had the true Indian experience without participating in some bollywood dancing?

Julia Green — We dressed up like bollywood dancers and we performed in front of all the people in the village that we were working with…we didn’t know that it was going to happen.

Mr. Fenner — We learned this dance from a woman who lived in the village…we were not exactly together but the spirit and heart was there.

Tyler Campos — Ohh, that was the funniest.

Malakhai Martinez— After I got over being embarrassed it was a lot of fun…at the end we had to actually perform in front of the whole village so it was really funny, but they all loved it I think…they were laughing at us but also at the same time a little bit impressed I think.
The guys wore all white and we had these cool hats…and then the girls wore these robes that were super pretty.

Daniel Pang — It was wonderfully embarrassing. It was really fun but you could tell that everyone was going to be making fun of us later because we were not good Bollywood dancers after four hours of practice.

 

India Impact

Photo by Greg Fenner

The trip to India was like no other the group had ever experiences. With the opportunity to immerse themselves in India’s culture and help create real impact in the lives of those less fortunate, the d.tech students and staff were bound to arrive home with a new perspective.

Ms. Mizel — My AhHa was that we have so much here in the Bay Area, like we have this 40 million dollar building, and sometimes I get a sense that people are apathetic to this experience. But then when you remove people, and you go to a third world country and focus on service work and cultural immersion, and just something that’s bigger than yourself, transformation is going to happen. And it did and I’ll never forget that. It was just a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful experience.

Malakhi Martinez — Especially in Delhi it was hard because there’s a lot of kids just on the streets, like really young kids. I have a little brother and there are kids younger than him, and he’s seven, so it was really hard to see them trying to sell stuff and begging. It was cool to connect with them but I just felt like I wanted to do more.

Ms. Mizel — The bond that formed with the 16 of us in that group, especially with the kids, is something that they will carry with them for the rest of their time at d.tech and beyond. It made me really proud to represent these kids just going into this country and being dropped into the middle of all of this chaos and just never complaining, always up for anything, that was just a really cool thing.

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