Sunday, 19 April 2015

Quarterlies: Cleaning the Streets of Rait!

This February 2015, quarterlies took place combined in Naddi & Rait. Quarterlies is a coming together of all 4 centres of EduCARE India: Naddi, Punjab, Bikaner and Rait. During such a week project managers are able to discuss achievements and challenges with managers of the same projects from different centres. Furthermore, a week like this is filled with workshops, discussions, brainstorming, sports, good food and fun, much. fun. A combined quarterlies was possible since both the centres Naddi & Rait are situated near Dharamsala. Naddi in the Himalayas, Rait 30 kilometres towards Kangra. The week started off in Naddi with presentations of centres regarding their centres, the communities they work in, and implemented projects. It ended in Rait with a big clean-up.

Rait is a relatively new centre, and its projects are very young or even not yet existing. This quarterlies was an enormous opportunity for EduCARE India to make its presence known in the village. A good connection has already been established with the closely by situated ‘South-East’ community, yet we still are the unknown ‘outsiders’ for many people in this +/- 2000 heads counting village. For me, Bruno; manager of SWASH in Rait, this quarterlies brought the opportunity to turn this around, and to create a positive change regarding waste awareness in Rait.

In the afternoon of Sunday the 5th of March 2015, two formed groups left the Rait intern house. 30 people armed with empty bags planning to make the Indians mind dazzle. As waste is defined to be filthy and gross, people cleaning it are associated with the lowest of society, and ‘people from the West’ often is being looked up to as ‘wealthy’, western people picking waste would surely create one huge contradiction.

We split up in 2 groups: one going into the ‘South-East’ community, the second heading for the main street and shopping area. The mission was not necessarily to pick-up as much waste as possible. The core-idea of this clean-up was to smile, laugh, and namaste our way through Rait: People had to see us, people had to start gossip about us!

As I was in group number one I was walking through the South-East community. This community is the one that our intern-house is situated in, and the one which we for example celebrated Holi with, a couple of weeks ago. A similar path was chosen to the one that we walked together with the community during this event. While separating waste in ‘soft plastics’, ‘recyclables’, ‘paper & cardboard’ and ‘general waste’, we encountered a lot of people. Striking was: most of these were smiling and greeting us. However with a questioning face -what in the universe name these crazies were doing -. As far as I could understand people did not directly disapprove. They still might have disapproved anyway. They might have started the rumor: “have you seen them doing that?”: perfect

Now the question might have occurred by you: reader of this blog-post, if this is the approach that EduCARE India is striving for: 30 people walking through a village picking up waste yet there much more is to be cleaned and picked up. The answer is no. This walk was a perfect opportunity to create awareness amongst them who questioned what we are doing here. SWASH: waste management in Rait aims for creating a sustainable, community-owned household/shopkeeper level system for reduce, re-use and recycle of waste. This in close cooperation with people themselves. EduCARE India tries to create responsibility under people, hoping to one day leave a Rait which has the ability to maintain a waste disposal system itself.

Has this community clean-up been effective? Yes. Whether I extremely badly want to see this, or this is actually happening; I have the feeling more shopkeepers have put bins outside their shops. A shopkeeper showed me a sign on his bin saying: ‘waste disposal’ in English and Hindi. He mentioned he put it there after he saw us performing the clean-up. Another shopkeeper actually grabbed a bit of plastic and put it in a bag during the clean-up. Best for last: one day after this event an interviewer came to the Rait intern house asking whether he could write an article about EduCARE India and its activities in Rait.

See you in a cleaner Rait!

Bruno Lauteslager - The Nethelands
SWASH Project Manager, Rait

Saturday, 11 April 2015

This Is India

This is India

I've been here for about 3 weeks now.

And we had a big 5 day conference where the whole organization gets together and we discuss the different projects we are working on in our clusters (area). I didn't know what to expect but it's mandatory so I was down for it.

Day 1 and 2 we received the other clusters in Naddi and it was fun. I got to meet everyone and realized we were an eclectic bunch. We presented our current and future projects to our colleagues. But on day 3 we all moved to Rait to finish up the quarterlies.

We woke up super early and travelled by bus which was super late but off course this is india and time is infinite here.

"It happens, it will happen again, it's complex, sit". back and enjoy, this is india"

You just sit back and enjoy cause nothing ever goes as planned and you are wired to always be ready for that.

We decided that the whole organization should sleep under one roof because we hardly get to be together so why split up now. No tvs or radios just us having to entertain one another, 30 different personalities in one house, life bound to get interesting.We spent our nights playing games and getting to know one another. We spent our days playing with the kids from the community, cleaning the community and gaining new perspectives on the different projects we are working on. Maybe 8 people are from the same country.

We are literally an eclectic group of young adults after the same thing. Living a life where you follow your bliss and not societies way of living.

Just by being in the house I feel like I visited the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Scotland, Belgium, Vietnam Brazil, Australia, Sweden, Canada, California, Colorado and India. Here we are from different backgrounds, different cultures, languages and favorite foods. But yet we discovered that we are ALL CONNECTED.

In the words of my favorite french Hippie "We are all Care Bears trying to spread joy and love". What I'm loving the most about this experience is the fact that I am learning things I would've never learned if I stayed home and listen to fears and discouraging voices in the background telling me I can't do it.

All I did was listen to my heart and follow my curiosity. I didn't sit in a classroom. But I managed to learn more in one week than I ever did in school. Nothing great comes from your comfort zone.

I'm eating food whose name I can't pronounce, meeting people who's home language I do not understand

Yet we all know one language. The language of the Soul of the World.

Since I started working here I haven't used my alarm clock once but yet I catch the sunrise over the beautiful horizon every morning either while sharing it with someone from back home or with one of my many new friends while having a parantha.

I am excited about going to work despite some of hurdles I've encountered while here.

The best thing I've learned so far is;
When you're truly doing something out of passion hurdles become challenges you look forward to overcome and complaining about the little things become a thing of the past.

If you all don't learn nothing from me I beg of you to learn this...

Follow your bliss.
Lose it all if you have to I promise it's worth it.

"When you want something the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it " Paulo Cohelo

Til Next Time

Whitney - USA and Haiti
EVT Coordinator, Naddi

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The “Quarterlies”

The “Quarterlies” is a weeklong meeting where the EduCARE interns come together to share ideas, discuss projects, troubleshoot and enjoy each other’s company. This March it ran for five productive, but tiring, days - two in Naddi, three in Rait. Consequently, I decided that today (the day after) would be spent in unwind mode: espresso drinking, momo eating, Orwell reading, blog writing.

I have taken the first sip of my second coffee when a woman sharing my table asks me “if I saw the Dalai Lama this morning?”

She’s got medium length sunny-blonde hair that flicks at the end and a pale white complexion that I’m sure appreciates Himachal’s mostly temperate climate.She’s Austrian, a teacher by trade, who’s broken from tradition to immerse herself in Tibetan culture and pursue her love of learning here in McLeod Ganj.

She tells me that the Dalai Lama’s currently in residence and has just delivered a speech at the temple down the main road from this cafe. He leaves tomorrow for Japan, then onto my native Australia in June. As it was, I hadn’t heard he was in town. So, I hadn’t seen him.

The conversation changes course, from Buddhism to EduCARE, when my Austrian pal asks what I’m doing here in India - travelling, learning, teaching, working?

The answer is all of the above.

And it was at this point that I did my deepest reflection on my EduCARE experience.

I tell her that I live in a rural village 45 minutes from Bikaner, Rajasthan. It’s a place called Gajner where the locals treat us just like the sun: with unswerving attention and relentless warmth. Hardly a day passes without a shopkeeper offering free chai or locals inviting our group for lunch or dinner. Sometimes both.

Our boss is Mr. B, I tell her, when she asks who ‘runs’ the NGO. But I’m quickly critical of my comment. “He’s not a boss at all”, I clarify, “more of a mentor or guide.”

In fact, he’s a former Air Force pilot. He traded in his wings for a position as ‘Director’ of EduCARE about 15 years ago.

He’s got an imposing physical presence, sports a rough dark beard and invariably wears a baseball cap. He often talks in long, winding, philosophical and metaphorical sentences.

Mr B’s a lateral thinker. He exudes enthusiasm at every breath, urges us to self-challenge, and encourages us to unlock our potential.

Occasionally, like all good leaders, he leaves us scratching our heads, uncertain and sometimes confused. We question how – or if - we can operationalise his ideas. How - or if – do we turn his exuberance into results.
Learning and innovation, he maintains, is the answer.

The Austrian and I spend the next thirty minutes talking about how the acronym NGO has gathered some negative connotations, especially in India. Once in Jaipur, I had excitedly told the owner of my guesthouse that I was planning to volunteer for an NGO. He explained that the NGOs of Jaipur were only interested in making money and not developing the welfare of those they purported to help.

What’s more is that NGOs are forced to be results-based. The term is a bit of a buzzword in the Development space. It was created, I think, to satisfy the West’s thirst for a more scientific approach to aid policy. The implication is that if an NGO doesn’t produce ‘results’ that can be measured and evaluated and then used to inform new policies, the NGO is inefficient.

I contend to my Austrian friend that EduCARE challenges this paradigm.

It is still results-based, but not hamstrung by the short-termism of the NGO industry or restricted by government demands for detailed reports on scientific methods and linear expectations of poverty reduction.

Instead the word ‘result’ in Mr’s B’s dictionary probably reads: an impact that challenges societal traditions by empowering women to alter the status quo. An impact might be felt in 20 or 30 year's time but will be at least economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

Though if he reads this post, I’ve no doubt he’ll challenge me. For that’s his nature, and that’s what he wants to nurture in all of us.

Thus, EduCARE tries to redefine what an NGO is. The organisation demands patience, ideas and determination.

At some point, our Austrian friend and Mr. B share a value. She’s rejected the expectation of staying in the safe and strong Austrian state and chosen topursue her interests in Tibetan culture and language. Similarly, Mr. B challenges what’s conventionally expected of an NGO chief.

One of my colleagues, a fellow intern, summed its virtues up pretty well last week at the Quarterlies. He told me: “This internship will probably be the only time of my career where I get so much freedom to put into practice the ideals that I think are important for the world’s future. To implement the things I actually care about.”

So, this is the defining mark of EduCARE and should be the defining mark of the NGO sector as a whole - one predicated on innovation and societal challenge and freedom to reject the dominant paradigms.

In 3 month's time, the interns will again converge on an EduCARE ‘cluster’ for the Quarterlies. We’ll discuss and debate the merits of our NGO, of our work and its ‘results’. We’ll recount stories about our respective clusters, the intensity of the locals’ glares, our projects’ problems and successes. And we’ll argue about Mr B’s philosophy.

And some of us – like myself – won’t be there. I’ll either be at university, in the workforce (hopefully) or perhaps with my friends or family. Either way I’ll be attempting to instil Mr B’s values into my interactions and conversations, seeking to recreate the progressive environment that EduCARE lent me while interning.

Lachlan Alexander - Australia
Community Research Manager