David L. Boren Awards for International Study

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Fellow Profile: Environmental Security in India

Published in January 2012 Newsletter

Colin Holmes, Boren Fellow, India

Colin Holmes
2006 Boren Fellow
Hindi, India
Brandeis University
Field of Study: Sustainable International Development

In 2005, during a meeting with a small group of graduate students at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, I learned for the first time about the Boren Fellowship.  I thought it was an incredible opportunity.  I knew I wanted to do environment-related international development work in India, and after a few weeks of brainstorming, I crafted a research proposal that involved studying Hindi while looking at the long-term impact of watershed development projects in India.  My focus was on environmental/water security and I found an excellent non-governmental organization, the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), to work with and support my research.  I already had a start on Hindi due to a previous experience living in India as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. My Boren proposal aimed to build on that foundation to bring me up to working-level proficiency.

Speaking Hindi was an integral part of my Boren experience.  For the first seven weeks in India I studied in an intensive one-on-one Hindi language program at the Landour Language School in Mussoorie, Uttaranchal, India.  For the next seven months, I continued my studies alone and with tutors.  I was able to work with two different tutors; one was a fellow coworker and another was a retired Hindi teacher.  I had a busy research and travel schedule.  Still, I studied Hindi alone and met with my tutors regularly.  I practiced conversation with my taxi drivers who only spoke Hindi and Gujarati.  I also often used a combination of Hindi and English while conducting focus group meetings.  On field visits I used Hindi to interview farmers and members of water users groups.  On several occasions, I had the good fortune to conduct these visits along with Dr. Satish Sharma, a dynamic, veteran Indian forester from the Rajasthan Forest Department.  My conversations with Dr. Sharma taxed my Hindi skills but enabled me to learn a great deal about the regeneration of degraded forest ecosystems – a critical component of many plans to improve the management of watersheds.

While in India I stayed in a hostel at the National Dairy Development Board campus in Anand, Gujarat, and I worked out of FES headquarters nearby.  To complete my research, I traveled to four Indian states, interviewed scores of watershed management researchers and practitioners, and made many field visits to see the short and long-term impact of watershed management activities.  In the end, I created a 100 plus page field manual for FES with a strategy and concrete indicators and methods for measuring the long-term ecological and biophysical impact of watershed management activities.  FES was happy with my work and went on to improve and use the manual in their operations.

After completing my master’s degree in sustainable international development in 2007, I found a job with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), my preferred federal agency.  I began on a limited term appointment and have since been accepted into the USAID Foreign Service.   My first assignment will be two years in Nepal.  Recently, I passed the Hindi exam to meet a tenure requirement to become a tenured Foreign Service Officer.  I can say with confidence that without the incredible experience I had as a Boren Fellow in India, conducting practical research and learning Hindi, I would not be where I am today.