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A week of surprises

The week of travelling all over the north of India is now over and we’re now working on our fifteen minute presentation which we give either tomorrow or the day after to the Princess Royal and the rest of the conference. Our group has seen a lot. Reforestation of mining areas, the installation of electricity (via water turbines) in the most rural villages, schools for the poor set up by philanthropists and corporates, an artificial limb centre – the biggest in the world – that manages to see people, fit them and send them home walking in just one day. The ‘barefoot college’, providing vocational training to the poorest in the community, so helping them to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty. And the most stunning scenery, most hospitable people and inspirational community entrepreneurs.

The new India is growing at an extraordinary rate. Last night we spent the evening at a friend’s flat, in a development area that makes Canary Wharf look small. There was nothing there the last time I visited five years ago. The shopping malls are state of the art. The ubiquitous golden arches of McDonalds are dotted everywhere. Everyone has a mobile phone. But living only miles from such developments are communities that haven’t changed much in three hundred (or three thousand?) years. The kids may wear spiderman tee shirts, but their aspirations are very limited.

We have spent an enormous amount of time travelling – hardly surprising in this large country. We’ve been on express trains, public buses, taxis and even walked a bit! I’ve jogged a few times in the early morning. For three days we were transported in a convoy of gleaming Hindustani Ambassador cars – manufactured today to the same 1950 design of the Morris Traveller.

I have come to know the other 12 people in my group extremely well. We can hardly believe that in a couple of days we’ll be heading back to our respective countries and normal lives. Our group has ‘formed, stormed and normed’ in classic style, helped by the fact that we have had some extraordinary experiences together, sharing the same food (and associated stomach complications), bedrooms and bathrooms!I will not bore you, yet, with what I’ve learned about leadership and development. Suffice to say that, even after this intense experience is over, I suspect that I won’t be quite the same person I was when I left the UK. (And a good thing too, I hear you cry in unison)It will feel strange being able to get a decent coffee in a few days time. To be able to go somewhere on my own. To sleep in a bed without hearing the snores of others. To arrive somewhere new without having to say, “hello, my name’s John, I’m from the UK, can you tell me where your lavatory is?”

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