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'Eye-opening' sojourn for mayor

Maggard sees successes, problems in visit to pair of Asian countries

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RYAN M.L. YOUNG/THISWEEKNEWS
Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard poses for a portrait with a shawl she received as a gift during her recent trip to India and Sri Lanka. The official 17-day trip was federally funded.
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Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard says her journey to India and Sri Lanka last month with other government officials will help her in her personal and professional life.

"We have more in common with each other than we realize," said Maggard, adding that if governments in India and Sri Lanka -- with seemingly even greater divides than the United States government -- can make progress, improvements can be made here.

"That hit home with me, and I think it will help me both in my job and in my life," Maggard said about her Jan. 5-22 excursion as one of four participating members in the 2014 Fellows Program of the World Learning Organization.

Maggard called the experience "eye-opening" both personally and from the viewpoint of an administrator in learning how local government works in the countries she visited.

"I was surprised at how crowded it is in New Delhi, and about the conditions," said Maggard, alluding to the seemingly slow process of collecting refuse from city streets.

India is expected to elect a new prime minister in May, and there is a deadlock in the county's parliament stemming from stark disagreements and unwillingness to search for a compromise, she said.

"It's a little like what I see happen here," she said.

Maggard visited the U.S. Embassy in India, where she was briefed on short-term issues facing the country, such as political posturing, and long-term problems, including the country's growing population of youth without a job market to sustain them.

"(I was told that) every month about 1 million new young adults are entering the workforce," she said. "How can that be sustained?"

In some cases, young adults in India seek employment in China, where that country's former "one child per family" policy has reduced the number of adults in their early 20s, Maggard said.

After spending several days in New Delhi, Maggard flew to the southern city of Nagpur.

There, she visited a hospital.

Maggard said it was a "teaching hospital" where the cost of student tuition covers the hospital's operating expenses.

"It was understaffed and underequipped, but I was impressed with how much they could do with what they had," said Maggard, adding the cost of procedures and medicine is far less compared with the United States.

Maggard also visited a software company, Persistent Software, in Nagpur, and said she was struck by its clean and professional environment in a city where poverty was ubiquitous.

Maggard and others were interviewed by the Indian Times, a newspaper published in Hindi and English.

"The papers there have a phenomenal circulation and are widely read," said Maggard, in part, she added, because the Internet is less prevalent.

"But it's still hard to understand their English ... it has a different lilt and accents," she said.

Traveling from place to place often was a lengthy process, Maggard said.

"Everywhere we went in India, we were searched for guns and explosives," she said. "Our bags were searched each time we returned to the hotel ... men and women were searched separately."

Much of the security measures relate to ongoing problems with neighboring Pakistan, she said.

"But it's a normal way of life for them," Maggard said.

The amount of abject poverty she saw traveling between cities shocked her, she said.

"There are miles of shantytowns where families are living inside four walls with a tarp as a roof. There is so much poverty, but there is also wealth; it just doesn't trickle down."

Maggard visited the Taj Mahal, an edifice she called "inspiring." Maggard also visited the residence of Mahatma Gandhi.

She next traveled to Sri Lanka, where she said she was surprised by the lack of modern infrastructure.

She also visited a U.S. Embassy there and learned the Sri Lankan government -- which she described as corrupt -- was reluctant to accept reconciliation for actions during a civil war that ended in 2009.

"I found the government there turns a blind eye (to tactics employed during the civil war)," Maggard said.

On a personal note, Maggard said she experienced a stomach virus while in Sri Lanka.

"You have to be careful of what you eat, and we only ever had bottled water," she said.

"A doctor came to see me. There, doctors always come to visit patients at their homes."

Maggard paid in the local currency of rupees the equivalent of $36 for a house call and four prescriptions -- another example, she said, of the less-expensive health-care system.

Overall, Maggard said she had a renewed dedication to think globally, and instill in others the obligation to make the world a better place for everyone.

Maggard's 17-day trip was fully funded through the U.S. Department of State. She was joined by Joseph Garrity, legislative aide for Ohio Rep. Michael Stinziano (D-Columbus); Ebony Barley, director of the office of the mayor of Atlanta; and Monika Starczuk, program manager for Uniting AmeriCorps at the Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights.

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