Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Surveying Human Geography (Part 1)

I had never heard that access to T.V led to suicide in rural, underdeveloped areas. Not until my friend Victor, the eye specialist at Sielmat Christian Hospital, brought it up about a week and a half ago on one of our tea breaks. Apparently it’s a well known fact here. That night I looked it up and turns out there has actually been a fairly large amount of research done on the correlation between recent access to modern amenities and depression.

I would imagine it happens something like this: a remote village, one where people rarely travel more than a few miles from their home in a lifetime, gets a T.V and BAM! Suddenly the world opens up to them. They see shows depicting things they had never even heard of and technology that can do impossible things. How silly they were to be content with what they had, when everyone else, from Bombay to Boston, isn’t happy and they all drive Mercedes, live in 10,000 square foot Victorian mansions and have the bodies of Greek gods! How foolish they were to think they had enough! This feeling of want, inferiority and a helplessness to change their situation eventually becomes overwhelms them. After searching in vain for solace in alcohol and drugs they turn to the only avenue of escape they have.

I talked with Victor about it again the next day and he said that it wasn’t until he got to travel to America, as part of the Indian Children’s Choir (ICC), that his view changed. He realized that there where very few similarities between the real USA and the one he had grown up seeing in movies and on MTV. When he was little he wanted more than anything to move to America. After visiting he decided that, while there were certainly aspects of the US he preferred, he liked home better.

Before 2009, Bibles for the World (BFTW) had sent a group of kids from the northeastern states of India over to the US almost every year, starting in the early 1990s. These kids would spend a year traversing the country and singing at hundreds of churches in an effort to raise money for the schools back in India that BFTW runs through Partnership Ministries Society (PMS). They called this group the Indian Children’s Choir.

BFTW is thinking about starting the ICC back up again, but before they do it needs to be decided if it was actually worth the effort that was put into it. Financially it was, kind of; the budget almost always went into the red for that year, but the sponsorships gained from the concerts would usually ensure that it was worth it in the long-run. But was it worth it for the kids? It was for Victor, but one point is a long ways from a trend.

The big question is was it a positive and eye opening experience or did some of the kids get left with a foot in each culture, with neither place feeling like home. The worry is that BFTW took them, dunked them in America, made them rock stars, then expected them to just go back to their old lives; no more doting host families, no more singing in front of packed pews and no more traveling to 4 or 5 states in a month. Just go back and pick up your old life where you left off.

A few days ago Mary, my boss’s sister, asked me to make a survey and give it to a bunch of former ICC kids. The object being to figure out if kids like Victor were the exception or the rule. I’ve put together the survey, so now the mission is to give it to enough of the former participants to find that answer.

The bad part is that hatred of surveys seems to be pretty ubiquitous in every culture, so cornering and interrogating 75 ICC members may be a bit of a challenge. The nice part is that, having had the program for so many years means that, if I can ensnare enough data points, we can get a good snapshot of both the short and long-term attitudes and opinions of the participants, as well as how these might change over time.

From talking to the five or ten ICC kids I have run into during my time here it sounds like, by and large, they had an overwhelmingly positive experience. That their time in America dramatically improved their English and made them more confident and comfortable in who they are and where they come from. And while I don’t know if it has prevented any suicides, it certainly seems to have given the kids a broader perspective.

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