ACCESS: AJC's new generation

...engaging today’s critical domestic and international issues.

Working at the nexus between the Jewish community and the world, ACCESS reaches out to diplomats, policy makers and young leaders of diverse religious and ethnic communities.


Lunch on Last Day with Journalists
Monday, March 8

The ACCESS trip was topped off by a lunch meeting with two journalists. Pramit Pal Chaudhuri covers foreign policy and security for Hindustan Times, which he loosely equated to the Washington Post, while his wife, Indrani Bachi, writes for the Times of India, loosely equated to the New York Times. I got to speak at length with Mr. Chaudhuri, and one thing he said that struck me was that although the Indian government does not guarantee freedom of speech, newspapers generally don’t have to worry about censorship because of the sheer number of papers, Mr. Chaudhuri cited thousands. How could a government manage to censor them all? Instead newspapers are more concerned with bribery of reporters by corporations, and Stockholm Syndrome when reporters become biased toward the people they cover.

Mr. Chaudhuri was very impressive in that he was extremely well-versed in the myriad issues we discussed, everything from the US Civil Nuclear Deal (which he covered) to microfinance to a recent study he told us about that revealed the conservative nature of young Indians.

Sarah Hiller
Lunch with Members of Parliament 
Friday, March 5

On Friday, our group had the opportunity to have lunch with younger members of Parliament and Israeli embassy DCM. I preferred lunch meetings because they are less formal and I think people talk more freely than they would in an office meeting room. I got to chat with at least four MPs. One of them told me about an incentive program he started to encourage girls to stay in school and get good grades. He said the girls receive bicycles, clothing, and cash throughout their primary school career. The scheme is working well, so well, in fact, that they’ve extended the program to boys.

On a cultural note, the MPs were delayed coming to the lunch because Prime Minister Singh was making a speech. By then our group had grown accustomed to the, shall we say, “flexible” schedules in India. Given that I’m living in Latin America, I’m very used to people being late, but the Indian culture seemed even more laid back. A person may not even show up to a meeting at all, and their absence is neither meant as inconsiderate, nor is it thought by others to be inconsiderate or out of the ordinary. It’s just a fact. Thankfully, this happened to us only a couple of times, and we just rolled with it.

Sarah Hiller
One of My Favorite and Most Memorable Parts of the Trip
Monday, March 1

Traditionally (and to over-simplify it), Holi is a holiday celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs to commemorate Prahlad triumphing over failed attempts to kill him. In India, it’s also a chance to have a raucous good time literally throwing and smearing brilliant-colored paint and water onto friends and strangers alike—pedestrian beware. For me, Holi was an opportunity to be a kid again, and most poignant, to peek into the lives of a few dozen vibrant girls aged 4-17 who formerly lived in Dharavi, one of the largest slums in Asia. Now they live just a few feet away in an organization called Social Change for Girls, a haven of sisterhood, education, health and even technology. For instance, I was blown away when their program director asked them how many of them have Facebook profiles, and a dozen of their obedient hands shot up in the air. I’m already e-pen pals with one of the girls.

It was here, with these wonderful girls, where we were brutally assaulted from all sides with powder paint. We ran circles around each other inside the small room we were in. Everyone was armed with at least a handful of paint powder wrapped up in a pouch made of newspaper. Some girls ran around, happily shrieking and throwing the paint, while other girls stopped to gingerly, caringly rub paint on our cheeks, forehead and hair.

Our satchels of paint finally ran out after an hour. By then, the floor was covered with a generous layer of paint powder. We plopped down on it and the program director shared the background of the organization, and then our Access group asked questions directly to the girls about their everyday life. The girls’ responses reflected extremely well on the work of the organization, and it struck me that they are so happy, even though they have some of the toughest backgrounds.

The Holi fun continued on the streets after we left Social Change for Girls. Even the cows and goats roaming the streets fell victim to rogue paint throws, their fur splashed with colors. It truly was a day I’ll never forget.

Sarah Hiller