An ASER intern tells her Delhi story

Kate Thomson

Stepping out of the surreal artificiality of the airport in an odd state of wakefulness induced by a lack of sleep and a surfeit of adrenalin, the reality of Delhi greeted me with a very welcome wave of hot, pungent air. The feeling continued as I arrived at ASER’s office and was welcomed by the friendly and enthusiastic team, while I got to grips with the 2005 Education Cess and the ASER Report of 2009, right up until I sat down to eat a well-deserved dhabba with my new colleagues and began to feel at home.

After that things began to move very fast. I settled into the ASER flat- well positioned in the midst of a bustling neighbourhood in which I was woken each morning by the cries of vegetable vendors- and began my assigned project of creating a distance-learning English course for regional staff by creating an assessment to carry out on the future-students while they attended their already hectic 5-day training event. Analysing the results was the next mission, then gathering some of the other interns to begin the mammoth task of devising a syllabus, of creating worksheets, choosing textbooks, finding on-line resources and continually asking the RAs for answers to simple questions such as ‘how do I direct an autowallah to…’
Aside from this project I had the opportunity to work with almost every member of the team to create a variety of testing tools, which we were able to pilot in schools across Delhi, to help with report-writing, training, and generally attain a good understanding of most aspects of what ASER does. Taking our tests to schools was particularly eye-opening. The children were so happy to see us and to learn, and the team’s skill and dedication was inspiring. The whole experience gave me a much fuller understanding of ASER’s modus operandi, and of why its mission is so valuable, indeed vital.
But this isn’t to say that it was all work and no play. Far from it: After hiding from the worst of the pre-monsoon heat or the subsequent rains we would venture out to Dilli Haat, Khan Market, or sample the delights of Green Park (not green, or a park, but with much better food than the other Green Parks you might know), shop, or even do a spot of sightseeing. I especially enjoyed being taken to the Nizamuddin Dargah by my flatmate: there was a surprising amount of peace among the whirl of colour and sound.
As the monsoon arrived with brilliant lightening and the characteristic torrents of rain (new and exciting to me), I advanced further down my list of foods to try, and worked more intensely with another intern, Tali from the University of Chicago, on finishing the course framework and answering conundrums such as ‘Which topic first, hobbies, transport, clothing… or perhaps communications would be most useful?’ I was looking forward to the next part of my trip, when I would visit Rajasthan before entering the world of study once again, but knew I would miss the office atmosphere of hard work and camaraderie, and the friends that I had made. I hugely enjoyed the wealth of new experiences that working with ASER entailed: the people, the projects, India itself, and hope that this is only the beginning!