by Rebecca Howell
How do I pick just one?! I had so many brilliant experiences on the IWAH course in Sariska National Park- it was fantastic to learn new things, develop new skills and meet some amazing and inspiring people whilst being immersed in another country and culture. Buy my favourite day was a visit to a local village in Sariska, to see the realities of human dimensions of biodiversity conservation in India. It was so humbling to see how these people live and to understand what brings them both joy and frustration. They unquestioningly welcomed us into their homes and encouraged us to join in with their singing, dancing and (for the men) having a rock lifting contest! It made me think about how unnecessary much of the material stuff in our own homes lives is. These people live such a simple existence and yet they are happy! The children walk to collect water every day and so they cannot go to school. They spoke of their desire to go to school, so they could learn how to read. But their elders are standing strong and refuse to be pushed into a situation they are not happy with by the authorities who want to relocate their village outside of Sariska national park. There was a noticeable male: female divide in the village. Men and women had defined roles and socialised separately too. They had arranged marriages and one lady we spoke to had 10 children. Married women must cover their whole face with a shawl when in presence of men other than their husband. It was like stepping back in time witnessing this divide and also seeing houses made of buffalo dung and straw. When we visited Jaipur I thought back to this village and considered the contrast between the madness, noise and excesses of Jaipur and the peace and serenity of village life. People may pity these villagers and their lack of amenities, material things and money but like the saying goes: “money doesn’t buy happiness” and I know which I would prefer!