Thursday evening in Chennai: We were out eating in the Hilton hotel, because for Western people, expensive hotels and restaurants seem the only safe places to eat without risking an upset stomach the next day. So we had a nice meal and a drink at the rooftop bar. A decent evening to end the conference time with. When we stepped out of the hotel to get either a taxi or a Tuk-Tuk, one of my fellow students poked my arm and said, “Freddy, look there on the opposite site of the street.” I saw a row of people sleeping on the pavement. Was I surprised? No, not really. We are in India, a country in which a high percentage of the population earns less than a pound a day.
We spent most of our time in the ITC Grand Chola, one of India’s most expensive and luxurious hotels. The venue for the conference. Someone once asked, “Why are all of the WBCSD events in luxury hotels?” A reasonable question, considering that the reason for the conference is sustainability. “It’s safer” was the easy answer. Some of the participants did not leave the hotel for the whole period they’ve been in Chennai. Chennai shall be the most sustainable city in India, but how do they know? How do they know what they have to do if they never experienced the problems? When we went out for a little shopping experience, the streets were incredibly dirty. Plastic waste, food, dirty dogs and excrements everywhere. It’s India sure, but does it have to be like that? The companies included in this conference are Global Player, but is what they do helpful when the normal, small people are left out in the master plan? Shouldn’t we, first of all, start giving those homeless people on the opposite side of the Hilton a better life and clean the streets before we start engaging in bigger environmental projects? What is more important, fighting against climate change or fighting against hunger and for clean water? First-world problems against second- and third-world problems.
It was my first time in a non-western country and I was impressed by how less you need to be happy. We visited a girl’s school in a slum outside of Chennai and those little girls got so excited when they saw the taxis and us inside. We had to sing a song for them and dance with them. The smiles on our and the girl’s faces wouldn’t go away for hours. This afternoon in Chennai’s slum was so different to all of our work in the conference but so much more real and concrete. The time with those girls was one of the most impressive moments in my life.
The one thing I take away from the eight days in India is that sustainability has so many different aspects and that you need to go outside and dive into the culture to truly understand what people and the planet need and how you can help and make a change. Callum said in his blog post that we must be champions for change, I would go even further and say we must be warriors with “change” in capitals on our emblem. Go out and experience the world!
by Frederike Kress