Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Six months with EduCARE India

Living and working in India for six months did a lot for me. I learned to appreciate the things that seems so common, like access to electricity and clean water. I met the most amazing and inspiring people, and was overwhelmed by the Indian hospitality and generosity. India also turned me into this crazy stealing-toilet-paper-from-hotels-woman, so I would not have to blow my nose again with a newspaper in a country where tissues are scarce. It often pushed me to my limits, with a hole in the ground as a toilet, or people looking over the walls when you already have limited private space. India drove me nuts sometimes, but mostly gave me memories that will last a lifetime. 

I was part of the team that started up the new centre in Rangmahal. Since the villagers had not seen any foreigners in sixty years, I often felt like I was living in a zoo. More often than not at least twenty people would watch me eat, dance, even work. But as they got more used to us, this curiosity turned into a genuine interest in us as persons. Over time, people addressed me as sister or daughter instead of foreigner. Even though the communication was like those of cavemen, I could feel I was building strong relationships with people in the community. 

Slowly we started setting up projects. I saw the girls growing more confident and developing their personalities. Also they learned to appreciate each other more, and even new friendships developed amongst them. This was a beautiful thing to experience. We were also able to spread more awareness about topics like menstruation, stereotypes and domestic violence via workshops at the school. Topics that were taboos at first, now became subjects that were openly discussed amongst the students.

Despite these amazing experiences, there are also still some things I question about the organization. The organization is very dynamic, with interns coming and going every few months. For me it is hard to understand how a organization as dynamic as this one can create a sustainable change. I think the organization would be more effective with a solid team of employees, supported by a team of interns that bring new innovative ideas. Furthermore, I believe it would benefit the organization to have more Hindi speakers. The language barrier makes it often hard to give your projects a push, and you have to work around this. However, this is not possible for everything, which leaves you being stuck at a certain level.

Working for EduCARE was a great personal experience. I feel that in this half year, I gained five years of life experience. I got the opportunity to develop deep relationships with Indian families and experience the diversity of India by travelling to different districts. I definitely fell in love with this amazing, complex country and will have to kick off from all the chai. 

Lovely India, thank you for everything!

Iris Workum - The Netherlands
                                   Women's Empowerment Project Manager and Coordinatorin RangMahal

Sunday, 18 September 2016

What did I learn in India?

As Marcel Proust said:

«Le véritable voyage de découverte ne consiste pas à chercher de nouveaux paysages, mais à avoir de nouveaux yeux» // «The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes» 

- My look upon the world has changed, regarding : 

How I perceive the inequalities (poor/rich differences, people living in the street, gender inequalities especially regarding girls that are forbidden to pursue their education after a certain age, arranged mariage…)

How I perceive India, and the culture : I didn’t have that many expectations, I maybe was
beautifying the Indian culture and that issues that they had…

I realised the importance of education, regarding women's empowerment and the destiny of these women.

- My look upon myself has changed :

I’ve realized, (even though I was kind of aware of it) that I would like to be a teacher and that education is something really important to succeed in life and to gain more self confidence, self esteem and self accomplishment.

Talking about the people I have met, how they have changed my perceptio and my way to look at things.

For having lived in India for almost three months now, I can assert that my view on wealth and gender inequalities that are deeply rooted into the Indian culture have changed. Inequalities, especially regarding inequalities of income and opportunity, have always been topics that have upset me. I knew before coming to India that it would be hard for me to see certain things as children pulling on my clothes and begging for money and disabled people sitting on the street. And, indeed, on the first weeks, it was. I was aware of the caste system as well and I felt really bad when thinking about it.

I also knew that coming to India I will witness  gender-based and unequal rules, such as our way of dressing. I was aware that I would work with some Indian girls that start skipping school after primary or middle school in order to do household chores, that I would meet married women, young and old, who have not chosen their husband and I felt quite challenged about it.

Then I came to Harike. I have met the women and children at the temple community  with whom we are working with and the girls from the migrant community. I have encountered a lot of people in the streets, on public transport, in shops, at school, at the temple, at their homes, as well as interns from India and abroad with whom I had great conversations. Observing and witnessing these people’s lives and talking with them gives a different approach to how I consider inequalities, which is a different perception than when I was watching dramatic documentaries or reading sad testimonies regarding « these poor and unlucky Indian people ».

The first time I stepped in the migrant community, I felt pretty shocked and upset by all these houses made out of sheets of metal, straw, and wood. The children, beaming with joy, quickly ran to me, and the girls smiled so much as they welcomed me, that I progressively forgot how poor they are compared to how rich their hearts are.  In my eyes, they progressively have become strong and deserving girls that aspire to be teachers or beauty parlour women that are eager to learn and get over gender inequalities.

Over the Girls Clubs meetings, I got to know the girls better along with their aspirations and goals in life, especially concerning Jyoty and Kyran, the two most engaged girls and sisters.

In the temple community, I am working with Neetu, 14, who is attending the Girls Club and Babu, 20, who is a woman engaged with us to make products and attend English lessons. Although she is very young, Neetu is not allowed by her family to go to school. She stays at home to do household chores. Babu, one year younger than me, has a baby and can barely read or write. However, they are both really eager to learn and be engaged with us. Even though I feel lucky to go to university and to be able to earn my own money afterwards, I do not feel I am anybody to judge their lives. They are surrounded by their families and seem to be happy in this way. They will definitely continue to be engageg in English classes and Girls Club though, because education is the key that leads to self-accomplishment and self-esteem and that could empower them.  bMy previous angry and rebellious feeling toward these unfair situations is in a way fading away as I accept the reality as it is.

Furthermore, sharing opinions, ideas, and facts, about the Indian culture and mindset with some Indian people, has progressively changed the way I consider inequalities in India.

My pitiful view progressively broke down and became a realistic opinion. No one is totally a victim, no one is completly guilty, and everyone is just trying to survive and to be happy. As an EduCARE intern, I can try to bring these people some new perspectives, and attempt to rebalance these inequalities. That is the least I can do.

Delphine Lavernhe - France
ASP and Girls Club Project Manager in Harike

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Leaving India

Wow. I can’t believe this is the end of my internship. Part of me feels like I’ve been here forever, but at the same time it seems like I just arrived in Delhi yesterday. 

There’s so much I could say in this blog post, but I want to keep it simple and to the point. Expect the unexpected. Unless you’ve been to India, lived in a developing country for an extended period of time, or something similar, then you’re not going to be fully prepared for what you will experience here. Don’t let that scare you though because if you have the right attitude, you will benefit in many ways from this experience. 

Come with your expectations, goals, and inspiration because you’re going to need all of those things. EduCARE will do their best to make this a beneficial and enjoyable time for you, but you can’t forget that you are here to work. I came to India planning to work with alternative energy, but in the end I created a health project and it has a high chance of being successful in all of the centers. 

I loved my experience in India and I say this after I spent days in unbearable heat and a constant state of sweat. You just have to keep a positive mind and know how to re-center yourself when others bring you down. I love this beautiful country no matter its flaws. 

To summarize, I’ll never experience anything like my time in India. It’s as simple as that. Part of me wants to stay here, but the other part of me misses home and can’t wait to see my family.

Traveling around Rajasthan

Little nice neighbour in Gajner

Anna-Leigh Shuping - USA
Alternative Energy Project Manager in Gajner

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A SWASH intern in Naddi

I joined Educare India in may 2016, for 3 months. After finishing my studies in waste engineering, I planned to work with this NGO on waste management.

The adventure started in Naddi. Hopefully, someone was already working on waste management. That helped me to have a quick Induction. Thanks to that, we directly did activities related to SWASH :

- School workshop: we went to the governmental school in Cheni to do some workshops on waste. We played some games to raise their awareness. Each time, the workshop was a success and the kids were really engaged and involved.

Workshops in Cheni's Primary School

- Trash collection: Once a week, we organized a waste picking for Naddi's shopkeepers. This project, established by previous interns, ran for a long time. We took over the project. That consists in collecting the waste bin from each shopkeeper involved , carrying it with a truck and empty the bins in a bigger waste bin that will be collected by the municipality.

Bins used to collect the waste 

This part is not the easiest or the cleanest but sometimes it is funny. One time we arrived at the big bin but we were not able to do anything because of the monkey family who had lunch around the bin. We waited, in the truck, in front of the bin, that monkeys finished their lunch. 

Despite this fast Induction, it was very difficult to focus. There is too much to do ! You would like to do everything, but 3 months are not enough, you need to focus if you want to get things done. So you list the ideas and organize it with a priority level. After speaking with the organisation, we agreed to focus on the soft plastic issue. This waste is produced a lot and its collection and treatment are often neglected. The aim is to collect soft plastic from our house and one shopkeeper (start little but think big), clean it well and store it in hygienic conditions. The next step is to find a way to resell, reuse or recycle it. 

After collecting the soft plastic, we built a washing machine that could clean more soft plastic and faster.

Our DIY soft plastic washing machine!

The biggest part was to find the best "process" to clean the soft plastic efficiently and ecofriendly. That's mean using less water, a natural soap...

After we need to store it, waiting for something to do with the soft plastic. Some centers store the soft plastic in a cloth to create a cushion. I chose to store it in plastic bottles because it is costless and it is a way to reuse plastic bottles. if we don't find a solution rapidly to reuse this soft plastic, we can put the plastic bottles together and create a sofa!

Plastic bottle filled with soft plastic and sofa model 

Sofa, cushions or other products from soft plastic could be resell. If it is working, the project could be take over by the community because they could create money with this waste. Here is an idea to develop a local soft plastic recycling sector !

Working with Educare India made me think differently about the waste issue, with new problems and new perspectives that I had never think about before. I am happy to come back to my country with a new vision of the waste issue, it could be useful for my future job!

Coralie Rambaud - France 
SWASH Project Manager in Naddi

Saturday, 27 August 2016

My Experience with EduCARE India

My internship at EduCARE has been a great experience for me as an individual and a project manager. EduCARE is a unique organization and it works for the backward areas of India where other people don`t even think to go and work which I think it is a good approach. Its way is unique when they allow young minds to make mistakes and learn and develop innovative ideas.

People in the organization are self -motivated and always come up with some new ideas.It was a great opportunity for me to grow as an individual and question my potential. Overall it was a great experience for me as an intern to complete my journey with the people from other countries. I got the opportunity to enjoy some dishes made by them. I also cooked some Indian dishes which were equally liked by them. To combat the scorching heat, walking by the Harike beach and see the sunset was so relaxing and beautiful.

Walking in the wetlands enjoying the "beach" of Harike

Before joining EduCARE I expected it in a different way but I would say it was not the same. I like the way Mr. B (Projec Director) explained the overall concept of global needs and if we could do a little bit for the mother Earth. I was also swayed by the simplicity of the director. He was so inspiring.There was no feeling of boss and employees at all. 

It was indeed a great experience for me to be a part of EduCARE as an intern and work for Harike's community. In general, the people were not aware of Harike's health care facilities and programs available to them, and there was no atmosphere of education. The lack of interest and support was very harmful for their wellbeing. 

The need and importance of health was a strange topic to them. My first objective was to make them realize why they need to be healthy. I conducted a survey about the quality of the drinking water and water-borne diseases. People were really cooperative so I conducted workshops at school to make children aware of health related issues. During the rainy season, with the help of CHC staff I could check the quality of drinking water of the area concerned. 

I think because of the initiative of EduCARE India I was able to disseminate useful knowledge and information about health and its related issues. 

Working with Harike's children in the ASP project

Mandeep Johal - India
Rural Health Care Project Manager in Harike

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

There is no such thing as comfort zone

This article is a little mix of everything that popped up in my mind when I had to reflect upon my current experience in India. I have been living in a rural village of lower Himalayas in Northern India for a few months now, working towards social and sustainable development through micro-finance initiatives and projects, in the framework of an Indian NGO.

When I applied for this experience, I did not know what to expect. From the articles I have read, India is the place where the cultural shock experienced can lead some to severe depression and anxiety. From the pictures I have checked, India is a beautiful country gathering multiple extremes – landscapes, people, smells, colors… – all in one place. From the documentation I was sent before flying over, India is a very much challenging experience. From the endless talks I had with friends and acquaintances here and there, India can be either very traumatic or incredibly marvelous. I therefore ended up having mixed feelings about living in India for a few months, low expectations if any, and one overwhelming urge I couldn’t repress: going there, no matter what, for multiple reasons – experiencing something different from any perspective to challenge myself deeply being the main one I guess.

Fifty shades of outfits: India is partly famous for its bright, flashy, overwhelming colors that turn your perceptions upside down

So I did. I believe the first obvious striking thing in India is the standard difference with the Western industrialized countries that deeply highlights the meaning of comfort zone. Bugs everywhere, daily internet, power and water shortages, sketchy housing, antiquated transportation facilities, strong language barrier, farm animals enjoying your rooftop or terrace while you are working there… The simple fact that comfort is gone for real makes you break out of your comfort zone whether you want it or not. Then, there is the framework I am evolving in. Most of NGOs are grass-root level structures that require a detailed understanding of the community needs in order to work properly. You have to meet the people you are going to work with, talk to them, understand them, and assess their needs and wants not only to define the scope of their problematics, but also to reflect on your options, resources, and abilities to impact them within a sustainable perspective. You are your own manager, entirely independent, and it is all up to you to make the most of your time here.

All of the ideals and hierarchy patterns we are taught and raised in back in our traditional occidental universities or schools seem outdated, misplaced, and irrelevant here. The working style you have acquired so far, and the bubble it’s lingering into can do nothing but blow up out here. You have to think out of the box to cope with a contradictory situation: making things work in a long-run over here, even though being here for a very limited period of time. You have to be innovative and adjust your strategies and approaches towards the people you are working with. You have to attempt, fail, and start again with an improved methodology. Rethink everything you thought you knew, observe and analyze situations to come up with matching projects and processes. Basically, forget everything you knew and learn again.

Traditional flour making: girls of a Himalayan village pounding wheat grains to prep flour, the base ingredient of many Indian dishes, before monsoon starts.

I now must say the comfort zone I had back home is far from me right now, but I do not miss it, as I created a new one here. I enjoy being challenged every day, meeting the community members and listening to their stories, their needs, their lives. I enjoy perfecting my working methods towards them over and over again, and managing an indefinite number of stakeholders that keeps growing whenever an initiative is successful. I enjoy encountering new types of issues raising new ways to improve my social managing skills.

At the end of the day, India not only challenged nor strained me, it grew on me. I have evolved in the way I cope with a given situation. I now believe I can create as many comfort zones as I like to. It is up to you to feel home wherever you are. By taking time to change your perspectives and beliefs, you open yourself to new possibilities and ways to learn. My father used to tell me “there is no problem, but solutions”. Daddy, you were halfway right. This experience taught me there is indeed no problem, but opportunities, taking your statement to the next level. Each issue does have solutions but more than anything else raises opportunities that people have to seize.

When I applied for this experience, I did not know what to expect. When I wake up in the morning, I do not know what the day is going to bring up. But what I do know, is that when I am back in France, I will look for another amazing lifetime experience such as this one, and be grateful for the chance I had to go to India, and break out of my comfort zone in so many ways I realized there is actually no such thing as comfort zone.

Beauty is everywhere you want it to be: the colorful merging of traditions, globalization & wild landscapes can be as surprising as peaceful

Marine Cabrol - France 
MicroFinance Project Manager in Naddi 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Want to be more flexible? COME TO INDIA!

Living 6 magnificent months in India, as an intern in Educare, has been such a great, incredible experience. I learnt so many things, met so many amazing, awesome people and lived so many experiences that I cannot list them in one single page, but that I'm sure they will stay in my mind and heart for all my (long, so long,) life.

However, I believe the most important thing I learnt in India and in Educare is the flexibility. I always thought I was a very flexible person, able to deal with any kind of unforeseen events, to find a way to sort it out even if everything could seem a huge issue.

Because I had never been to India before January 2016.

All my ability and skills have been tested, again and again, during my whole indian adventure: every time (that probably means almost every day) I thought I was about to go too far and overcome my limits, and probably kill someone.

But what am I talking about?

-Flexibility, when you plan a meeting with someone from the community, you go to his/her house, and she/he is not there because "random excuse/things to do" or, on the opposite, you just go to check if they are okay, and they offer you the longest chai-time ever, asking you everything about your family, country, studies, and why we "Angresi" are so weird, and, last but not least, taking a picture

Dr. Pinkie, such a precious, friendly resource in Rait! (but sooo curious about our lifestyle...)

-Flexibility, when you schedule your trip all around India, and you don't have so much time, and the train is cancelled/delayed, or your bus runs so fast that you reach the destination 3 hours before the scheduled time, but it's 4 AM and all you can do is sitting outside with your friends, blankets, and see the sunrise; 

-Flexibility when you are waiting for someone and after 3 hours they come as nothing is wrong, because "this is indian time", even if you have loads of things and duties to do 

- Flexibility is when you go meeting your friend, the Ayurveda doctor of the village, for a project, she invites you to her house for a chai, and finally on the way to go she asks you to stay overnight and have fun together at the yoga school where she teaches; 

- Flexibility is when you schedule such an important skype meeting/interview/call with your family, and a powercut comes for 10 hours; 

- Flexibility is when you plan to cook for the doctors arrived for visiting the women of the community for the Free Health Camp Day, and you run out of gaz, and the place where you can buy a new one is far away and impossible to reach in time; so all you can do is going and praying a Dhaba to cook for 15 people to take away, 

- Flexibility is when you plan your weekly schedule with meetings, research, staff to do...and there is a Dam, a wedding, a birthday party and we are all invited for the next 3 hours, eating the best thing you will have in your week, meeting incredible people to whom you can show your (poor) hindi; 

- Flexibility is everywhere and anytime, from your breakfast time with no power and no gaz, to your evening, when you want to take a shower because outside is 40 degrees and there is no water left in the tank. 

But flexibility, for me, can be summed up in one of the last moments I lived in Rait with our landlord, Uncle: it was 11 AM or so and as I was about to leave Educare, I was full of things to do, manual to complete, event reports to edit...It had been a rainy week too, meaning lots of powercuts; but suddenly Uncle arrives.  He literally ordered me to take a knife and follow him in the garden, because we had a lot of "saag" (for me, simple weed and leaves with no interest). 

He showed me how to cut it (hey man, it's not the first time I do it!), he showed me how his vegetables are green and big (yes, I can see them every day) and then he told me he will teach me how to cook the famous "saag". 


Cooking, right now, only understanding half of the words he says and with all the things I have to do?!? 

No possibility of explaining him about my schedule, so...let's go for it!

We cut onions, garlic and tomatoes (of our garden!!;), he came in the kitchen and showed me hot to cook these dark green leaves I would have never eaten (common', this is like salad!you don't need to cook it!): finally we spent nearly one hour together, without almost saying a word, or at least until I saw him putting a full spoon of chilly, and after that obliging me to try the sabzi: NAHI-JI!!!ME HACHA NAHI (or however you write it)

I tried my best hindi to let him understand I don't like such a spicy food, but, as you can imagine, my hindi skills are soooo undeveloped, that I was forced to try it...

OH MY GOD!!!SUCH A GOOD SABZI!!Probably one of the best I ever made (with some help). Uncle smiled (I promise, I probably saw him doing it only twice in 6 months) and seemed very proud of himself teaching how to cook to this white (unable) girl.

Flexibility is one of the most important teaching and gift that India and EduCARE gave me: I must add, of course, all the people I met there, from my house-mates, now part of my global family, to the little children in the After School Program or Girls Club, passing through all the shopkeepers and doctors who helped us.

They completed and supported me in such an incredible adventure!

Federica Villa - Italy
Health Project Manager and Coordinator in Rait