Internship and Research at the Centre for Research and Education for Social Transformation (CREST)
Based in the state of Kerala, India, CREST provides skills training for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) youth who continue to suffer from stigma and social exclusion, despite a legal regime that endeavors to protect them. The trainees at CREST have graduated from state universities, yet face discrimination when they seek jobs in the private sector, especially prestigious jobs in multinationals. At CREST, trainees improve their conversational English, upgrade academic and computer skills, and learn how to present themselves with confidence and polish. The goal of CREST is to enable trainees to compete with job applicants from more privileged backgrounds, and overcome the prejudice that still impedes their social mobility and full participation in India’s modern economic sectors.
I visited CREST in 2010, and saw that there was the potential for a rich, two-way exchange in which CREST students and U of T students could learn about each others’ lives, to mutual benefit. For the U of T students, the placement at CREST would give them a unique opportunity to learn about Kerala, and specifically about the challenges faced by young people facing significant obstacles in pursuit of their personal and career goals. For the CREST students, there would be opportunities to find out about the lives of young people in Canada, and their own challenges around studies, work, family expectations, popular culture, and other topics besides. CREST agreed to receive 6 interns in the summer of 2015. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences covered part of the travel costs through the Dean’s International Initiatives Fund. I recruited the student-interns, selecting 6 with a relevant academic background in anthropology, gender/equity studies, adult education or related fields. I also sought students with practical skills (eg as peer counsellors, residence dons, summer camp leaders, drama coaches) and – above all – maturity, flexibility and a good sense of humour.
The role of the U of T student-interns at CREST was to assist the staff by coaching and mentoring trainees individually, and by organizing activities to develop the trainees’ confidence, and overcome cultural barriers to communication. The academic objective for the U of T student-interns was to learn about social exclusion in India through direct exchanges and discussions with trainees and staff in both formal, classroom settings and through informal interactions at CREST and on visits to the surrounding towns and villages, as opportunities presented. To prepare for their work, U of T students read up on Kerala, on caste, on systemic inequality, and looked into some theories that could help guide their research, namely Arjun Appadurai on ‘the capacity to aspire” and Pierre Bourdieu on social, cultural and symbolic capital. Anthropology faculty member Dr Francis Cody gave a lecture on caste and its transformations, and we held several briefing sessions covering logistics and “do’s and don’ts.” Inevitably, there were challenges, surprises, and things that did not go according to plan. But the group was resourceful, and with the guidance of CREST faculty, they found their way.
Warm thanks to everyone who helped make this happen!
Tania Li, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto, Canada
Read about a feature on CREST published by Open
Magazine, New Delhi in August 2015: Open – The Freedom Issue 24 AUG 15 (1)