Melissa DeLury ’10 received an MA in International Peace Studies from Trinity College, Dublin, and currently works as a Program Assistant at City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies. DeLury recently won a Fulbright-Nehru Open-Study/Research Award that will fund a project of hers in India. Upon learning that DeLury had earned this great honor, One Thing after Another hastened to ask her a series of question about her award.
Q: What is your Fulbright project, and what do you hope to achieve?
A: My project explores the effectiveness of the Indian Right to Education Act (RTE) in the state of Madhya Pradesh. RTE stipulated that every child in the 6-14 age group has a right to “full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school which satisfies certain essential norms and standards.” The state governments are essentially responsible for carrying out this act. However, hardly any monitoring and evaluating mechanisms exist in the region that could assess if current efforts are addressing the barriers to education in Madhya Pradesh’s rural communities, which is the goal of this project. India places such a high importance on education, and it’s one of the key pillars of the US-India relationship. I’ll be working with Dr. Nirmala Menon (a former English professor at Saint A’s!) at the Indore Institute of Technology in Madhya Pradesh. I’ll be traveling to schools in rural areas within Madhya Pradesh to conduct interviews and focus groups with students, families, educators, and community-based organizations to ascertain what barriers exist to accessing education. All findings will then be digitally shared through IIT’s Digital Humanities Research Group.
Q: How did you become interested in working in India?
A: India’s history is incredible, and I’ve always been interested in the culture. After I working in New York City for No Peace Without Justice and the International Crisis Group, I was looking for field experience in education development before going to graduate school. In 2012, an opportunity presented itself, through a family friend, to work in schools throughout the country for four months. Living and working alongside local communities in educational facilities enabled me to become more deeply connected to the population that I was serving. I saw that education was valued because it was the means to improve livelihoods and create opportunities for success. I also found that rural areas did not always receive the same quality and access of education as other areas which inspired my research in graduate school and this Fulbright project. I knew that I had to come back!
Q: What are the challenges of working in India?
A: The two challenges that immediately come to mind are language and poverty. Hindi is the language spoken throughout the country. However, there are 22 official languages and many more dialects! When I went in 2012, I traveled from Goa, Bhopal, Nagar Haveli, Jaipur, to Varanasi—and every city had a different dialect. I felt like I couldn’t truly connect with the communities that I was serving. This time on the Fulbright grant, I’ll be proficient in Hindi, which I’m really excited about. Knowing the local language shows that you respect and appreciate the culture, and this will lead to stronger relationships. The other challenge is the level of poverty that you see throughout the country. When you see children and families suffering, you wonder what you’re doing—why you’re not working to help. This was also something that Spring Break Alternative, through Saint A’s Campus Ministry, focused on. I would have to think of Mother Teresa when she said “we cannot do all things, but small things with great love” and Father Oscar Romero when he claimed that “we plant the seeds that someday grow.” Bringing awareness to the barriers to accessing education in this small area of India will hopefully lead to greater access.
Q: What do you find rewarding about working in India?
A: The depth of its culture. Even when you first meet someone, you greet one another by saying “Namaste” or “my soul acknowledges your soul.” What a beautiful way to enter into a new relationship or conversation! It’s also reflective of the country, as everything usually has a deeper meaning behind it. I think this speaks to the incredible history of India, which as a history major I could not get enough of. India, like every country, has had its struggles. However, the beauty of its history is that all the different communities throughout the country, with their different languages, customs, and so on have often lived peacefully together for thousands of years. Also, I think it’s very rewarding to work on education projects here because there is such a desire to learn, and Indians do value education a great deal. I was amazed at how brilliant my students were when I was there in 2012. I led a seminar that discussed the ways in which American and Indian politics and history are both similar and different. They knew more about the upcoming presidential election than I did! By entering this country with a respect for their history and culture, I think you’d be amazed by the respect and generosity that you’ll receive in return. That is the most rewarding thing of working in India. Well, that and the food!
Q: How has the history major helped?
A: The history major helped in so many ways. First, it provided the skills that I needed to be successful in my positions after college and especially graduate school. I gained research, writing, editing, and presentation skills, as well as the ability to think critically. Secondly, it piqued my interest in peacebuilding and education. Through my classes in Russian, Middle Eastern, and African history, I became aware of the cyclical nature of conflict. I remember thinking “how can we use our knowledge of history to help break the cycle of conflict and achieve peace?” Often, it was through education and dialogue that peace was achieved. This is really the backbone of my Fulbright project. Lastly, I think the faculty of the history department is the most supportive. They were always to accessible and so passionate about what they were teaching! As an alumni, I’ve always been able to reach out to Professor Pajakowski and the department, which is how I started the conversation about pursuing a Fulbright through Saint Anselm. As a history major, you’ll always have the support of the department years after you graduate.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: I believe that education is the key to peace. My goal is to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of education policies and programs internationally. This Fulbright project is an incredible opportunity to learn how to do this and then use the research at the doctoral level. Eventually, I want to teach at the college level and also collaborate with leading NGOs and government agencies to evaluate our education programs overseas.