Sunday, 23 July 2017

Experience of adapting in rural India, and developing a new project of my choice - Cora

The post-adaptation phase at ViKAAS Centre, Harike

The intensity things are lived with here in Harike village that speed up the adaptation process, making one feel an integrated part of the community in no time. There are still of course, some aspects of life here that are difficult to adapt to but that one can learn to endure with a touch of patience. Take for example the distracting mosquito at night (which are then replaced by flies in the day) I will never adapt to these little guys but one gradually pay less and less attention to them.

Harike is a village on the banks of a river confluence and wetland bird sanctuary adjoining a national highway in north Indian state of Punjab where I work as a volunteer-intern with EduCARE India, an NGO engaged in rural sustainable development and community applied research.   

Once the adaptation phase comes to an end, the real work begins at the Harike ViKAAS Centre (ViKAAS means development in Hindi) . The novelty of being one of the only few foreigners in a rural village wears out pretty quickly and locals slowly start treating you like one of them this means losing the luxury of being treated like some prestigious princess from a faraway land but it also means gaining people's trust and respect, vital if you are attempting to reshape long-standing dynamics and mentalities.

When I first arrived in Harike, I knew I would be designing and implementing a project in what they refer to as "Women Empowerment", however I was unsure as to how I, a women from Europe with its culture of equality and opportunity, could ever be able to empower women who knew the hardships of life more than I could possibly imagine and who had become thick-skinned to battle through the daily challenges/hardships they faced. 

I had a vague idea of the various ways women were increasingly being empowered around the world (micro-finance projects, language and IT skills, practical skills development etc.) but I needed to find something that not only the women in the community would benefit from, but that I would also feel capable of carrying out. The first thing I had to decide was whether I would be working with adult women or concentrating more on girls and teenagers. Considering my stay in Harike was only three months I decided that whatever project I did would have a longer lasting effect on the younger generation.
With the freedom of choice made available by the NGO to volunteer interns for developing leadership skills, I wanted to design a project that encompassed as many aspects of EduCARE India's holistic SHEEE* approach as possible. I was adamant to start an innovative project that would eventually be community-led, run by the very same participants. The moment I became aware of the lack of opportunities for girls to practice team sports outside of school, I didn't have to think any further - I was going to start the first Girls Sports Club in Harike. Sports is the perfect vehicle towards empowerment since it fosters confidence, self-worth, team work and an endless list of skills to improve the quality of life of a woman. 

All the motivation, the dreams and aspirations were there and of course a bag filled with optimism (whether that was genuine or forced). However, the less romantic side of me also knew that I had to be realistic and that it was very probable that my project would flop or not even take off. To avoid disappointment in this unpredictable field of development, I told myself that as long as I tried my best I would be happy with the project results, regardless of whether they were a success or not. 
I had already had two very positive GSC sessions at the local government school, but the success of the project was going to be judged the following week, when the sessions were to be moved from government school to the ViKAAS centre. The girls were not going to be forced to attend the sessions by teachers anymore and it was going to be entirely up to them whether they wanted to show up or not. Aware of the difficulty in gathering a specific group of people, in a specific place at a specific time I spent the entire preceding week reminding the girls where and when to attend the session, never forgetting to transmit enthusiasm.
The day of that initial session at the ViKAAS centre arrived and I was bouncing with excitement and utter dread - what if no one showed up? What if my sales skills were so terrible that I hadn't even managed to convince a group of girls to attend a weekly sport session? After spending two hours setting up the room and the workshop (we were going to discuss the importance of breathing correctly) I went outside the office and began pacing up and down, hoping that the afternoon would run smoothly.

I checked my phone and felt a wave of sadness when I saw that it was 16:10 and no one had showed up. "It's fine" I told myself "it's all part of the experience" but deep down I was gutted. As soon as I turned around to go back into the office I heard my name being shouted from behind. I turned around and about 10 overly excited girls started running in my direction.  I am not exaggerating when I say that my heart was filled with extreme happiness when I saw that they were all wearing sports gear and all had a bottle of water in their hand (just as I had told them). I began the session with some breathing exercises and stretching and girls wouldn't stop showing up. Twenty minutes into the session and I was in charge of a class of 20 girls, my project was working after all. The session was extremely successful, so much so that the number of girls was increased to 35 the following week. This made me realise that once value is created among the community, half of the work for your project is done.
Cora Craigmile 
Project Manager,
Girls Sports Club
Women Empowerment
Harike, India
Aug 2017

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Food Security through small-scale Sustainable Desert Agriculture and Agro-forestry

Food security, the availability of food, and access to it, has been a concern in arid and semi-arid regions throughout the history.  The incidence and intensity of food insecurity have increased significantly in recent decades due to climate vagaries because of climate change.

In order to improve food security in such regions, desert agriculture and desert agro-forestry has been used as a successful agricultural technique.  Desert agro-forestry has been promoted for growing of crops with the environmental support of trees in desert or arid areas. Canals have been dug up to bring river waters to remote desert areas for desert-agriculture use.   

However, food security still remains an issue in some poor households in the rural desert areas of Rajasthan. A weak welfare infrastructure, widespread insecurity, frequent droughts and limited livelihood opportunities keep many residents in conditions of poverty and vulnerability.

Since 2016, we have initiated a project with a focus on food security and nutrition for women and poor households. The approach includes awareness, food and nutrition awareness, training and resource support to start micro/small scale household food gardens promoting cultivation of vegetables, herbs, food and fruit trees within the households or in the backyards as a mechanism to respond to nutritious food shortages. This project is expected to promote self-sustained initiatives by the affected families at grass-root levels through good case projects.

This project has varied components such as community research, education and awareness on food and nutrition to create a change in people’s mindsets about nutrition through continuing inter-personal and behavioural change communications.

This project is integrated with other projects such as health, women empowerment, micro-finance, grey-water sanitation, sustainable agriculture and organic farming, etc.
As per the 1996 World Food Summit, food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. And. food insecurity, on the other hand, is a situation of limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.

Food security incorporates a measure of resilience to future disruption or unavailability of critical food supply due to various risk factors including droughts, supply disruptions, fuel shortages, economic instability, and wars.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Connecting People to Nature - Environment Day, 2017

Our ViKAAS Centre teams including international interns, local volunteers and resource persons celebrated the Environment Day 2017 by engaging community members and schools in environment conservation related awareness workshops and tree plantations.

The photographs are as received from some of activities at our ViKAAS Centre facilities at:

  • Leh, Ladakh, JK-
    (Dani, Julien, Baani, Marta, Callas, Yangchin, Nzotpa)
  • Naddi / Kareri, Dharamsala, HP-
    (Andrew, Danielle, Maud, Giulia, Lauren, Malte, Shirly, Britt, Rekha, Atul)
  • Harike, Punjab-
    (Margault, Joshua, Gabriel, Ankita, Ankur, Gulshan)
  • Rangmahal-
    (Prachi, Dharampal)
  • Gajner, Rajasthan-
    (Haseena, Saddam, Jahangir, Manoj)
World Environment Day, is run by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), occurs on 5 June every year, and is the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment.

The theme for 2017 was set up as ‘Connecting People to Nature'. This theme highlighted the importance of clean environment to humanity, and encouraged people to appreciate those benefits “first-hand,” including the “beauty and diversity of nature that surrounds and sustains us.”

It gives more reason to every individual to step out visit a park, a mountain, ocean, river or forest; simply experience nature around you.  The day seeks to raise awareness globally for people to preserve and enhance the environment.

Billions of rural people around the world spend every working day ‘connected to nature’ and appreciate full well their dependence on natural water supplies and how nature provides their livelihoods in the form of fertile soil. They are among the first to suffer when ecosystems are threatened, whether by pollution, climate change or over-exploitation.

"environment activity leading to re-resurrection after 12-months"

Thursday, 15 December 2016

My first time in a non-Western country - Experience working with EduCARE India

As I climbed onto my first general bus in Delhi, I looked around anxiously as sweat dripped from every inch of my body and the adrenaline of being in the midst of chaos was the only thing keeping me from collapsing of exhaustion. It had been a twenty-three hour journey from San Francisco to Delhi, and I had just spent another eight hours in a bus station waiting for my bus to Dharamsala, where I was headed for induction. Once on the bus, it was another hot and grueling twelve hour trip pressed up against a metal pole and pushed around by an overflowing sea of people, all shouting and staring at me as if I was an alien. It was a rough first few days, but at least I knew from then on things could only get better. And I was right, for the most part.

This was my first time in a non-Western country, so the culture shock I faced was quite taxing. After you get past the intense heat and smells, constant honking, being bombarded by taxi drivers and being scammed out of money, you begin to notice other idiosyncrasies of the Indian culture, some of which I came to love. The sheer amount of people in one place was overwhelming, but the beautiful bright saris, smiling faces and friendly dispositions made being there worth it.

My initial culture shock never completely wore off during my time in India, especially as I kept experiencing new things that made me angry or upset. Starved dogs ran awry in the streets looking bruised and beaten, and it was a defeating feeling to know I couldn't do anything to help them. Cows, who are considered “holy” in India, trudged around in the street and appeared just as sickly. Piles of burning trash blanketed the ground for miles and filled my lungs with dust; and this was just the beginning.

I came into my internship unsure of what to expect— just like everyone, which I soon found out when I arrived. But adjusting to this new world became much easier as I started to meet all the positive and motivated people around me from all over the world. My two and a half month internship took place in Harike, Punjab and in Rait, Himachal Pradesh, so I was lucky to experience two different locations in India— both rural and poverty stricken, but diverse in their own ways.

In Harike, what surprised me the most was the absence of women outside in the village. At least for the short time I was there, I never once saw a woman walking in the street, which I soon learned was deliberate since most women are expected to never leave the house. When I transferred to the Rait center, this issue was not as prevalent and the village seemed slightly more progressive, but inequalities in the community were evident right outside our intern house. On one side of the road was a decently sized home with a family who owned healthy pets and grew their own vegetables in their backyard; across the path, homes were barely held together by metal, straw or wood with no signs of comfort in sight.

Living in a home-stay, working and interacting with the community is much different than traveling around India and seeing their world from the “outside.” Even through our challenges and difficulties, it was invaluable to experience the true Indian culture and spend time with the locals, especially in rural and impoverished areas: the reality that makes up the majority of India.

The most eye-opening part of my project was engaging with the women in the community and listening to their stories and daily struggles. It changed my perspective on everything, and made the things I complain about in my daily life seem pretty laughable. As well as spending time with the women and getting to learn about the Indian health care system firsthand, the best part of this internship were my peer interns who played such a big role in my life at the center. I learned so much from all of them, and they still serve as my reminders of all the good people in this world. My internship with EduCARE India was foremost a learning experience and is one which I will never regret going through. Although my disappointment at the end was that I did not accomplish what I wanted, I know now that I gained a sense of knowledge I couldn’t have elsewhere, especially back in the states. My time here has also solidified my thoughts about pursuing a job as a travel nurse. For me to be able to provide a ray of light for people surviving in desperate conditions, even for a moment, is what I hope to do someday.

While there were parts of India that I saw as a complete mess, I came to learn that much of it was a kind of organized chaos; one that worked for people, and my initial shock turned into more of a sense of wonderment by the end of my stay. It may be different than the standards I have at home, but that does not always mean it’s wrong— just different. Some of my favorite moments in India were seeing children’s faces beaming with joy and curiosity, and experiencing the sincere kindness of families who would offer us food or chai even if they barely had enough for themselves. Some of the happiest people I met were some of the least materially well-off.

Stepping out of my comfort zone opened my world, and the people I met showed me that life is not about living in luxury. Life is about being happy.


Sarah Cole - USA
Health Project Manager in Rait