Kennerly Roper

Intern for HELP-International
Hyderabad, India

Give a brief description of your internship.

I lived in Hyderabad, India for three months, working with local non-profits on a wide variety of projects and programs in slum communities, which ranged from anti-child marriage campaigns to mobilizing communities to fundraise bore-wells for clean water to leading introductory entrepreneurship workshops for illiterate women.

What was your most memorable experience?

For me, it’s the little moments that are most memorable. In my first week, we were able to tour the slum community we were to be working in. Our partners showed us the operating bore-wells drilled and maintained by the community with pride. It was a hot day, and we stood in the shade, trying to cover our heads with scarves and ration our water. One woman came out of her house at the sight of us, and smiled and gestured to my water bottle, speaking Telugu. I didn’t understand what she wanted, but she took my bottle and disappeared into her little concrete home. When she came back, my water bottle was full and she was nodding. I bowed my head in gratitude, slightly shocked. For many families in the slums, water is the most precious resource. It is often scarce, and when it is available, it is either expensive or extremely unsafe to drink. Even with the bore-wells, they can’t afford to be frivolous with something so precious. So to offer to give me some of her water was particularly striking to me that someone with so little could be so generous.

Was there a specific person you remember in regards to your internship?

Urmi, or as the volunteers and I liked to call her, Mother India, was an entire head shorter than me, but if she was ever in the room, she was a dominating presence. Like all women in Hyderabad, she wore brightly colored sarees, long swaths of fabric elegantly wrapped around the hips and shoulders, and a long, black braid tied down her back. She worked with one of our partners, HEAL-SAPID, an organization aimed at community and personal development in the slums. We called her the bulldog because her powerful voice could command an entire room of women and volunteers, and her passion for women empowerment was inspiring. In a presentation of “Proud to be a Girl,” a project where we would discuss with 10-16 year old girls about body image, goal setting, and changes in their body, she once closed with a powerful lecture. She explained in Telugu how you may not feel beautiful or skinny or tall as other people, but those things don’t last. “Strength is reality,” she said in English for emphasis, a resounding closing statement the reflected her personal philosophy.

What was the strangest thing that happened during your internship?

I got accidentally married in India. My fiancé proposed while we were there, and we were at our friend’s home, and they wanted to dress us in custom Indian wedding attire, so I put on a saree and a frilly head covering, and he had a loongi (it’s pretty much a male skirt) and a scarf. Then, they had us put flower garlands around each others necks, and we did, playing along. The family clapped and cheered, and someone quietly told us that the garlands meant we were married. There were laughs all around at our reactions.

If you ate anything crazy, what was it?

I love Indian food, so nothing was too spicy or weird for me, even when they jam-pack spices into every dish. But probably the most peculiar thing I ate was a dish called haleem. Hyderabad has a heavy Muslim population, so during Ramadan these haleem stands would open up at night where they would sell you plastic cartons of this chicken paste. They pound wheat, lentils, and chicken together, stew it for several hours, and serve it with fried onions, cashews, and hard-boiled eggs. Hyderabadi haleem is actually considered an international delicacy, but it’s so full of calories to sustain Muslims during their fasts. I thought it was delicious, though some volunteers swear they got food poisoning from the shards of chicken bone in the haleem.

What do you think was the most rewarding aspect of your internship?

The most rewarding aspect of my internship was being able to see the difference a person can have, both with my volunteer work and the effect the Indian people have had on me. You meet the most incredible people when you either go abroad or serve.

What do you wish every future intern would know or do?

Since middle school, I’ve wanted to go to India, and fulfilling that dream was just incredible. With an English major, it didn’t necessarily make academic sense for me to go to India and not work with English, but I wanted to try something new. In the end, it paid off. I was able to design and lead an introductory entrepreneurship workshop for illiterate women who wanted to start their own businesses, and I am so proud of that accomplishment, tha