We're giving OAT travelers the gift of cultural understanding, one special day at a time
The village of Ramsinghpura, India, rises with the sun. As the men head to the farms to tend their crops in the early morning light, the women attend to the household chores and send the children off to school. The wildlife of nearby Ranthambhore National Park does not roam on these narrow roads—and neither do the tourists who come from far and wide. After all, you don't often see scenes of everyday village life in the glossy pages of travel brochures or guidebooks.
At Grand Circle Foundation, however, we believe that these seemingly ordinary moments are the very essence of cultural understanding—which is the driving force behind our Day in the Life initiative. Featured on most Overseas Adventure Travel itineraries, A Day in the Life brings travelers off of the typical tourist's path and into the heart of villages like Ramsinghpura, India—where the local people open the doors to their homes, schools, and workplaces to offer an authentic glimpse of their way of life.
In Ramsinghpura, this begins with a short stroll. Travelers visit the village grocer to see what types of goods are available for sale. Then, they stop by the health clinic. Established by the government primarily to immunize children against infectious diseases, the clinic hosts biweekly doctor visits to benefit the community. Across the street, a city council building called Mahila Mandir focuses on women's health issues, such as prenatal care and gynecological specialties. In rural villages throughout India, centers like this one are incentivizing women with cash to give birth in hospitals as opposed to their homes—because the government knows it's the one surefire way to improve the country's abnormally high infant and maternal mortality rates. "The honest discussion of controversial issues like this one is an important aspect of A Day in the Life," says Iliyas Mohammed, our Regional General Manager in India. "This is real life, after all, so no topic is off limits."
A special highlight of every Day in the Life is a visit to a local school, because it's always enlightening to see how other cultures educate their children. In Ramsinghpura, around 125 students attend the Saini Adarsh Vidya Mandir Village School—where Grand Circle Foundation has given $7700 for books, electric fans, three new classrooms, and lavatory facilities. Witnessing lessons here, travelers can learn a lot about how religious traditions in India have become secularized—like the morning prayers, for example, which aren't so much prayers as they are pledges to make the world a better place. Similarly, India's modern attitude toward teachers evolved from a Hindu tradition that teachers were to be worshipped second only to the gods. "Today, it's not a religious belief, but a cultural one," says Iliyas. "Yet children still remove their shoes upon entering a school, just as they would at a temple."
More than just passive observation, A Day in the Life offers ample opportunity to chat with locals and get a firsthand perspective on their lives. At the Saini Adarsh Vidya Mandir Village School, Principal Lalu Ram joins travelers for a Q&A session about education. A bit later, the group heads to a local home to enjoy tea and snacks and learn about family dynamics. They can tour the household and perhaps join their hostess in baking fresh naan bread—which is made on a stove outside, rather than in the kitchen.
The day in Ramsinghpura ends with a visit to a women's cooperative, which offers women a way to earn income through the creation of traditional handcrafts. Travelers learn about the purpose of the organization directly from the woman who runs it, and have the opportunity to try their hand at block printing. Since most travelers like to return home with handmade souvenirs of their journey, cooperatives like this one serve a dual purpose: the travelers can purchase beautiful items without questioning their authenticity; and the artisans reap the economic benefits directly without paying a fee to a "middle man."
By the end of each Day in the Life, our travelers have experienced something that most visitors can rarely say they've seen: an honest look at another culture that isn't dressed up for the sake of tourism. As responsible travelers and true world citizens, we feel it's just as important—if not more so—than monuments, wildlife, or scenery. We like to think of it as bridging the gaps between cultures … one Day in the Life at a time.