Chase Hommeyer ’14, a Lick alumna, is spending a gap year between Lick-Wilmerding and Princeton University in Varanasi, India through Princeton’s Bridge Year Program. The Hyphen’s interview team entered into an email correspondence with Chase for an exclusive Hyphen interview. This is the first of a series of articles detailing select gap year experiences of LWHS alumni.
1. When and why did you first decide to go to India? What were your initial hopes and fears about the trip?
I actually decided to take a gap year before I decided I wanted to go to India. In my opinion it was the decision to take the gap year that was more important; t took the most thought and courage to forego going straight to college. Once I had decided, it wasn’t scary to decide to go to India with the Princeton Bridge Year program. At the beginning of senior year, I decided to take a gap year before starting college, not because I felt burned out but because I was starting to be plagued with questions like “Where am I blindly rushing off to and why?” and “What do I actually care about and what is just ambition?” I wanted to give myself some time off to figure out stuff like this! I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted time to be challenged as a person instead of as a student…and being in Varanasi, India challenged me.. This city has a special way of walloping you in the face every day that is both endearing and overwhelming.
2. Describe the NGO, Guria, that you’re working for full-time. What are its goals? What is your role in the program?
Guria is an organization based in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh that fights human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in Northern India. Guria’s model is holistic, tackling the issue from every angle: rescue operations, legal intervention, education and prevention, and advocacy. Ajeet Singh, the founder and director of Guria has a really unique vision for how change is created. He doesn’t believe in impersonal projects or throwing money at a problem. He and the entire Guria team have literally dedicated their entire lives to stopping human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. They are an incredibly small team which allows them to stay innovative and dynamic, as well as integrate into the community and forge the trust and credibility required to make real change. In the morning I work in the office and in the afternoons I work at one of Guria’s non-formal educations centers for the children of sex workers in the red light district of Varanasi. I help out with everything, but most frequently I help out with grant writing, volunteer coordination, social media outreach. Recently, I’ve started a project for Guria to involve 100 Schools around the world in an art exchange leading to an exhibit on March 18,2015, so that has taken up the majority of my time!
3. What does a typical day look like for you in India?
I wake up at my host family’s home at 6:20 and bike to our “program house” where I eat breakfast with the six other Princeton Bridge Year students at 7 a.m. I bike to work at 9, get there by 10 (things in India open late,) work until 2:30 p.m., when I eat lunch with Ajeet Ji and his family at his house in the downstairs floor of the office. Then I bike to the red light district to get the Guria’s center there, work and play with kids until 4, then at 5:30 bike to either Hindi class or the Ayurvedic medicine and massage course I’m taking (depending on the day). Then I go home to eat with my family at 8; I’m in bed by 9:30.
4. How has your outlook on yourself or your experience at Lick changed over these past months?
I’m not sure if I am going to express this in a way that makes sense, but being in India for this long has made me really question the way people and religions and institutions try to label the human experience. There are so many ways that people try to explain what our purpose is: to be happy, to make others happy, to get into heaven, to escape reincarnation, to fight injustice, to fight the enemy…but sometimes I am biking to work past cows, buffaloes, dogs, baby humans, old humans, teenage humans, etc. etc. and it occurs to me how weird life is. We all put labels on what we are doing: working hard, having fun, helping others…but really no one knows what they are doing! Being in India has made me less judgmental of all types of life, because how can you judge something that you barely understand?