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". 

WHAAAAAAT??!!!! 

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

Monday, 15 August 2016

Homemade soap to make our habits more sustainable

I have always been conscious of respecting the environment and especially on not wasting resources. Water is our most precious resource on earth and, while 1 in 10 people don’t even have access to fresh water on a daily basis, we still waste it A LOT. My internship in EduCare as a SWASH intern gave me an opportunity to think about how to reduce our water usage. In a sustainable development approach, the reuse of grey water is a huge part of the solution to this problem.

In an ideal world, we would be able to have a cyclic system in our houses where no water is wasted. Unfortunately, we put so many toxic compounds in our grey water that we can’t use it for much, except for flushing or cleaning. So how can we solve this? How can we improve the quality of our grey water in order to use it for a possible garden? Where does all the toxicity come from?
And the answer is simple: imported chemical detergent. We use soaps and detergents on a daily basis for our bodies, our dishes and our home without even knowing their exact composition. And, most importantly, we don’t understand how those chemicals will affect us and our environment. So, to improve the quality of the water we put into the ground after washing, we need to know what exactly we are using to wash it.

Before all the big corporations came along with their fancy soaps, what did we use to clean our stuff? As for many times in environmental conservation research, I had to turn to our old traditional ways. Let’s make homemade soap!! By wanting to solve an issue, I could also link it to other aspects of eco-friendly living and broader sustainable development! By producing soap locally, we are reducing the plastic packaging coming into the village. Also, this can become a microfinance activity with women of the village producing this soap and selling it! Finally, we can improve the village’s health by limiting the amount of toxic chemicals used on a daily basis!
For this, I was lucky that our local liaison Manoj had a recipe for homemade soap. His auntie produces homemade soap for the whole family of 60 people! This soap is used for washing laundry, dishes and the house. To make this soap even cheaper, they use the black frying oil from Manoj’s snack shop. So this soap uses waste oil as a resource, which makes it even more a sustainable eco-conscious product!

To make a batch of around 20 squares of soap, we start by dissolving 250g of caustic soda in 1L of water. We mix this and let it to rest overnight. The morning after, we add 1L of black oil (soybean), mix everything for 30 mins and we get creamy liquid soap! The caustic soda actually reacts with the oil to form what we call soap. The proportions are calculated so no caustic soda is left unmixed since it’s corrosive so not really what you want as a soap! We finally leave the soap to dry overnight and, when it gets the expected texture, we can cut it and start using it! We had some troubles with the soap being a bit oily for laundry but we are always improving the recipe! Moreover, I found out there are so many great recipes for soap out there so it can be adapted to all different wants and needs! 


Water and caustic soda

Adding the black oil

Creamy state of the soap

Home-made soap is not the only option, as there are hundreds of ways to clean without any chemicals that pollute your body or your home! Lemon is a great natural disinfectant and is actually what many industrial soaps use as main cleaning agent. Sand is great to use to scrub dishes or house surfaces in order to remove any stain. Ashes are also traditionally used to clean the dishes in Sikh temples. Indeed, ashes contain hydroxide anions which is the compound we use from the caustic soda. So, when they mix with the oil present in dirty dishes, they actually create mini droplets of soap on the plate. So, when the plate is rinsed, all the dirt has been washed with the ashes! Some studies have been made to address eventual health issues caused by these alternative methods. But the important thing when using any method is to weight the pros and cons and understand how each method impacts your health and environment. 

I started this project by trying to reduce water waste, and ended up learning so much more about sustainable alternatives. This experience made me rethink all my habits and re-analyze the products I use on a daily basis back home. We need to choose better and healthier care products not only for us but for our future children. We’re surrounded by all these products that are supposed to be the greatest cleaning agent ever but where does this come from? Advertisement plays a huge role in this and it’s important to become more responsible customers. Let’s challenge the big companies and ask for better products, that don’t spoil our health and our precious water and earth! It’s crucial to think about the impact that every single one of the products we buy has on the environment. From this experience and from seeing other habits here, I understood how new is not always better and that in some cases, our grandparents had it figured out all along.


After a whole night

Cutting the soap

Final result


Debora Cortez Miranda - Portugal
SWASH Project Manager and Center Administrative Manager in Gajner 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Events in Rait

We have just worked intensely hard for the cultural and religious events in Rait. These events were Mithuna Sankranti and the Mela. The former describes the entrance of the sun starting the third solar month in the Hindu calendar. This is considered to be a highly auspicious time in which women take part so that they can find a good husband. So what did the Rait Centre team do to take part? We made a gargantuous amount of Halwa (a sweet dish made of Semolina, raisins, ghee and of course oil). We served the Halwa on plates made from leaves. We focused on celebrating the Goddess – more in particular Bhumi Devi (a Hindu Goddess representing mother Earth) and had various pictures of her printed along with some of her inimitable traits. We also focused on Laxmi, Saraswati, Tara and Parvati. We had a quiz for the community members to attempt, if they answered the questions correctly, they would receive the amazing Halwa. The main aim was to get the children involved, so we could celebrate with them and link the traits of the Goddesses to the environment. As soon as the school finished for the day we went and got the children to come to the Restore to take part in the games we had set up for them. We had a funfair type of game where the kids had to throw a ring around a packet of cookies or a bottle of soda, if they were successful then they got the prize! Nonetheless, the kids were incredibly excited about the Halwa and the games and a lot of them seemed to be interested in Bhumi Devi in relation to the environment.


Stand during the event

Interested school students

Informative talk

A few days later we had the Mela event. The event is historically important to the state of Kangra. The story goes like something like this.... the king of Kangra and the King of Chamba had a battle in Nerti (Nerti is a town that is only 2-3KM away from Rait). One king was beheaded and had blood on his hands, he fell to the ground and his hands landed on a rock that is now part of a temple. All of Kangra state takes part in this Mela and celebrates it in their own unique style. We set up a stall in the central area of Rait. We made chocolate Ladoo’s (a delicious recipe of almonds, dates and coconut...THANKS GAJNER!!!!)... over a 100 of these bad boys. They were popular. Very popular. It was like Shakira in the form of food. Or Amitabh Bachan... whatever makes people crazy these days. Everyone loved them. The ladoo’s sold out in just three hours. For the rest of the day we served Nimbu Pani (water with lemon). Luckily it was a hot day, and the people found it to be a refreshing drink so they can continue their adventure in the colourful cacophony that was the Mela.

Colorful kurtas

We stayed there until 7 PM. We handed out brouchers about the Mela, encouraging the story of the Mela. We had pictures printed of various community events all the previous and current interns were involved in. We also had items made from the women that  were involved in the MicroFinance projects (hand-made stitched bags along with hand-sewn pine needle baskets and bracelets).

One man from the massive crowd of people had approached and asked “What’s this all about? Explain what you are doing.” I put on my ‘most positive ideal EduCARE intern’ hat and explained why we are participating and what was on offer on the table. I explained that the Restore items were made by the women in Rait to improve their economic development. He said it was a good initiative. I went back to my chair, he went back to his friend. They started talking and slowly approached the small table with the modest yet highly intricate and skilled items available on the table. His friend asked how much one of the pine needle baskets was and happily bought it. WE SOLD A RESTORE PRODUCT! This was a moment of celebration in itself and this boosted the morale of the team.

Food break

People came from everywhere to witness the hustle and bustle of the Mela. The small road (the only road) in Rait was swarmed by people of all ages, mothers with their mothers and children smiling enthusiastically at each stall and boys and girls having fun. Colours of electric orange radiating from the ultra sweet Jellebies, mountains of golden brown fried Pakoras with litres of bubbling oil, the aromas of the unhealthy and undeniably tasty food attracting people of all generations spellbinding them to their stalls lining up like ants to consume the food.

Pakoras making


It was awesome to be part of this experience, to be on  the other side of the table serving people experiencing how challenging it was to serve so many people. Despite the level of humidity, ear-piercing noises from the endless traffic and the mosquitos that were swarming around us we were more than capable of putting our best foot forward, promoting the organisation, our projects and ourselves. BRING ON THE NEXT MELA!


Educare Team

Jayan Amin - United Kingdom
SWASH project manager in Rait

Saturday, 6 August 2016

A dreamer with the feet firmly on the ground.

It is a fact that when someone chooses voluntarily to work for an NGO does it for personal motives. Although for some reason, it is easy to forget that in our freedom of action, to work for an NGO in a foreign country requires adapting ourselves to certain rules and ways of acting.

Before enrolling myself within EduCARE India my personal and professional expectations were far away from where they are nowadays. I thought that in an already established relationship between the NGO and the community I was going to be able to create artistic and creative workshops for the community within my project for the NGO.
After my first week in Rait (Himachal Pradesh) in which I observed how other members of the team worked, I realised that there was almost no community engaged so consequently projects running with difficulties. This statement does not only reflect an issue but unrealistic expectations from my side and an incoherent action plan proposal.
Is it the lack of verbal communication the cause of the problem? Is the strategy for engaging community what it is failing? Is it that community does not want to work with people coming from Western countries? Lot of questions came into my mind since I arrived but none of them well enough formulated under EduCARE premises.

After uncountable number of productive meetings, brainstorming and informal conversations with the members of EduCARE for the past two months, I understood that expectations should be according to the context; otherwise they are not expectations but utopic dreams.


Meeting in Naddi

How good you know the NGO and how it operates?
In the daily living within the community we discovered that members of community do not really understand what EduCARE volunteers/interns are doing in the villages. It is known we work for an NGO but what does to work for an NGO really mean? EduCARE India works with concepts such as Sustainable Development, Social Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation, Systems and Design Thinking, Grass-roots level community engagement, Community empowerment. Prioritises learning over anything else; and promotes to project and act locally under a global approach (very roughly said).
Without knowing the meaning of these and more concepts the NGO work with, the way it operates and its scope it is difficult to get a complete understanding of what, where, when, why and how we and our projects should be managed for accomplishing positive outcomes as individuals, as part on an organization and as citizen of a global world.

How good you know the community?
Talking from my experience, I came to India as individual wishing to be able to make a difference on the quality of living of the village population, then I found that I did have almost no idea about Indian way of living, Indian culture, its languages, its religions, and so on. How possible is to create a successful socio-cultural project for an almost unknown culture? Now I am allowed to say that it is practically impossible.
To work for a community or even just for an individual a deep knowledge about its/ their needs and wants is required. Before creating a project proposal is needed to make an exercise for ourselves and ask to us what are the individual/ community needs? Do its/their needs match with the global needs? Then, and only then, the scope of the project will be better adapted for the change.


Women from the community

How good is a project to make the difference?
The goals and objectives of my initial project proposal are another incoherence to add to the list of false expectations. As Rome was not built in one day we cannot expect to change the vision of a whole community from one day to the next one.
If I have seen we have certain issues in the way we run some of the projects and the way they impact in community is because we pretend to make all changes at once. We are told from EduCARE ‘think big, do small’. My dreams and ambitions did not allow me to see that the sum of many small steps marks a path ahead where there was none existence before.


Taking all these things into account might help to create more realistic expectations and better outcomes of our experience and our projects; otherwise, frustration and demotivation might become part of the Indian experience, and as I always say and repeat to myself ‘there is no need to suffer’.



Emma Gutierrez - Spain
CCC project manager in Rait

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Health in Naddi

This is my second time in India and I was prepared to be flexible, expect power cuts and among other things. This has been the first time I have been to northern India and is very different from my time in the South of India. This had prepared me to adapt to change but I was not prepared for the Cheni stairs or what interns call affectionately as “Death stairs” which test my fitness levels every day. 

In my first week in Naddi not knowing what I would be working on or what I will do, seeing one constant thing was accidents. These accidents ranged from small scrapes to bigger types of accidents. I quickly found out that there was no hospital or medical facility in Naddi. The medical facilities located in Dal Lake are a ten-minute car ride and the Zonal hospital in Dharamshala is almost thirty minutes away. This can be fatal if injuries are life threatening or urgent medical attention is needed. This can have an adverse impact on family, friends and the community. This can affect the economic mobility for families also due to death of the main breadwinner in the family.

Curable diseases such as diarrhoea and other infections can be life threatening if treatment is not given or the lack of access to a medical facility. These are important in living a healthy life without worrying about where the closest hospital or medical facility is located. People in the village find alternative ways to get to a hospital through the kindness of people in the community to help each other out is something that is invaluable and can save a life. This is what I have learned in my time here in Himachal and the warmth of the community here is immeasurable. 

View from Naddi

Shirly Kumar - Australia
Centre Coordinator in Naddi

Monday, 1 August 2016

Three months in India

Who am I ?

I am a french student in engineering school where I am studying environmental sciences.

Why did I choose India ?

I had to do an internship in a foreign country. I wanted to find a country completly different from France, with an other culture, an other language and other life conditions. That’s why I chose India, the second most populous country in the world, the 7th largest country in the world.

My arrival in India 

I started my trip with the capital, New Delhi , because I arrived at New Delhi airport from France. The first thing and the most difficult one when I came out of the airport was the heat (47°C). Then, the second thing was the most suprising one : the taximen. About 10 taximen came after me saying that the metro was broken. I stayed 3 days in Delhi where I could visit several temples, discover the old Delhi with its little streets, the diveristy of food and the amazing traffic.

Street of my hotel
Visit of the Lotus Temple in Delhi


















































My arrival in the centre

My center is located in Harike, Punjab. When I arrived, I discovered that Harike was a little village and was completly different than New Delhi. Indeed, the landscape is not the same, Harike is situated in the countryside and surrounded by wetlands. I also discovered the house of interns and I was pleasantly surprised because the centre was spacious and the rooms were nice.

The Harike centre

Harike, view from a roof



























What are my projects ?

I am SWASH project manager and the field which interested me in particular is the waste
management. Moreover, the main problem in Harike about the waste is the soft plastics issue. Indeed, there are trashpickers who pick up all the trash (plastic bottles, glass, metal…) in the street except soft plastics. That’s why, we can find in the street a lot of soft plastics (in particular plastic bags).

Soft plastics area in Harike

Thus, the main goal of my different projects is to reduce the use of soft plastics or to reuse them.

The first project is the creation of cushion in soft plastics.
We implemented this project only in the intern house for the moment. Indeed, we collect our soft plastics (plastic bags, food packages…), then we wash them and we use them to cram the cushions (the cushions are made by tailors).

Washing of the waste
One cushion filled up with soft plastics
The second project is the reusable bags project.
To reuse soft plastics is a good idea but it would be better if we manage to stop the use of soft plastics and in particular plastic bags. Thus, this project is to make cloth bags to replace the plastic ones.
First, we picked up fabric scraps for free thanks to different tailors. Then, we found some women in the community who agreed to make bags with these fabric scraps. In exchange, we gave english courses to women who want it. For the ones who did not want English lessons (and made most of the bags), no compensation was asked as they said they were happy to sew the bags.
Thus, we managed to create 34 bags for the moment. The challenge now is to make sure that the community will use and reuse these bags.
Should we sell these bags ? Should we give these bags ? Should we work directly with the shopkeepers ?

Some of the reusable bags

Paralelly to these projects, I try to find some creations to do with plastics and I managed to make two things :

Pompoms in plastic bags

Bloom in plastic bottles (7 bottles)

Holidays and weekends

Some pictures of our weekends and visits 

Golden Temple, Amritsar

The Indo-Pakistani border

The wetland, Harike

Taj-Mahal, Agra

Gauthier Guerrar - France
SWASH Project Manager in Harike