Going from an intern to working in the Water Team

Shanmitha grew up in a small textile town and studied Economics in Chennai.
The reason why she chose to study economics was because she thought that it was about taking “the best decision out of what is available”.

When Shanmitha got an internship at Keystone Foundation during 2016, she was working with the economics on water and advocacy. When she joined Keystone, she got to deal with a lot of government data on springs and water. Later,  she had the opportunity to work with the NFLC, Nilgiris Field Learning Centre.

“Wow! It was an amazing time”, she says with a glimpse in her eyes.

The fieldwork she did through the NFLC was a nice balance in between her master studies. Since she is bilingual, in both Tamil and English, she got to work as a translator, but also got to learn and observe field research in dept. She enthusiastically tells, that she realised that when you do a field research “you get to be there, and learn the very small, small techniques, that you don’t learn otherwise, or you don’t pay attention to otherwise”.


Broadening her views while working as a Translator

During her studies in economics, it was all about analysing the already existing data, but while she was watching the people doing field research she was able to see what kind of information they would pick up and the methods they applied for getting the content that was going to be analysed.
It was like looking back, from scratch, like how to get that information, speak with people and find the trapdoor, and the methods and the techniques.
This gave her a base of understanding regarding where all the statistics and records comes from. She enjoyed the work as a translator, since she learned a lot by observing the volunteers who did the data collecting and the methods they used during the field research.

While bringing up the work as a translator in the NFLC, she adds that she “had a lovely time with the kids” but never thought that she would have trouble in translating in her own mother tongue, since there were some words in Tamil that she had never heard before, which she got to learn during this job, which she expresses with a laugh.


Working with the Water Team

Later on, she got to be part of the water team at Keystone, where she is working on organising and analysing periodical water discharge and quality data collected by field volunteers, who are from different indigenous communities. She says that working with the water team is more than just collecting data and analysing it.
I get to interact with people, see the village and also see how much the local governments have impacted and how effective it is.


Sensing the statistics

Shanmitha passionately adds that when she goes on field visits, the work she is doing is not only about water or looking at the water scarcity problems. It is more than that; it is also about ”the land and rights” where the governance and health team is cooperating together with the water team in terms of health issues and sanitation, as well as looking at how the plants impact the springs and overall surroundings.

The field visits have helped her to make sense about data, going beyond statistics and numerics.
 You don’t see numbers as numbers then… you see the importance of these numbers in someone else’s life. This, I didn’t expect at all. I realised that the work that I do is just not like only that I get paid for it, but it also helps the entire community. That is something I really like about this work. The work that you do each and every day, the efforts that you put in, you see the effect that happens in the communities, the people…”


The Future Goals

When the question about her future plans comes up, she waits for a minute and says decisively, that she really wants to work on a policy and advocacy level in the future. Working at Keystone has helped her to narrow down her mind into development, especially economic development, and helped her to be more encouraged to go further and seize the opportunities that comes up.


Text: Dilan Cetinkaya