An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Leadership Network member crosses India by train on social mission

A 15-day train journey 8000 kilometres across India may not be everyone’s idea of a good holiday.

But for network member Daniel Scott the opportunity to travel the country – a place where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all worked – was not to be missed.

Daniel Scott with a fellow Jagriti Yatra participant

Daniel was one of a handful of foreigners selected to participate in the Jagriti Yatra, a train ride with a social mission.

The 28-year-old civil engineer joined 450 young people, most of them Indian, on a whistle stop tour to visit some of the country’s top social and business entrepreneurs.

It’s an annual pilgrimage that seeks to help participants, ‘Yatris’, understand the challenges of rural India and inspire them to meet those challenges through enterprise.

A stand-out stop for Scott was Rajasthan’s Barefoot College.

“Basically it is in the middle of nowhere, in a desert, and the day we visited it was very hot - mid 30s.” 

The NGO teaches rural women, from India and developing countries the world over, the tricks of the solar engineering trade. They leave the school with the ability to create, install and maintain solar units, village-changing technologies demystified.

“That was probably one of the most inspiring things. We met the founder, and we visited workshops where women learn and practise building the various water heaters and cookers and PV panels.”

Daniel says being a civil engineer in India can be likened to being a kid in a candy shop.

“It’s kind of a cliché, but there is no way New Zealand, or any other Asian country, has challenges to the extent of what they have in India.

“I think that it's probably the biggest thing I got out of the Yatra. It really hit me – how big the problems are, but also how big the opportunities are.”

Riding the train in close confines with the other Yatris also provided an experience that couldn’t be discovered in the pages of the latest Lonely Planet guide.

Sharing a compartment with six others, on a train with no running water, provided challenges when it came to keeping clean, using the toilet, eating well and washing clothes, but also the chance to quickly gain intimacy with others and nut out ideas and talk about the day’s inspirations.

“Meeting all those people on the yatra, it’s nice to share their problems. They are the ones who live there, they go through it. They live in a country with corruption, where you can’t drink the water, where there is massive inequality.

“I think I got a lot of insight into the country from doing the Yatra…How young people in India live and the pressures on them from their families…And what they want to do with their future.”

Daniel has returned to Kiwi soil, but not for long. After relishing the challenge of working on a flood protection dam in Whangarei for the past year for an Auckland-based civil engineering firm, Daniel is off to Japan on a Prime Minister's Scholarship for Asia.

His plan is to spend four months improving his fluency in Japanese, and then look for work.

He says it’s a “long shot” but a job in his chosen field is what he wants – between big bullet trains and intricate subway systems, earthquakes and volcanoes, Japan is another engineer’s Mecca.

“I’m the sort of person who on their days off likes to go and look at bridges and dams and stuff. Sort of an engineer tourist as well as an actual engineer.”

February 2016