Letters home: from Chennai, India
Gabrielle Cook (human services, '09) is in Chennai, India early this semester serving an internship through the Women's Project, which assists people who have tested positive for HIV or who have AIDS. Gabrielle has experience working for the Southern Tier Aids Project, and hopes to continue working with women upon graduation.
Gabrielle is a graduate of Spencer-Van Etten High School, and has a 4.0 GPA at Tompkins Cortland Community College. She was recently named the recipient of the Grossman's Family Grant through the Tompkins Cortland Community College Foundation, and also been accepted into Wells College, which she plans to attend in the fall. We spoke with Gabrielle by email earlier this spring.
Here is her "letter home."
1. Can you give us some background on working for the Southern Tier Aids Project, and how you became focused on this work?
- I have been working at STAP for over two years now. I started getting interested in HIV and AIDS at a young age for personal reasons and began work with STAP because they have a great program and are very respected in our community. I do lots of different kinds of work with them, but right now my focus is on the "buddy program," as well as the AIDS Ride for Life, which I help to organize and am involved with on the day of the ride.
2. What are your responsibilities at the women's project in Chennai?
- As with most things in India, what you expect is not always what you get :) I expected to be involved in the women's program, mostly because I did not think that the agency that I am working with had enough HIV work to keep me busy. I was wrong. I work almost exclusively with the HIV/AIDS staff here at the Madras Christian Council of Social Services (MCCSS). My responsibilities mostly include participation in street programs, such as creating awareness through street theater, organized target group meetings, cultural programs, demonstrations, and blood screening camps. I am also expected to speak, through a translator, at school programs, most of which are in government schools, but at a couple of colleges as well.
3. This sounds like incredibly difficult work. How do you reconcile the difficulty of the situation with finding hope for not only your work, but your clients?
- I am often amazed at the way in which people are living in some of the areas that I go to, but life goes on as usual, here just like anywhere else. The sights and stories are often difficult to see and listen to, but the people are so incredibly welcoming that I feel at ease with them. I find that it is easy to find hope if I remember that it is a human story which I am hearing, just one, and that they have taken time out of their life to share with me because they have hope for something different. If this man or woman can find hope in what I have to say, then surely I can find the same in them.
4. Is this experience changing you in any way? Your view of the world/people, or your view of yourself?
- I don't know that I can say whether or not this experience is changing me until I see how I feel when I get home. My view of the world is still somewhat the same, only more. I have done a lot of reading about other cultures, particularly India, before I came here, and I had some idea of what to expect, but the reality is much more intense. My views of what it means to be a woman, for myself, as well as for the women in India, has certainly been questioned much while I've been here. The life of a woman in India is like nothing that I have ever before witnessed, and I find it difficult to speak about it with a keyboard. This is a reality which I find easier to be spoken about to a human face, as it evokes a kind of pain that cannot be translated into words. This is something that has been eye opening, but I am still trying to come to grips with much of it.
5. How has it affected your plans for working after graduation?
- I am still planning on transferring, but when I considered coming to India, I thought that this would perhaps be the first of maybe more volunteer or study abroad plans for me. After being here I feel that this is indeed, a certainty. I am falling in love with this work and find that it suits me quite well, so I will definitely be finding ways to continue this type of international work while at Wells and in my career.