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

Experience 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 Dharamshala, 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 homestay, 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 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

Sunday, 13 November 2016

An internship with EduCARE India

It’s quite hard to summarize a travel experience; so how complex it is to make the point about an internship in India. Finding the right words to express such a rich and multifaceted adventure is complicated; it’s hard to talk about it but there is also so much to say.The first time I asked myself what I’ve learned from my experience in India was in a cab, coming back from a fourth or fifth visit at the hospital after an ankle injury. That day, I questioned my experience there because things turned out to be not as I expected them they would be, and I had taken the decision to go back to my country before the end of my internship, for a medical purpose. 

It’s very common to hear warnings and recommendations before traveling, such as how mentally and physically prepared for a cultural shock you have to be. If you travel for a professional purpose, you are often told that you have to be very patient and flexible, as well as open-minded. So after hearing that for a while, you think you’ve got enough and that you detain all the tools needed to succeed your journey, and then it starts. With EduCARE India, you have an Induction; you begin your insertion in your new environment; you get involved with the community; you think about some goals and objectives you want to achieve… You take a step back to analyse the situation and create a project related to the needs of the local population and the outcomes you want to attain… 

And then, you realize how big are certain barriers that keep you from doing your project the way you want to do it. You are destabilized and it’s sometimes hard to apply what you’ve been told: to adapt yourself to every situation. In my case, to be a Project Manager for Women Empowerment in Gajner was a huge opportunity to learn to work on the field and to acquire the skills related to the project management and the social development. It pushed myself to find the tools and the motivation to pursue my project even if the conditions didn’t help, such as the extreme heat, the language barrier and the lack of resources. I thought a few times that it was difficult to work with those conditions, and then other inconvenience happened, and everything became more complicated. In the most difficult moments, the professional pressure pushed myself to continue my work and find some alternative ways to conduct my project, as well as the pressure I myself put on my shoulders. I didn’t want to fail that professional and personal quest. 

At the critical moment I questioned my experience, I realized the outcomes of my internship. I truly understood that you can’t control everything, and failure brings lessons. From there,you learn how to improve yourself. And fortunately, EduCARE India allows you to make some mistakes and encourages you to move forward and think about yourself. This experience has been amazing for me because it brought me a lot on both the professional and personal sides. An internship with this NGO not only gives you the chance to work on the field with a local approach and to immerge into the culture, but also to learn more about yourself. You are not going to change the whole world with your work there and you might be sometimes discouraged and overwhelmed, but you are going to make some steps and participate for a bigger change. And you should do it for yourself; it might totally change your vision, and self-development is important to lead to a better world, in my opinion.

It took me some time to realize how important are the benefits I got from this experience. I was first not able to express them with words; I just had this feeling of emptyness and plenitude, as well as weakness and strength. I was prepared for India and didn’t really have a cultural shock. But things out of my control happened, and I felt more vulnerable than ever, without passport, identification cards, money, and with a cast and crutches. It’s at that moment that I really understood the meaning of being patient and flexible. Having to deal with that many issues while having to work at the same time was hard. But at that moment I also felt thatI was stronger than ever, because I experienced that everything depends on your mindset and that you have the control of your mind. You are the only one who can decide for yourself and your experience thus depends on you. And you can work on your self-development to improve your work.

It’s normal that such a multidimensional experience generates mixed feelings and that some things get out of your control. But it is what makes an experience more enriching and thrilling, and pushes yourself to grow and evolve. So for future interns I would say; you’ll become more independent, stronger and fearless. But at the same time just “go with the flow”, learn to let things go, to take things easy, to be vulnerable, to recognize your fears and weaknesses, to accept help… It doesn’t make you weaker; it helps you to open yourself and gain another perspective. Let down your mental and physical barriers. You will achieve a lot this way, and you might achieve more than you notice, professionally and personally speaking.

Laurence Patenaude - Canada 
Women's Empowerment Project Manager in Gajner

Monday, 31 October 2016

Two Sides

There is always two sides when we are doing an internship for EduCARE India. 
The two sides when you are a project manager or project coordinator, where outside the intern’s house we behave (or we try) like locals. As a woman I cover myself, no smoking or drinking allowed of course, we put our bigger smile in our face and carry on the workshops, meeting or whatever we have to do. 

And then is the other side, our little oasis in the middle of India, our houses, where we can wear crop tops, shorts, treat our fellow male interns as equals and there is (almost never) language barrier.  But even inside the house there are two sides, the professional and the personal one. We live and work together and usually in the same place, some of the centres have an office and can separate those two lives but when that doesn’t happen the two sides usually merge and confront each other. We have to be able to have a serious meeting over the same table we will eat later, play cards or relax. We have to be able to keep focus and active while we work from our beds and houses. We have to be able to challenge our fellow interns and explain our ideas or why we think that theirs are wrong without becoming personal. We have to be able to take critics from the same person we will cook later with. 

Personally I love the chance to work in pyjamas but for some people the ability of separate professional and personal life is not that easy. 

Cool Office in Gajner

We also have the two sides when we travel. When we are out of our villages we are tourists but we already feel ourselves at home in India. You feel like a local, not freaking out anymore by the bumpy buses, lack of privacy, toilets standards in the stations or cheap guest houses, you know what are the prices and you know how to bargain, you know how to deal with trains, buses and any other transport in India but...but still you are not a local, your Hindi is below “tora tora” (little, little) and your face shows you are from the West so you are not treated as a local. Some rickshaw’s driver will want to charge you more, the fruit seller will try to charge you more, the stares remain and no matter how much you cover yourself you feel the attention. Also there are good things to this; Indians are usually extremely nice and helpful and they will try to make your stay and experience in India as best as they can, you will be offered the best food, drinks, blessings and usually having the best treatment as guests.

Enjoying the Punjabi hospitality

And then we have the two sides of any experience, while my experience in EduCARE India has been beyond good and I have learned an endless list of things and skills there is always a darker side in any experience. I have been a really positive person all my life and I was not thinking about being any different in India but sometimes I have been overwhelmed by the situations around me. The delays, the heat, the monsoon, the animals, the bugs, the internet, water and electricity cuts, the few Indian or tourists that tried to take advantage of us in many different senses, the lack of commitment of some interns, the lack of response in certain cases from the community, the wanting of some privacy or some time alone, the small things that bring you comfort and that are impossible to find here... Those things some days and just some days make you see things in darker colours that they actually are (and I could continue but as I said positivity is a must for me).  
But if you focus in the other side like, the extremely and unbelievable beauty of India, the hospitality of its families, the amazing sleeper beds in buses and trains, the peer-to peer learning from other interns and staff of the NGO, the possibility of being your own boss, the smiles of the children, the feeling of the wind while you are in a rickshaw, the happiness when you meet again other interns from other centres, the successful projects, the laughs and nice nights around candles because electricity was not working (but everything is more poetic with a candle right?), the walks to the public taps for getting some water that lead to nice conversation with the neighbours and women, the amazing trips, the things you thought would never see (like me in Pushkar, I saw a cow with a chicken leg in her back!!), all the religions, culture, customs, landscapes present in India that are completely unique, and the list could continue for thousands of words...etc. 

Making friends around India

I have learnt to not be selfish here, to be conscious with what I advocate for and what I do, to behave ethically and to take in account the environment. I learnt what is to be a woman in a country where being a woman is a dangerous thing and I met some very strong women that are making the change in this country happen. I learnt how to deal with a different range of people, I met compulsive complainers here seeing everything as problems and not challenges but I also met fighters who will do their best and work hard to achieve what they want to. I learnt how to put away my ego and listen to the criticism of others about my work and the most important to learnt from it! 

As Communications Coordinator I have been working in front of my computer or having meetings with other fellow interns mostly of the time but I also tried to help in some projects of the centres so I could witness the grass-root action and be a part of it. I hope that communications is consider with the importance that it has in any organization and that is a respected field from now on in EduCARE India. When you don’t communicate, when you don’t participate and contribute in an organization you are taking a big step towards failure. 

For working in EduCARE India, we have to leave behind our preconceptions, our western minds are so conditioned that we forget that our way of living is not the only one and for sure not the best in many aspects. Ethnocentrism is not allowed if you come here. Open your mind, go with the flow, make an effort in understanding what and why are certain things happening around you. It is hard to leave behind the pre-conception that “the way we do it” is more acceptable because this way is only valid where we come from. Cultural sensitivity has to be present and patronizing the communities around you is not an option neither, here life has been different for thousands of years and while we are working towards the global needs through local action it is important to understand that the definition we have in our mind of some words it not the same and can`t be the same in India. 

All this time in India has been a gift, it helped me grow and change to a better myself. I could never forget all the moments I lived during this 7 months and I am really curious in seeing what EduCARE India is bringing on during the next months and years. I am very thankful for my internship with EduCARE India, all the learning that it brought to me and discover of a new world and a new way of seeing myself within that world.

I already miss my time there and all the people and places I got to know. I am already looking forward for my next time in India and who knows, maybe my next time with EduCARE India! 

Breathtaking landscape in Ladakh 

Mercedes Mil├ín - Spain 
Communications Coordinator 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Working on Disaster Management in Naddi

Considering all the natural risks the communities we work with face (earthquakes – the fault line of the Dharamsala region passing through Naddi and McLeod Ganj, floods, landslides…), it is coherent for an organization likeEduCAREto have a Disaster Management & Emergency Planning Project to reduce the vulnerability of the population to such hazards.
To achieve this goal, my project consists in providing the communities with cognitive and technical tools in order to lower the effects of hazards.

More exactly, I am running workshops to raise awareness about disasters among the youngest through the school and the Girls Club. I am also setting up a training session for the adults in partnership with a Training and Capacity building coordinator from the United Nations Development Programme, also consultant to theDistrict Disaster Management Authority, for them to receive first-hand information about hazards and get advice on mitigation strategies they can easily implement.

The other side of the project is to build a community action plan so people can respond appropriately and efficiently in case of the occurrence of a disaster. 
This is probably one of the most challenging aspects of my project since it implies for us to be the link between the authorities in charge of the disaster management and the communities. Indeed, if the programme theoretically exists at the rural level, although the population is not aware of it, it is far from being functional. Furthermore, it has proven difficult to understand how the Indian administration operates and especiallyto identify the people in charge.The ultimate goal would be to have a village level incident response team that would be able to react automatically.

Also the monsoon doesn’t make our lives easier! But at the end of the day, the challenging environment we live in makes the job even more interesting!

Sam is ready for brave the elements

Aude Guiraud
Disaster Management & Emergency Planning Project Manager

Monday, 17 October 2016

Work for living and enjoying life

Here we are, close to the end of this internship. It is hard to describe in words what it means to leave a place that has given me so much and has made more clear who I am and where I want to go. Many people intentionally come to India to discover their inner self in the land of diversity and contrasts. They train through yoga and meditation in order to find their path in life. Me, I came to India primarily for my CV and a genuine work interest. It turns out, it did not solely made me grow professionally, but personally also and I would say most importantly. 

I must admit the first weeks in this foreign place had not been easy. Leaving behind familiar faces and places for the unknown and not knowing how long you will be away kept me awake at night. The pressure of a remunerated job, a life stability and eventually the generation of a family are social expectations that all societies put on us. And I am not getting any younger through the years flying by…The social pressure trap had caught me unexpectedly! 

NGO work, particularly at these levels and settings, are not regarded as serious positions most of the time. Many people I know would tell me ‘You have satisfied a desire, you visited an exotic country, worked/volunteered a little, but now it is time to get back on track and work seriously’. It is indeed the truth that the developmental sector has much to offer, but in term of salary lags still behind other fields. However, and personally in my case, it was not at all what people say or perceive of it.

In these past 6/7 months I have worked more than 8 hours per day on average, I have undertaken many different roles, learnt a lot (more that I could possible expect and wish for) and stressed out much (as in all jobs, regardless of the field). I still vividly remember the major power crisis of Gajner, one day before the Coordinator Retreat, when most of the computers fried due to a power surge. Or the rushes at 7 in the morning to welcome the new interns, in the rain and still wearing a pijama. I have put 100% of my effort and at times more in the job and I do not see it as less valuable of any other position.

In fact, the minimal supervision from the beginning and the flexibility of working in a diverse setting where rules are alien to you, could be considered a hurdle as much challenging as any possible corporate responsibility.

Perhaps in this typology of work we do not see immediate results. Perhaps the systems we put in place are to be altered constantly as they are to be adapted to ever-shifting conditions. Perhaps the failures and setbacks are more often than successes. However, this does not diminish the importance of the job and the dedication that each person, be a volunteer, intern or employee put into place.

Let us do what we like to do and enjoy life and work in the meantime. Nowadays we are totally losing sight of it. WE MUST WORK FOR LIVING AND NOT LIVING FOR WORK!

EduCARE India, as well as India, has gifted me with an invaluable opportunity that will always remain in my heart (and my CV). Who knows what the future holds? I will not say ‘Goodbye’, better a ‘PhirMilenge’!

Martina Fraternali - Italy 
Education, Training and Development Coordinator

Thursday, 13 October 2016

India and its transportation

Indian transport has a reputation for being a bit wild and having traveled around the country before, I was ready for anything. My weekend vacations have involved eventful travels, sometimes frustrating, sometimes amusing and sometimes downright scary! So I’m going to summarize some of the craziest things that have happened to me so far while using public transport in India…..

One of the first weekend trips that I took was to Amritsar to meet a friend from university. I took an overnight bus and slept in a small compartment attached to the wall, much like a display cabinet, it even had a sliding glass door. In the middle of the night I was woken up by angry shouts. Looking out the window I could see a crowd of furious men screaming at the bus driver Things escalated quickly and before the long they were throwing bricks at the driver who quickly retreated into the bus. They then started pelting the bus with stones and bricks, one of which smashed a window! I was pretty confused as to what was going on but after a conversation with another passenger I learned that there had been an accident and that the bus had hit someone. I’m still not sure of the details, I only hope that it was a vehicle rather than a pedestrian and that no-one was badly injured. It just made me sad to think about the impunity in India and the fact that a bus could have knocked someone over and just driven away from the scene. 

On a slightly lighter note, my journey back from induction, while long and boring, was broken up by a few amusing incidents. Firstly, the sheer ridiculousness, of a bus having to swerve to the opposite side of the road to make way for two cows having sex made me laugh. Cows can really get away with anything here. Secondly, after the bus driver took a wrong turning he proceeded to drive full pelt down the motorway in the direction of oncoming traffic! And no one in the bus seemed at all fazed! 

Finally, what should have been a perfectly ride home from the neighboring town Suratgarh turned into something entirely different. This was definitely one of the more frustrating rides that we took. After an afternoon shopping for groceries and materials for our projects we decided to try and catch a bus rather than a rickshaw home as the bus is so much cheaper. A bus was beginning to leave the station and I shouted to the ticket man to ask him if it was going to Rangmahal, which he confirmed, so we ran to the departing bus and jumped on just as it was taking off. The problem is there are two Rangmahals close to Suratgarh….  It seemed like the bus was taking a strange route out of the town so I asked the passengers if we were going to Rangmahal-Jogi (our Rangmahal) or Rangmahal and everyone confirmed that we were going to the right place. However, we took off in the wrong direction! Me and Mae were getting really confused by this point and a bit nervous as we continued down the motorway, getting further and further away from our village! So I kept shouting “RANGMAHAL JOGI??” and everyone kept responding “YES!” So I told myself that maybe they were just taking a strange route. They weren’t. Finally, we got kicked off the bus at  the other Rangmahal. Even at this point people were telling us that we were at the right place, even though it clearly wasn’t!!!  A few people who finally understood what we were talking about told us that we would have to catch a ride back to Suratgarh and get the correct bus home from there. By this time we were so fed up that we didn’t bother trying to save any more money and agreed on a rickshaw. ;)

So thanks Indian transport! You’ve made the travels to my destinations become a very noteworthy part of my vacations!

Louise King - UK
Project Manager in RangMahal