Hello Sneha, can you present who you are?
My name is Sneha Mahapatra, I am 23 years old from India. I speak English, Hindi, Bengali, Odia and Italian. I have completed my high-school at United World College of the Adriatic, in Duino, Italy and has her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Political Science from the United States. I have worked previously with NGOs in India working on issues related to gender, livelihood, and sustainable agriculture and has helped with UN Women Project working on issues related to reproductive justice. I also worked with the 1947 Partition Archive in Berkeley, California where I worked on displacement studies, working as an Oral History Archivist in the 1947 Partition Archive, examining the lives of Hindu and Muslim communities post the Indo-Pak partition. My work entailed trauma studies, and giving critical inputs and interview technique training to Story Scholars and Citizen Historians. After my internship, the same year I also participated in The Summer Peacebuilding Program at the Middlebury Institute of Social Sciences in Monterey, California exposed me to Gun Policy, Trauma healing, Post-Feminist voices on Environmental Resource Management, and included onsite field exposures: interacting with prisoners from two prisons in Salina. One site visit acquainted us with the grim realities of prison interns and the other gave us an insight into how they were trying to cope with their condition and issues of rehabilitation. I have done Semester At Sea, traveling to 12 countries taking courses and working with NGOs in Myanmar and China on youth mobilization, and women’s rights.
Why did you want to volunteer in France?
From a young age, I have been interested in exploring and learning about cultures that are different from mine. Growing up tri-lingual, being exposed to two different cultures and religions (my mother is Roman Catholic and my father Hindu) and trying to incorporate two ways of living into finding my voice and shaping my identity, made me look outward. Moreover, being surrounded, from a young age, to my father’s line of work in the development sector and traveling with him to remote/interior parts of the Odisha, I have always had a passion to work with disadvantaged communities, to make a difference, to volunteer and learn about how different countries approach and the perspectives of the West/western world on problems of malnourishment, hunger, education gender based violence, etc.
Leaving home when I was 16 to finish my high-school in Italy where I learnt Italian, I considered myself very privileged but also was faced with responsibility to understand how to make the most of the “gift of travel” that I had been given. After completing high-school in Italy, I got scholarship to complete my Bachelors’ degree in the United States and got the opportunity to travel to 12 countries as part of earning my degree. After finishing my bachelors, I decided to take a year off before pursuing my masters and hone my professional skills to apply for my future career path. I found International Impact and within that the Service Civic program, to be an international reciprocity volunteer, to be benefiting on both levels (learning a new language/engaging with a new culture as well as working with an international NGO that works on issues of health and hunger (project Super Poulet), with education (PSE) and the World Children Tour.
Can you explain what is the “service civique de réciprocité”?
The “service civique de réciprocité” program is an opportunity for young volunteers, students, people to come to France from all over the world (as is the case with me, I am this year’s reciprocity volunteer from India) to work on the communication, operation and development aspects of the given NGO (which in this case is International Impact). As the first reciprocity volunteer, I hope to be able to make a positive/long lasting impact that will pave the way for other volunteers to come and explore not only working, but also living in a different culture, engaging with a family, learning about the culture, ways of living, sharing meals, while also looking at the mission of service civique, which is to serve and make an impact/difference not only for French volunteers abroad but also volunteers to come to France and create connections/ partnerships between and among different NGOs and organizations across the map.
That is my wonderful host family. Hugues is a computer engineer in Paris and Aure-Elise was a volunteer with the NGO International Impact. They have three children, Mathieu (age 3), Thomas (age 4) and Elisabeth (age 6). We spend our time trying to read newspaper articles in French from “Courrier International”, last week we read about the “les gilets jaunes” or more commonly known as the yellow vest protests that are ongoing, and this week we are attempting to read about Brexit. We also share meals together, go on runs and walks, we went up to the church and ran by La Seine. This weekend I plan to prepare an Indian lunch for all of us to share together and to attempt to eat food with our hands.
During your mission, you will participate in the “Nuit de la solidarité” in Paris. Can you explain what it is about? What can be your value added?
Coming from India, from a young age I have been exposed to different forms of rural and urban poverty. The two cities in which I grew up in have more than 80,000 homeless people who are victims of several forms of human rights violations. Be it sex trafficking, child abuse, begging, prostitution, they are not protected by the government and left to fight/fend for themselves with little or almost no protection. There are NGOs who try to work on up-liftment of their conditions, but there is a lot more work that needs to be done.
The “Nuit de la Solidarité” is a special night every winter in Paris. The city council organizes a count of the people sleeping outside. This is done by several volunteers. The objective is to know if the number is changing (3035 persons in 2018), who are categorized as weak persons. It is also a tool to develop awareness and actions. Getting to explore, interact and see the situation in Paris regarding homelessness, the effort put in by the state to address the problem as well as have a chance to interact with the homeless people in one of the languages that I speak (Bengali), would be interesting to say the least.