Sampark – Experience Report 2017

July – August 2017

by Kathrin Gabathuler

During summer 2017 I had the chance to do a six-week internship in Bangalore (IN) at Sampark. Sampark focuses on women empowerment and helping the most vulnerable and poor people in the state of Karnataka, especially Koppal and Bangalore. Its mission is to give migrant construction workers and their children a better future by setting up crèches for the children and introducing the workers to their government benefits or laws regarding construction work. In rural areas such as Koppal Sampark aims to empower women by introducing a system of microfinance and self-help groups (SHGs). These SHGs give loans to their members and make it possible to set up a small business or start farming.

Preparation and Arrival
My internship started at the 10th of July and ended at the 19th of August. Prior to my departure I had a skype call with Prameela, one of the staff members at Sampark and an introduction session of GTI. For Swiss Citizens it is possible to get an E-Visa. This takes around 48 hours and can be ordered on short notice. The necessary immunizations can be discussed with a normal doctor. They will advise you on what to do prior to departure. GTI handed out a really helpful packing list. I did not need the mosquito net.
I started my trip in Zurich and travelled over Dubai with Emirates. Also my flight back was over Dubai. Before continuing my journey to Zurich, I stayed four days in Dubai. My flight landed on Sunday 9th of July (in the morning). Arriving in the morning makes everything a little easier. You can get to know the area already and rest. It is enough time before you start working on Monday morning at 9:30am. I stayed at Esha’s Nest (No.497, Eshas Nest, Teachers Colony, 4th Avenue, Koramangala, Bangalore) a PG only for girls. In India the Paying Guest Accommodations are strictly separated by gender. The rent was 11’000 INR per month (~160 CHF) and could be paid in cash in the first five days of every month. I paid the number of weeks I have been there and not two full months. It could happen, that you have to fight with the owner. Esha’s Nest is five minutes walking distance from Sampark’s office.

Work at Sampark
Before my arrival Prameela asked me, what project I liked best and what I would like to do. I mentioned the crèche project in Bangalore. The crèche project offers a safe environment for the children of migrant construction workers. It provides healthy nutrition, health check-ups and a nonformal education. In my first week at Sampark I had the great opportunity to join the staff of Sampark on a fieldtrip to Koppal. We took the Hampiexpress overnight and arrived the next morning in Koppal. First, we had a short introduction to the concept of the SHGs. They introduced us to the structure of the SHGs and the rules they have to follow. After that we had the chance to visit the board members of one cooperative. They explained us that they started with a lot of help of Sampark and struggled getting a bank account. By now they managed to purchase a room for their office and be one of the most important clients of the bank. It is impressive how successful this cooperative is now. In the afternoon we visited two SHGs who held their meeting in front of the school in Gunnahalli. We saw how these meetings are structured and what the women are discussing. First, they collected the saved amount and wrote it down in the savings book in order to keep track of everything. It is really stunning to see that the work of Sampark had such an enormous impact on the lives of the people in the region of Koppal. Some were able to buy cows to do farming, others purchased land where they produce crops to sell at the market. After that I supported the Sampark staff on writing annual reports and sending out proposals for funding to Swiss foundations.

Living in Bangalore
Bangalore is a modern city with more inhabitants than Switzerland. It is the biggest IT-Hub in India and filled with international companies like KPMG, J.P. Morgan, Accenture etc. To travel around, people use Uber or Ola (I only used Uber). You need to get used to the traffic. If the distance is manageable in 20 minutes you should start 40 minutes earlier, because traffic can be crazy in Bangalore. Bangalore has fantastic microbreweries with amazing beer and delicious food (Toit, Prost).
If you want to go to the gym, there are numerous possibilities. I joined the group activities at apple fitness in HSR Layout.
After our trip to Koppal we visited Hampi, which is exciting. Hampi once was the capital of Vijayanagar kingdom and had a size of almost whole south India. It is really interesting to hear about the religion and the culture there.