Thursday, 20 November 2014

Autumn and Diwali in Punjab

Now that I have lived in India for over a year now, I am quickly learning to appreciate the autumn season.  The weather cooling down is a welcomed reprieve from the beating sun during May-August, and it’s much drier compared to monsoon season. I’m not one to usually enjoy the cold, but being able to wear a sweatshirt at night in Punjab is wonderful compared to enduring 45-degree temperature.  Lots of fruits and vegetables are in season and one of my favorite street foods, chilly potato, is on the market. 

In September I had the fortune of celebrating Dussera in the camps and in October I got to celebrate Diwali.  Diwali is known as the festival of lights and some people call it the Christmas of Hinduism.  This festival marks the coming home of Lord Ram after being in exile for a number of years and defeating an evil demon.  People celebrate this day by giving sweets to loved ones, decorating the home, lighting candles, and setting off fireworks. 

On the actual day of Diwali all the interns gathered and visited the camp.  We donned our Indian best and the camp loved how we looked!  They kept telling us we looked so beautiful and it really made me happy to gain their approval.  We took lots of pictures and everyone was loving the festive ambience.  We shared sweets and fireworks with the camp and they all seemed to appreciate it.  We offered them jalaabi, which are fried dough soaked in sugar, and delicious when eaten fresh and warm.  In the evening we enjoyed a nice celebration in the Dholbaha house.  Thomas and Manon set up a wonderful space for us on the roof to watch the fireworks, including a bonfire.  We decorated the area with candles and set off some fireworks of our own.  The most memorable was ‘the Bomb’ it started with an explosion of colors followed by the loudest blast that would scare even the deaf. 

Unexpectedly, while cooking our celebratory dinner, our gas ran out!  Fortunately, we had the fire going and were able to finish the dinner by campfire.  I’ve never tried pressure-cooking beans over a fire before, but I can now attest that it is possible.  Although it wasn’t planned, at the end we ate Bengan Bharta, Chana Masala, and salad all made from the fire and ate on the rooftop under the stars and fireworks.  Living in Punjab teaches us to live naturally, and that night was a testament to what we’ve learned.  The celebration was a lot quieter compared to my Delhi experience but I loved every moment.  For most of us, Diwali is not a customary holiday that we practice, but this year we got to partake in the celebration and soak in the excitement that is Diwali.  I’m so happy that this year I got to spend it with the camp members and fellow interns, it was a day I’ll never forget!

By: Margaret Arzon

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

In love with India

India has my heart. 
I’m addicted to her madness. I’m helpless to the way she constantly flirts with my emotions and teases my good intentions. She is every colour imaginable and every grey shadable. I often hear other travellers talking about India as if they think they understand her, that they know everything there is to know about her. But India is beyond explanation, beyond statement. Just when I think I have her wrapped around my little finger, she evades me. Because whatever I could say to you about India, the opposite is also true. India is as sweet as she is scary. As beautiful as she is ugly. 
Like many women travellers, I spend some of my time here questioning my emotions. Because being with India means I must choose to give up a part of myself. Here, my femininity is a curse. I should always be aware and always be cautious. I cover up. I avoid eye contact. I remain silent. I am expected to respect a man more than I would my fellow woman and to take their discourteous and often inappropriate behaviour towards us as an acceptable by product of the culture and of my life here. But when you have to give up a part of yourself to be (with) someone else, where is it that you draw the line? It’s a lesson I’m still trying to figure out.

But despite all this, the bond we share is undeniable. I love her for all her simplicities and all her complexities. And in return she forces me to be present, makes me second guess myself and shows me how to live simply. She challenges me. She changes me. She brings me easy but beautiful friendships, makes me laugh constantly and she doesn't mind that I eat to excess or that I don't wash my hair. And she always, ALWAYS makes me marvel. But man does she test my patience….
India. She’s a bus driver that stops for a 30 minute chai break when you’re half way home. She's THAT uncomfortable stare from men. She's garbage lined streets. She’s a broken system. She’s a caste based identity. She's inequality. She’s a mange covered and unloved puppy or a ‘sacred’ cow dying a slow and brutal death. She’s ALWAYS a yes, when what she really means is no….
But she's also a local bus with your head out the window and the wind in your hair, she’s a 70 year Sihk with a hot pink turban, she's THAT head wobble. She’s a stranger who invites you in for chai, a monk with an iPad and a Naddi sunset. She’s an elephant walking on the highway, a bollywood movie and a giggling five year old migrant with perfect white teeth.…. She's eggplant masala with a garlic naan.
Oh LOVE. I may occasionally win the battle but I’ll forever lose the war.
Two weeks ago I travelled to Gajner, Rajasthan to help open up a new community cluster. As Renata and I are walking the camel lined and dusty streets, we hear a small schoolboy shouting. When I turn around, he races after us, as excited as he is anxious. As he and his friends chase us up the street, and in a rush of nervousness in what I think may well be the first time he’s ever tried out his English skills, he blurts “WHERE DO YOU BELONG?” They pause and wait for my answer. I laugh in a way he doesn't understand. India. She's always pulling these little tricks on me. Constantly testing me. Redefining me. While they stand there and watch. 
My absolute favourite place in India, is the local bus. Its also where our love affair was confirmed. In my fourth week here, and twice daily thereafter, I am sitting on a crowded Punjabi bus in 35 degree heat, hindi music is blaring from the speakers and Im sharing a tiny broken seat with 2 school girls, 3 kgs of vegetables, a bucket and a small baby, a bag in my face, sweating from brow to butt cheek. All eyes in the bus are on me. We suddenly come to a screeching halt because of a cow lying in the middle of the road, and I grin and brace as we all launch forward. I lose my heart on impact. India. She’s madness and she's magic. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Educare Research Reflection - Nikita Simpson

The experience of being a research intern was invaluable for me over this summer. I spent 6 weeks in Naddi and surrounding areas at the Educare base. As a student of Social Anthropology, my prerogative was to do intimate fieldwork in the Gaddi community to answer my research question - How have changing rape culture discourses and legislation impacted rural areas of India? 

My experience was so positive for three reasons. First, because it forced me out of the western rational model of space and time that I was used to. Second, because I learnt to understand the Gaddi community on their own terms because of the intimate nature of our interaction. Third, because the grass roots philosophy of Educare facilitated me to understand the complexity of the social links and imagined identities that make up the cultural context of the Gaddi people.

I turned up in Naddi with a serious plan. I had amassed the secondary resources that I need - reading from complex these on Neoliberalism to the daily updates on Modi’s new government. I had a list of the kinds of people I wanted to meet and was all ready to slot them into my calendar in delineated time intervals. I was in for a shock. The first rule of ethnography that I leant was the necessity of blending into the pace of life that I was faced with. This meant dropping the burning desire to write succinct dot points and come to quick conclusions, and instead simply sitting and hanging out before I came to any tentative plan. I learnt how arrogant it must have seemed to think I could simply march in and collect information. This is not to say one should be defeatist when coming to India - it drove me mad to listen to people complaining that nothing works. Instead, the process of adaptation and acceptance of flexibility was necessary in order to suck the marrow from my experience.

More than anything, I learnt that an afternoon spent more productively was one where I spent my time chatting to the members of the community. Over the course of my stay, I slowly gained their trust. It was very important not to see them as a resource of information, but instead to appreciate the growing friendship that I had with them. Though snippets of information I was able to work out the power dynamics, cultural conceptions, imagined communities, aspirations and grievances of individuals. I was able to probe their subjectivities and attempt to understand the relationships they formed. From this platform, I came to know what external resources - both textual and in terms of interviews - I needed to draw upon in order to answer my research question.

Hence, I came up with a long list of people I needed to meet. From doctors to state officials to human rights activists, I was encouraged by Educare that the sky is the limit when it comes to approaching external resources. My facilitators at Educare in the beginning facilitated my interactions with these parties, but as I gained confidence they helped me to realise that I could make these connections myself. The outcome was a 50 page interview log that sets up the infrastructure for my research project and allows me to contextualise my experience with the Gaddi community. My experiences at Educare were formative in my understanding not just of what it is to be a researcher, but in how to approach different cultures and forms of sociality in general. Their grass roots ethos combined with a highly supportive network of peers and leaders is a recipe for success - if you are willing to adapt and grow into the place where you choose to be.

I feel honoured to be part of the Educare team and hope that somehow the information I have amassed and conclusions I am yet to draw will make some mark on the projects they run and the lives of the community that welcomed me with open arms.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Chaos, Children, and Ferris Wheels

India is a country filled with millions of people, and in each region there a different traditions, religions, and festival practices. One thing I’ve learned while being here is that people in India take their festivals seriously. Returning to Punjab after being in Dharamshala for our Quarterly Meeting, we arrived to find large festival preparations and people buzzing with excitement. Right now there is an ongoing 10 day festival happening called Dusserha. Toy stands, food vendors, and small children’s rides abounded within earshot of the community we visit every other day. All the excitement from this fair has tempted the children with its presence everyday, meaning that we couldn’t ignore it. The children in our community asked us repeatedly if we could take them on the Ferris Wheel nearby, and they were so persistent that it distracted them from our educational activities so much that we finally had to give in.

After about an hour of begging, the 7 of us foreigners came trailing into the fair with about 20 little boy and girls in tow ranging from 2 years old to 13. The excitement from the children was chaotic. For these children, this is the opportunity of year. Riding a Ferris Wheel is exciting, and scary, fast, and dangerous. They were terrified of the height and screams abounded as we all reached the curve at the top. Of course, this was a sight for the community. They aren’t used to seeing foreigners, and they definitely aren’t used to seeing them with a bunch of children that live in tents along the government’s trash dumping site. This was a big deal for us too, as we hardly ever leave the camp with the people who live there and receiving attention from the outside community felt a bit strange. But ultimately nothing could distract us from the shear joy and excitement on the faces of these children.

This was as much a treat for them as it was for us. They probably never have the chance to enjoy the fair even though it was only a few meters away, and we also would have never ventured over there otherwise. We all had an amazing time (despite the precarious condition of the Ferris Wheel), and it was a day I’ll never forget. This was not only a once in a year event, for most of us it was a once in a life time opportunity.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.

I have felt more alive in India than anywhere else I have travelled. It may be because of where I am in India. It may be the culture. It may be EduCARE. It may be the people. It may be the Dalai Lama living close by. It may be my proximity to nature. It may be a combination of everything I just mentioned, but whatever has caused this feeling is something I have embraced during my six month internship in India. So much so that it has made me question whether or not I should leave Educare. I must say goodbye at the end of September but this is not an easy goodbye for me and I might be back soon.

I was privileged to have an authentic conversation with Mr. B during my first in person meeting with him. Not everyone has the same experience and that is a shame but we immediately bonded over our shared gluten intolerance. I have a passion for food and health and the strong relationship between the two and Mr. B immediately wanted me to work on that. The project role I originally thought I was coming to work on wasn't operating yet, so this conversation gave us the chance to figure out what I wanted to do. Figure out what would make me come alive.

The cooperative cafeteria emerged from this conversation and the long term goals of this cafe made me come alive. They connect to my long term personal goals of starting a holistic healing center and the sheer excitement I felt after finding direction within the organization felt so right. After my conversation with Mr. B, I was so excited and this 30 minute conversation propelled my motivation throughout my time at Educare. I think that Mr. B and I come alive the same way, by being inspired by education/learning, and then sharing that knowledge in order to evolve and create progress in all aspects/subjects of life. I sincerely respect Mr. B's goals and hope that I've contributed in a small way to making at least one of them come to fruition. Whether or not anyone else benefits from what I have done here at Educare, I feel that I have come alive over the past six months. Which means the world is better off now that I've been here. I feel confident in knowing that I was and am exactly where I'm supposed to be in this moment in time. Thank you Educare for the space you created for me to feel this.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Gulshan aka God

Gulshan a.k.a. God for two of the other clusters here in India. He handles house maintenance, business relationships, the intermediate between the migrant camps and the interns, all around go-to person for Punjab and Rajol and Maitee. Not an easy job for anyone. He's got all kinds of "I once saw him stories". I once saw Gulshan break barbed wire with two rocks. True story, and I was looking around for scissors... We were taking abandoned barb wire which they call fencing here to use for the garden one of the interns is building. I turned around to see him smashing the rock down on the wire, I think twice was all it took to break it. Impressive to say the least.

He sleeps at the male intern house for weeks on end and then goes home to his wife and two kids maybe once a month to spend time with them. He helped to organize the food for the quarterly meetings that include everyone in the organization. I asked him why he had stayed with the organization for so long. He said, “I love what I'm working on. I can't imagine doing anything else.” I asked if he ever thought about moving back home and working near his family. He said, “I can't go back there because no one understands what I’m doing here. They think I’m crazy.” He doesn't like the feeling of judgement and he knows what he's doing is important and when he's working he feels free of the judgement. He likes being around similarly minded people who are “crazy” too. Made perfect sense to me, and he was so honest and real in our first conversation that I immediately felt like he's a friend.

He also had so much joy from little things like me. We did a drawing exercise together as part of cross cultural workshop and he laughed for 10 minutes at our drawing we made, made me laugh so hard I cried. I miss crying from laughing, there's something special about your body reacting so fully to an image, and another person’s reaction. I appreciate Gulshan. His dedication, passion, kindness, and joyful spirit. One of many special people I've met here in India that is a part of this organization. I hope to meet more “crazy” people like myself and Gulshan in the future.

- Katherine Rothschild, USA
- Hospitality project manager

Friday, 25 July 2014

What it's like to be illiterate

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve never known what it’s like to be illiterate. At some hazy point in your childhood, you were unable to read, but you did not need to interact with the written world back then. Until recently, I also didn’t have any but the most general of ideas what illiteracy was like. Moving to a country where not only do the people speak a language that I’m not familiar with but also write in a script that is completely foreign to me gave me a taste of what illiteracy is like. During the most recent work I did on one of my projects, I faced the rounded script of Gurmukhi directly.

A fellow intern and myself are standing in front of a sign for the Forestry Department that on one side is entirely in Punjabi, and on the other, English. It’s the last sign w e’ll see with any English, and we are without our typical (amazing) translator. We have to navigate the maze of the area on our own. We quickly gravitate to anything with a sign – the larger the sign and the bigger the letters, the more likely we figure it to be important. We pass a sign that even has a special welcoming shape, and assume we are likely headed in the right direction. When you can’t read, you quickly learn other rules for getting around. Something with a sign is more likely to be important or something you can enter, as someone put it there to tell you something; the bigger the lettering or a sign is, the more likely it is to be important; and shapes both on and of signs can give you basic information about a place. However, when you can’t read and you’re not trying to find your way somewhere, you pay hardly any attention to what’s written around you. For my first two months here, I assumed most things were written in both Devanagari and Gurmukhi (the alphabets that Hindi and Punjabi are written in, respectively), because I never paid signs enough attention to notice otherwise. It was only when I started learning Devanagari that I realized nothing around here was written in Hindi. Being able to read also gives people a type of mysterious knowledge. Everyone always seems to have secret information that comes to them as if from thin air, in what appears to be some form of Indian telepathy – until you realize that they can read many of the signs around you, and that’s why they know what bus to take or when all the stores will be closed. It is information transported silently from one mind to another, but it’s via paper rather than telekinetic waves.

Having the ability to read expands a person’s world dramatically. In trying to teach an alphabet to the individuals in the camps we work with, we are attempting to provide them with the ability to interact with the world around them on a different level. To have access to the same information that others in the society around them take for granted. Exclusion from the community they live near is a major issue for the migrants we work with, and in a small way, being able to read will allow them to become more a part of that community than they are now. And of course, being able to read will also make books accessible to them – one of the most powerful educating tools. Literacy will give the communities we work with the opportunity to better not only their own place in life, but hopefully that of their family as well.

I always thought of being able to read as something that was simply enjoyable; having now experienced illiteracy, I realize how important it is. How being able to read can expand someone’s world.

- Kayleigh Walters, USA
- Organic farming and SWASH project manager, Punjab 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

My life as an EduCARE intern

My life as an EduCARE intern could be compared to what I presume being a Celebrity Unicef ambassador would be like. Travels through striking lands. People taking photographs of you while you shop for food at a local market. People asking to take “ek photo” as you travel in touristy locations. In general you find your self the gaze of many stares. I can now relate to Selena Gomez and David Beckham in a way I would have never have expected, as I’m sure they draw equally if not more attention as they serve the global community.

Most importantly the greatest aspect of being an EduCARE intern is the opportunity to work with a unique Indian population. Currently I find myself working on a Maternal Health and Education initiative in migrant camps located in rural Punjab. My job title requires that I go into the migrant camps, hang out and talk with the residents and then try to determine how the organization can help them create a better quality of life. This week I am working on developing a Health and Sanitation workshop for adults in the camps which will teach the migrants on cross contamination processes of food and water. From there on out I will work on developing Maternal Health workshops.

As an EduCARE intern you have the unique opportunity to develop and implement programs in an exciting environment. Although this poses quite a challenge, demanding personal introspection and awareness, it is also an opportunity to live something many only dream about. Being an EduCARE intern provides you with the space to be “the change you wish to see in the world”. Along with that I have already met so many amazingly qualified interns, whom you get to experience India right alongside. Just last weekend I went to Amristar with two fellow interns. So far, travelling around India nurtures a more holistic perspective on just how diverse the Country can be.

If the work and the travel isn’t enough, as an aspiring anthropologist I live in a beyond ideal environment. First I have the pleasure of sharing a home, with 4 other interns, with a local couple, Ma Ji and Uncle Ji. This has really opened up a doorway to being a member of the community that I don’t think many foreigners get to experience. Ma Ji serves as grandmother in our home away from home, always keeping an eye out for us, and being their to help us if we have any problems. Along with this our house is nestled amongst a ton of trees which are home to multiple Rhesus Macaque Monkey troupes. At time these monkeys can be outrightly obnoxious, trying to steal our food and knocking our clothes of the clothes line, but it is still an incredible experience to be cohabiting with such lively primates!

Living in another country as an intern has served me an abundance of opportunities and experience I could have never imagined. From being a celebrity to living with monkeys to all that’s in between it is truly a wonderful experience. I look forward to seeing how the next few months will unfold.

- Alexandria McCall, USA
- Maternal health and education project manager, Punjab

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Challenges of living in rural India

This past month in Punjab has been especially hot (115 degrees Fahrenheit or 45 Celsius). Higher temperatures often put a strain on the finite amount of resources available in rural areas. In day to day life this means people want and should be consuming more water but because everyone wants more water, and the amount of water available actually shrinks in the summer water shortages occur. This recent month of heat has made all the interns more aware of how we perceive resources and our access to them.  To give you and idea about the daily access EduCARE interns have to resources such as water, electricity, and even cars, we challenge you to try to complete the following list below for a week:

  • Spend less than 5$ USD a day
  • Hand wash a full load of clothes and hang dry them
  • Spend a night (minimum of 5 hours) without electricity
  • Cook all your meals only on a stove top (don’t use oven or microwave)
  • When you have to use the bathroom walk outside and then go back inside to use the bathroom (suppose to be like using an outhouse)
  • Only eat fruits and vegetables that are in season
  • Don’t use your own personal vehicle, other option can include but are not limited to: hitch-hiking, public transportation, and hitching rides with friends
  • Only listen to radio channels, or watch television that is in a foreign language
  • Only shower every 3 days (washing face and feet is allowed)
  • When you want a hot shower take a cold shower, when you want a cold shower take a hot shower
  • Don’t ever wear shorts EVER (that means in your house)
  • Turn off all electronic devices when you leave a room
  • After you have used a dish immediately wash it then put it away
  • If its yellow let it mellow if its brown flush it down (when in the bathroom only flush solid waste)
  • Don’t use any water from a tap, if you want water first fill a bucket and then use only that water.
  • Don’t eat any meat, eggs, or consume any alcohol
  • Don’t leave your house after 7 pm, unless you are staying at a friends house for the night
  • Only use the internet every other day
  • Collect all plastic trash and then sort it
- Kiana Cateriano, USA 
- Health and education project manager

Thursday, 5 June 2014

World Environment Day

This auspicious day not only holds up to its name for me, it was the day I realized my passion and what field I would like to study in.

It was not just a day to celebrate but to also be conscious of the state of the environment around us. It was a moment of epiphany for me, a flash of my destiny to dedicating my life to the welfare of the planet which is so important. We cannot wholeheartedly celebrate the arrival of a newborn as our world is still in crumbles. Almost like trying to redecorate the interior of a home when its outsides are shattered and broken or there are no proper walls.

According to the United Nations, this day is used to stimulate worldwide awareness of environmental climate changes, degradation and fragmentation of our landscapes, pollution and wildlife threats. The theme of this year’s WED is focused on ‘Small Islands and Climate Change’ as the consequences of global warming have had its impacts on small islands like the eco-tourism of Barbados (as said by WWF).

As I was once an Environmental science student and currently the project manager of the Community Forestry Project of EduCARE India, I feel fulfilled as I am not only encouraging the community members to plant trees for their financial and social empowerment, but I am also doing my part to make planet Earth greener and safer.

- Monica Fatogun, India
- Social & Community Forestry Project Manager, Naddi

Sexual Violence Free Society Tournament

Dhasa Tibetan Women’s Basketball Tournament Summer: Monday June 2nd, 2014

EduCARE’s Young Women’s Association (YWA) was invited as an honoured guest at the Dhasa Tibetan Women’s Basketball Tournament on Monday, June 2nd, 2014. As it was a late notice, many of us were unable to attend the event. Fortunately, Kiana, Hanh, Elizabeth, Ruthie, Bertrand, Guilhem, Lenka, Josefina, Amanpreet, Alex and Priscilla were all there to support the incredible basketball tournament. It was quite the adventure finding the place, since none of us knew where the tournament was being held. Each time we passed someone we would ask them where the Tibetan Library is, as the tournament was being held in the court close to the library. After what seemed like hours, we finally found the location of the tournament. As we walked in, it was evident that we were late and that everyone was waiting for us. Everyone from EduCARE India gathered with the participating teams in a picture.

We found places to sit and waited for the tournament to start. This was the championship game between Regional Tibetan Women’s Association and Tibetan Women’s Football Team. Mr Penpa Tsering la, the speaker of Tibetan Parliament in Exile graced this event as the chief guest. Ms Gyari Dolma la, the Kalon of the Department of Home and representatives of Young Women’s International Institute and EduCARE India were also present as the guest of honour.

The tournament showed the teamwork, spirit and their love for the game; yet being very competitive and intense. Though being opponents they showed respect through the way they played. One of the objectives of holding this tournament is to advance the participation of Tibetan women in sports and health. The purpose is to address sexual violence in the Tibetan community and also to improve the quality of life for Tibetan refugees. All the players, volunteers and the guests wore purple armbands as a symbol of solidarity towards a ‘Sexual Violence Free Society’. The nine days tournament observed hundreds of spectators enjoying the matches from all corners and every possible space around the Gangkyi Basketball ground.

It was an honour to have the opportunity to witness this incredible event. As EduCARE India and YWA are working towards creating women empowerment through various means, seeing the women participate in the basketball tournament made our goals more consequential. Being part of the Dhasa Tibetan Women’s Basketball tournament has reinforced the capabilities of women in all societies. It is events like these that continue inspire organization like EduCARE to continue the amazing work we are set out to do.

- Amanpreet Sidhu, Canada

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Himalayan Experience

When people hear about India, some of the first adjectives that come to mind are; hot, chaos, and noises. But these kinds of characteristics describe only half of the sweet and sour madness of India. However, in the north of India everything changes, especially in the Himalayan area.

The first impression I had when I arrived in Naddi, was to wonder whether I was going to wake up to this landscape every day, and yes, fortunately my thoughts became real. Next my thoughts wondered to what beauty I might discover and what I would see around the area. For sure there must be a lot of places to trek and relax in peaceful areas! And I was right.

One of the first treks I did was to the river and waterfall that provides water to the villages in the surrounding area. The water in India is not known as the best water in the world, especially in Delhi (the famous Delhi Belly that nobody would like to experience). One of the main questions that you might wonder about is where the water from the pipes is coming from? You can see many pipes everywhere. All kinds; thin, thick, leaking pipes, etc, so we tried to find the origin of this water and see how it looked. First we went from Naddi to Galu temple. Galu temple is one of the starting points for the trek to Triund (one of the most popular treks of the area). During this first stage of the journey, we went in the direction of the waterfall instead of Triund. When we reached the river (amazing area by the way) we decided to go further, and followed the big pipe. It was pretty tough but funny at the same time, especially when my friend Nigel had to slide down to the wall. It was very easy to slip in that area, I could see the fear on his face. Finally we reached the source of the pipe, the water was very clear, pure, and fresh, but there is one thing you never know in Himalaya Mountains,what is above this river? There will always be something else, so you better be even more aware if you are not Indian. So, at the end we decided to sit on a huge rock staring down at the valley and relaxed our minds for a while.

On the second trek, we went to Guna Temple, surprisingly more people than I expected came. It was really motivating to gather a big part of the Educare team and people from Sheini together. Everything was fine until we arrived to the steps which were pretty steep. You could see the faces of the team slightly change. On this trek we could see the international school on the top of the hill, it looked pretty isolated. After one hour and thirty minutes we arrived at Guna Temple, one of the most traditional treks from Naddi. I tried to organize this trek since I arrived, but something would always show up and mess up my plans. You never know what the weather’s like in the Himalayan Mountains, but finally we had good weather and enjoyed this special day.

The last trek was one of the most looked forward to by the team. For the past two months, the weather and the snow have been a big issue, especially in Triund. Triund is 2900 meters high and the level of the snow on the top is most likely going to be twice as much as in Naddi. The day was perfect; no cloud was going to disturb our view from the top. After three hours, we arrived at Triund. We were excited to reach this place and to enjoy the beauty of the area with these specials landscapes. Meanwhile, we started to take all kind of pictures, jumping, meditating, team picture, etc. It was one of the best feelings that you don’t want to forget. Breathing fresh air and being away from the pollution of the cities was so nice. And that moment is when I reflected on my point of view about India. Was it how I thought? Definitely not! In spite of overcrowding of people in India, there are still places where you can relax, lose yourself in this incredible environment, and feel free for a while.

Oscar Carrat, Spain
Eco Volunteer Travel Project Manager, Naddi

Monday, 21 April 2014

Steps towards a sustainable future

Just a short walk away from the main square in the village of Naddi lives a small community that we refer to as the “Shanney community”. It consists of eight families, about 40 people and although they are only a short distance away from the main village they tend to live their daily lives somewhat removed from it. Like every person around the world they have basic needs and wants with regards to their health and sanitation but due to a lack of a sense of empowerment, education and finances they don’t have the sense of responsibility, the knowledge or the organisational skills to implement ideas that will help to give them a better standard of living.

This is where EduCARE India comes into play. An old Chinese proverb springs to mind that might best explain our intentions;

                              Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.

We intend to teach the Shanney community “how to fish”. Our programmes involve sustainable community development that will help empower the community and teach them that they can take responsibility for their lives, health and environment. We want to show them that they are not entirely dependent on the state to organise infrastructure that pertains to their health, safety and sanitation.

On Saturday the twelfth of April 2014, we had an informal meeting led by Mr B (EduCARE India’s Chief Project Director) with seven of our project managers by his side and seventeen members of the Shanney community (each family was represented by at least one person) to discuss what measures we can take together to help them improve their quality of life. Representatives from different generations of life in Shanney were present and they all expressed their intent to continue living there long into the future. For them to stay there in good health habits need to change, education needs to be improved and infrastructural systems need to be developed.

Before we revealed our own agenda with regards to areas that we think they need help with, we wanted to know what issues they felt needed addressing and what it is that they thought they as a community could do to make improvements. One by one they were asked the same question and they all replied with the same answer. That solid waste is a major issue, plastics and paper litter the surrounding area and the only infrastructure that they have is a few bins for paper and plastics which EduCARE had previously placed in their community and have been collecting. Initially these bins raised awareness to the practise of separating waste, but now they are ready for an upgrade.

They all suggested and agreed that they are responsible to do a mass clean up of the surrounding area which we have volunteered to organise for them on the first day of the following month. From this idea a new community based initiative was developed. On the first day of each new month we shall organise a community based activity that directly addresses important issues that the people in Shanney face.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to the fact that waste which litters the valley is so obvious to the eye; this was the only issue that the meetings participants were comfortable enough to mention. This demonstrates either a lack of awareness to the conditions that affect their lives or a lack of confidence to speak up about problems that are not so evident. Either way, it is clear to see that we have a lot of work in front of us.

Following up on the community’s primary concern, is the first item on our agenda; solid waste management. A newly developed solid waste management system has been implemented in the EduCARE staff houses. Although it is not a perfect solution to the waste management problems that people face in rural India, it has been designed in such a way that the foundations of the system should be relatively easy to replicate within the community. Waste can be separated into 4 main categories then brought by volunteering member of the community to our waste storage facility where it is collected and repurposed or sent away for recycling. For example; soft plastics can collected for making Ubuntu-blox (google this if you don’t know this simple but ingenious way of dealing with the plastics problem in the developing world); plastic water bottles are being collected to make a greenhouse; paper can be recycled by the community or turned into burnable briquettes producing energy and lowering the dependency on gas; fabrics can be reused to make clothing for the ReStore (ReStore is an empowerment program which we run where local women make clothes and crafts that they sell in a shop which EduCARE runs)...

These solid waste management initiatives are for us to teach the people from Shanney how to implement and operate, not for us to do everything for them. We help with the initial development of a system, but eventually they will take over. We want them to learn that they control their surrounding environment and that the less waste that they produce the better and that whatever waste is produced can become a useful resource. Very little “rubbish” is actually dirty!

Next up on our agenda is their water supply. Poor infrastructural development has left many leaks along the waters’ pipelines as well as the rampant dumping of waste around the water sources and the leaks have left the water contaminated. Although we are not exactly sure to what extent it is affected, we are certain that water-borne parasites are prevalent, causing many illnesses in the area. A laboratory is being set up for the purpose of testing the water, but this will take some time. In the interim, other solutions must be found. A simple provision would be to boil the water before drinking it and using a water filter, the hard part is getting people into the habit of using these precautions and for them to truly understand why it is they are taking them.

The third issue we addressed is our initiative to raise awareness on health issues. Little education is given with respect to health related practises which we in the developed world take for granted. For example; drinking dirty water or having an indoor fireplace with no ventilation. To counteract this void in learning, we are developing a health centre where the community can learn about the factors that affect their basic health such as; good / bad nutritional practises, basic first aid, causes of respiratory problems, causes of illness such as dirty water, sanitation and hygiene...

There are no local doctors in Naddi and only when someone is very ill do they undertake the forty minute journey down the mountain to the hospital. We hope to be able to arrange having a doctor come to our soon to be developed health centre once a week; to provide basic medical care for relatively easily treated illnesses, which if left ignored might become dangerous.

We then moved on to discuss “the clay oven project”. The houses in the community have open fires in the kitchen, but they do not have any form of chimney to ventilate the smoke. All of EduCARE's staff spend their initial two week induction period staying with certain families in the community which take part in our “homestay” project (similar to a guest house). One of the negative aspects that is always mentioned by the new interns is the problem with smoke inhalation caused by the open fire in the kitchen. We notice this immediately but the families either aren’t aware of the hazard to their health or feel like there is nothing they can do about it. They have learned to live a certain way and for them it is ok, but they seem oblivious to the massively detrimental effects this is having on their health. To combat this, a model for a very cheaply made clay oven and chimney has been developed. Our hope is to eventually have one of these in every house, but it is up to the potential recipients of the oven to help us make them.

There are no ovens in Naddi, hence there is no bakery. The clay oven project also provides an opportunity for business, whereby fresh baked goods can be sold in the Restore shop providing a supplement to a household’s income and fresh bread to a village (this will please many who work at EduCARE).

As an eco-friendly organisation, trees were always going to be mentioned in our meeting. Deforestation is one of the biggest problems that the earth faces. Many of us know that the main effects of this are reductions of global oxygen production and massive losses in wildlife habitats culminating in mass extinctions of species.

These effects are also prominent in Naddi, but there is another pressing issue that the people of Shanney face. The community is built on the steep valley leading down to the river where they experience large snowfalls in the winter and heavy monsoon rains in the summer. The stability of the soil that rests above them is in jeopardy because there are no more trees to keep it in place. The possibility of a landslide will someday become very real. These missing trees should also act as natural groundwater filtering system for the water that flows down to the river which feeds the villages below us. Instead it flows through dumped solid waste, contaminating the water source that supplies neighbouring villages.

We already have projects underway in which we are working with the community and have created a tree nursery. Many of the trees have been planted by the children of Shanney and the life giving favour will eventually be returned when the trees bear fruit for them and their new children whilst keeping the soil above their houses intact.

These ideas are not quick and easy solutions to immediate problems. They require time, patience, persistence and optimism. We want to change the way that people view the world, their place in it and the control they have over it. It is our hope that we can learn from these projects and eventually develop replicable solutions to common but important problems that people face across rural India. When the meeting in Shanney finishes, without anyone mentioning these last points on what it will take to achieve our goals, it feels as if the people of the community understand the problems that lie ahead of them and that they are looking forward to engaging with us as much as we are with them.

Alex Moran, Ireland
SWASH Project Manager
Naddi (Himachal Pradesh)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Queen of the Road

It has been now 2 months that I’ve arrived to India and more specifically Punjab, enough time to get to know the camps, the neighbours, the village and region and not enough yet to still be fascinated by little things of everyday life here. And surprisingly my heart has settled down to one thing, the bus.

They just look like beauty pageant competitors, to who will have the most patriotic painting, the most elegant name as Queen of the Road, the most flowery decorations, the most colourful neon’s. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.

I usually get particularly silent on bus rides, might they be for 10 minutes or 6 hours. I watch what is going out around me. You can meet anyone on the bus, the neighbour with who you start a meaningless conversation about weather, the students having a last look at their manuals before class, the lady and her child with who you share a warm smile, the ticket guy in great performance of his balance skills as the bus goes through rough roads, the old lady who will thank you for let her your place so many times it becomes uncomfortable, the shadow of workers hanging huge bags on the roof, the old man who will talk continuously despite your interrogative and lost looks.

But mostly, it’s outside that I’m staring at. I try to grab a glimpse of the so many landscapes we go through. Nothing is more captivating for me than seeing people in their daily routine for the quarter of a second. And nothing empties more the head than seeing the landscape scrolling through the widow from the fields and jungles of Punjab to the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, from villages as Dholbaha to cities as Hoshiarpur, from the waste dumps and migrant camps around Hariana to the breathtaking view of Naddi.

So now you are warned, I’m a terrible travelling buddy!
Claire de Nale, France
Microfinance Project Manager, Punjab