Along with her classmates in the MISTI D-Lab Program, Simonson spent time in two different villages to study water scarcity, access to clean water, and use of a household water filtration system. In Chamba, Uttarakhand, a small village in the Himalayas, they worked with Himothan, an NGO which aims to improve access to clean drinking water across India. Simonson interviewed family members and led community discussions about the Xylem filter, which uses scrap wood from a coniferous tree native to northern India to produce clean drinking water. “As a team, we interviewed over 75 households, and lead group discussions and interviews with over 75 individuals in one week,” Simonson said. “I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and open people in the villages were. They invited us into their household and offered us chai.”
In Sirsi, Karnataka, which is in southern India, Simonson and the rest of the group worked with a local cooperative to conduct research about smallholder farmers. In Sirsi, water scarcity affects the strength of the trees, and breaking branches may injure farmers who climb the trees to harvest betel nuts.
Experiencing the Culture
During her research, Simonson and her classmates also had the opportunity to experience cultural events, and interact with local community members. One such event was a school play. During the show, Simonson began speaking with a group of students, who taught her some simple sayings in Kannada, the local dialect. “Seeing how joyfully the students shared their culture with me helped solidify my passion for learning about new cultures and ways of life,” remembered Simonson. “I will continue to look for ways to learn about new cultures in in-depth ways.” And although she currently does not have plans to return to India, Simonson hopes to go back in the future. “I miss the wonderful people, biodiversity, and landscape there.”