Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Teach me more!

Lauren teaches her lesson to an enthusiastic class
Turns out that our students can't seem to get enough of our spoken English classes here at the Institute for Global Awareness, Adampur. Class sizes are booming at present, after an unexpected surge of interest in lessons in the past two weeks. We have so many keen and eager new starters that not only do we have our usual class between 10:00 - 11:30, but we have now had to put on an early bird class at 08:30 - 10:00. Sadly for our interns this means no more lie-ins in the morning!

Both Lauren and Natalia have been sharing teaching duties, as doing three hours of lessons back-to-back can be quite demanding. However, they have taken these developments in their stride, and have continued to discuss many key topics and issues including, culture shock, wasteIns management, drugs, and politics. Students find the classes fun and engaging, and all this extra revenue being generated is great for our social projects, as we are able to direct more finances towards them.

What's equally encouraging is that Jerah, who is working very hard on putting together a proper curriculum of sorts, is making great headway and should have a structure for lessons in place by the time that her internship finishes! Meanwhile the lessons in Dosarka are still just as successful as ever, as fees are being paid on time (always important), with students taking a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction from lessons! 

Monday, 13 June 2011

Organic Farming: Update from Sotla II

Jerah, her ginger hair and her green fingers...
For all of you out there, and especially those who participated in our last farm meeting, and worked so hard preparing soil and sewing, you will be pleased to know that all is well at the Sotla farm. The lady-fingers and tumeric are get taller every day, despite a few pesky cotton bugs. The crop should be bearing fruit by our next farm meeting in July.

Other plans for the near future involve a farm sign, sewing peanuts and neem trees, and two top-bar beehives to keep our plants pollinated, and the honey flowing. Let’s also hope that our proposed 4th of July party is not flooded out by the coming monsoon!

We would also like to say many thanks to three of our recently departed interns, Edith Welker, Javin Smith and Jessica Burgess. Their insight, hard work and determination did wonders for the progress of the farm project, and their good humor kept us laughing. We will miss you guys!

Building recycling storage

Project blueprint - recycling facility
As always, we have been busy plotting and planning something new! This time it is back to Janauri. Manuel has been meticulously labouring over these drawings, which are the blueprints for a new bamboo framed Waste Separation, Storage and Recycling Facility (WSSRF). It is being built for (and largely by) the migrant community in Paro, a neighbouring village of Janauri. We thought that we would leave the construction side of things to the locals who have the best knowledge on building these type of huts.

Plan for the interior shelving of the facility
The purpose of this new WSSRF unit is so that when the monsoon rains come, the trash can be kept dry and retain its value, as such things like wet cardboard do not sell. In addition it will keep the migrant community clean, tidy and organised. Operations have got under way with the build. Last week all the interns ventured across to Janauri and spent a hard days work stripping all the bamboo from knots. Most of our blisters have just about healed, and now it's time to erect the structure!

More to follow. Check back next week for the finished article.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Making cleaning both cleaner and greener

Our newly devised range of cleaning products
The first of our REstore project initiatives has launched, with a service providing environmentally friendly cleaning products to the different ViKAS centres and intern houses. Gone are the days of bleach, sulphates and other invisible menaces. At hand are the days of locally produced, natural, package-free products to clean even the dirtiest of intern houses (OK, maybe not the Adampur house :p)

This new range of cleaning products includes:
  • Natural soap - to use for washing dishes and laundry Rs. 40/kg
  • Baking soda (Rs. 15 per 1/4kg) 
  • White vinegar (Rs. 20 per bottle) 
  • Lime juice 
  • Borax (Rs. 110 per box) 
  • Spray bottles (Rs. 50) 
  • Sponges (Rs.20)

    With these environmentally friendly products at hand, cleaning can be done easily, but also at a much cheaper rate. All-purpose cleaner, floor cleaner, carpet stains, mold and mildew remover, drain cleaner, disinfectant, and even toilet bowl cleaner can be made by mixing these ingredients in certain quantities (for details of recipes please enquire).

    REstore aims to get to grips with the logistics of retail by first supplying goods to its most reliable market, the interns. Once this has been achieved we hope to venture out into the hardnosed and unforgiving world of public retail, guided by the torch of SEVA and driven by the power of will.

    Tom Kee (REstore Manager) said, 'We are currently working on procuring cleaning products for the houses whole sale, to give the interns the best price possible'.

    For this project to be sustainable, we have realised that the right incentives need to be in place. Let us move forward together, and provide natural, locally produced cleaning products at competitive prices for all peoples. Mr B has seen the future, and he has told us it was green.

    Thursday, 9 June 2011

    A lovely launch in Abhowal

    The girls pose for a photo!
    On the back of the success with the Abhowal After School Programme (ASP), Yi Wen, Centre Manager for Dosarka, has managed to form a new Girls Club in the same village! People are seriously starting to question when she has time to sleep!

    On the launch of the new club, a really buoyant group of fifteen turned up to mark its inception - from which more than half of the girls attend ASP too. So, there is a nice sense of continuity within the group that Yi Wen has to work with. 

    Yi Wen's account of the launch is as follows:
    We started off a little bit later than scheduled, but as we are in India and we have to take into account IST (Indian Stretchable Time).

    Our first stop was Amrit’s house, where we waited for the girls, as well as two of our interns – Natalia (Adampur) and Maria (Janauri), who joined Martha, Julia and myself who all came to support the launch. At Amrit's we had some tea and refreshments, and then went to the village Gurdwara.

    With the girls, we started off with a short introduction of the organization, what we do, and what we want to achieve with Girls Club. The girls were listening very closely and were very enthusiastic. Chenni was the translator. Although her English is not perfect, I think she got the essence of what was being said, and relayed this information accordingly.

    Afterwards all the girls had to introduce themselves, by saying their name, age and what they liked to do. Although some of the younger ones would repeat what the older girls said, it was clear that the majority of the girls liked to dance. It was a good way for the girls to get to know one another, as well as a perfect opportunity for them to practice their English too.

    Listening intently...
    This was followed by some icebreaker games - name games - where we had to memorize each others names. It was a good way to interact with the girls and to learn each others names in a fast and fun way. It also made us bond more with the girls. They were a bit shy at first, but afterwards they became more confident with speaking English and speaking to the other interns.

    We then had a break, which I definitely think is a good thing. To have a small break in the middle of each session is nice, so that the girls will feel that they are in a fun and relaxed environment, where they feel comfortable. We had chai and snacks, and then went to Chenni’s house to meet her family.

    After this, we went back to the Gurdwara and did our final activity. We split the girls in five groups, and each of the interns supporting the launch, had to ask the girls what they wanted to become, and how they thought they could achieve it.

    Chenni was extremely helpful in translating for us, and she was very diligent. With this activity the girls experienced some troubles in expressing themselves, but I’m confident that with the English classes, they will improve fast. 

    After this we presented our future dream job to the other girls. And many of them aspired to become a teacher or a nurse. We will keep these documents, and after a month or two, we will take them out again and see if anything has changed, and if so, how and why it has or has not changed.

    The girls saving 'bye' as the interns get the bus :)
    By the end of the launch the girls were extremely excited, and the interns were left very happy with the success of the days proceedings. 

    Finally, Yi Wen enthused, 'I’m really happy with the results. It was a good introduction and there was a good atmosphere and positive attitudes. We are all looking for the next Girls Club, next week Friday'. Great to hear!

    Making a stove, to make a difference!

    Finishing touches - smoothing out the stove

    One of the problems that the migrant communities face within daily life is the access to combustible material (primarily wood) in order to burn for cooking purposes. In India, you often see communities that heard cattle making patties out of the cow or buffalo dung, which they then dry out to use as fuel. However, with the Trash Picker community in Adampur, they have few assets, and certainly do not have the finances to procure the most cherished of animals, a cow. With limited resources and little availability to cow excrement, we had to come up with a solution to try and make cooking less burdensome.

    Here at ViKAS we are pretty resourceful folk, although, it is still crazy to think that you can make a fully working, fuel efficient stove in under two hours out of, well... poo, mainly. Structurally, all you need is two plastic buckets, to form the basic mould of stove around. Then for the material: natural clay (5 buckets per stove) FRESH cow dung (3 buckets) natural sand (1 bucket) and water... Oh, and of course, lots of enthusiastic interns, and some local know-how!

    Every stove has to start somewhere...
    So, it all sounds simple enough. Here is the procedure:
    1. Set the wider of the plastic buckets on its end, and the narrower bucket perpendicular against it (this will form the negative space where the fuel is inserted and burned).
    2. Combine clay, dung, and sand, and mix it at first with a shovel, then thoroughly by hand until there is an even consistency. Add small amounts of water as needed, to bind. 
    3. Take 'snowballs' of the mixture and throw it against the two-bucket structure in order to expel all the air from the material as you build. 
    4. Hold boards around the area to define the stove's shape as you throw.
    5. 4-6" up, place a stick perpendicular to the upright plastic bucket (this will form the negative space where the smoke will escape from - a chimney).
    6. Continue throwing balls of the mixture, and sculpting with the boards until the stove reaches 8-12" tall.
    7. Place the family cooking pot on top of the upright plastic bucket and continue throwing the mixture around the base of the pot - to form a custom fit of the pot to the stove. 
    8. Smooth out the shape of the stove with boards, and by hand, decorate if you want!
    9. Allow the stove to dry for two weeks with no use whatsoever. Cover well with tarpaulin in order to prevent any moisture getting to the completed stove.
    The finished article. Now to let it dry!!
    This was the process that we followed for the first of our stoves that we built, which turned out to be a great success. We managed to engage with the local community, as our willingness was met by the whole of the Trash Picker community who came over and offered advice, suggestions and praise! 

    Everyone involved - the community loving the new stove
    Looking forward, hopefully we can replicate this activity with the marginalized communities that we work with in both Janauri and Dosarka, as well as amongst the Snake Charmer's who are settled in Adampur too. With this project, involvement is key, as the more the community helps, the more they will learn, and the more they will gain a sense of belonging over the end product!

    And for us, well, we are just pleased that we can help introduce:
    • A 60-70% reduction in fuel consumption
    • Faster cooking times
    • A reduction in carbon emissions 
    • Fuel cost savings
    • Less time spent collecting wood for fuel
    • Forest tree conservation
    On the weekend the members of the Sotla Interns house were presented with what can only be described as a mountain of a task. Something that would test their metal, harden their spirits and leave them covered in animal poo.

    Modestly equipped with a pair of buckets and spades, the five of us set to work to transport the pile of cow dung the ten meters to the stirring pit, mix it with water, and coax the slurry down into the bio-gas plant. Why were we doing this? Locked up in the cow manure is methane gas, which will be piped from the plant to our kitchen, providing a clean and renewable source of energy for us to use for cooking.

    To make our task even more dramatic, methane gas was leaking out of the pile as it was lying there for two days in the open, making it a race against time to get the manure into the hole as soon as possible. Progress initially was slow and we felt the job would be too time consuming without the help of additional labour, which can be found around Sotla. Alarmingly no labour could be found as they were all committed to working on the farms, and in an amusing inversion of the principles of ViKAS and SEVA, we found ourselves in a situation where we had money but no labour! (Our principles are labour first, materials second and money last).

    There was nothing left to do but begin work and get as much completed as we could. After four hours of unyielding toil, five manure covered bodies were lying limp on the ground, but the pile was no more. We had won…It was gone.

    Many thanks goes to Tom, Yiwen, Jerah, Martha and Julia. Your valiant efforts will be etched into the minds of the other team members and local villagers, and you will always be remembered as the strange white people who left their lives of comfort, luxury and privilege, to come to India and play with the cow poo.

    (Courtesy: Renewable Energy Initiative - ViKAS, Bhunga-Dosarka)