Sunday, 28 June 2015

Water: a major concern in Punjab

To describe life in Punjab some subjects are inevitable. The heat, the Punjabi music in the buses, the food … And so is the water.

Indeed water shortages in households are common and so are diseases or health problems that can be easily related to water (stomach pain, diarrhea, etc). Since March, the two of us work on water sanitation in rural Punjab in the Hoshiarpur district. We focused on the water supply and the drinking water quality as well as on a rain-water harvesting system for the Janauri intern house. Our project was divided in several parts, online researches, on the field research, a survey in our work communities, and an educational part. We wanted here to share our experiment regarding the survey. Indeed, we had to find ways to communicate and do our survey in Hindi/Punjabi because only a small number of the 23 participants spoke English. As many of you know, Hindi is a very different language than French or English. With internet we were able to translate the main words we needed to be understood. We believe that the success of our survey lies in the fact that we had a real connection, a very good relationship with the people we were interviewing (as many kids as adults, as many women men). They were happy to help us and very excited to participate which was motivating and comforting when the language barrier started being an issue. What we learned during this survey is that there is a strong link between the type of water you get access to (tap water, boiled water or filtered water) and the health symptoms you can present (stomach pain, diarrhea). We are also conscious about the limitations of our work. Indeed it would have been statistically better if we could have had more participants. Besides, we learnt that none of the men we interviewed showed health symptoms while 70% of the women admitted having at least one of the symptoms. This result would certainly have been different if one of us as been a man as well… But you know, TII (this is India).

filling in the survey with Manon in the Mansa Devi Community.
The Janauri Dam, the irrigation water system would be an interesting thing to investigate in the future.

To conclude, we strongly believe that Water Sanitation is a major concern in every cluster of EduCARE and in Punjab we hope that next interns (maybe you) would be interested in focusing on testing the drinking water, filtering the grey waters, etc.

Claire Rais Assa & Manon Egnell - France
Water Sanitation Project Manager, Janauri, Punjab

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Cleanaholic in India

Being a person who loves it clean, very clean, clean in a way that you should be basically be able to eat from the ground it seemed to be an absurd idea to travel India or even choose it for the personal summer internship destination. Month ahead I only heard “And do you really think that it is the country you want to go to? You sure?”; not only from parents also from the rest of the family and friends. But my personal answer was clear “Yes I wanted to and yes I knew it will be a totally different world”. Regarding culture, gender equality, weather, landscapes, but also in terms of hygiene and cleanliness.

Typical documentaries show India as a place where waste just flies around. No one cares. No one thinks it is of his or her business. But was like that in reality? I wanted to find out.I came to research the environmental impact of the garment industry. Not too far from my idea of cleanliness and very high standards of hygiene. I am very disappointed about the garment industry and big companies negatively impacting the environment of thousands of people and consequently impacting their health. So I wanted to observe and find out more about the management of these businesses and how they treat their waste. 

But for now let us get back to me and my obsession of being clean and living in a clean environment; leaving the airport doors at the 31st of May and stepping in the real Indian world was a big step for me. To see and finally smell the huge amount of waste being more or less everywhere definitely feels different than just watching it in TV. It smells. In some areas it smells a lot.  My first destination was Naddi, a small place at the food of the Himalayas, a place for higher casted Indians to go on holidays and at the same time EduCARE’s headquarter. Since it is a touristic place it supposed to be clean and beautiful. The latter is surely the case but with the cleanliness… I don’t know... Definitely not my standards and quick I realized in what troubles I put myself in - This place being called clean? I didn’t even want to know how the rest of the country looks like if this supposed to be clean. Welcome to the mind of a cleanaholic.

When I arrived in Paro, a small village in Punjab, which is my final destination for my internship, I started to clean up the intern house and to prepare “my corner” - I cleaned, cleaned and cleaned and bought a small shelf and hangers for my cosmetics before I actually found some rest from the travel. Eight hours from North to a little bit more South. Eight hours of seeing more of eye-catching India and also eighthours of seeing more waste; on the streets, in the lakes and rivers, on the fields, next to the houses. The next day a carpet to put my luggage on followed so that it is doesn’t get dusty; my suitcase spent the first night on the collection of mattresses. A proper mosquito net was the cherry on the cake. As a cleanaholic you always find something to do or improve, you are never bored.

Other interns mostly make fun of me. Finally, it all comes back to the question “Why did you choose India if you hate dirt?” I only have to say it isn’t impossible to enjoy India and my time here just because there is this one thing (even though it is a bigger thing) I don’t really like. People need to be more open-minded and tolerant with other people’s lifestyles. Judging someone just because he/she came here even though not liking dirt is unfortunate. I do love cleanliness and so do I accept India and it’s uniqueness. 

So now you might see the reason why I later on decided to be also part of a colleagues project trying to develop and implement a waste system for a smaller community. Doesn’t everyone say you should make your passion to your job? So will I and I am curious of what the next month brings. Not only cleaning, that’s for sure. There are many things to do and to explore - With toilet paper and wet towels or without.

Awa Sall - Germany
SWASH Project Manager - Punjab

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Sweet Dreams in Girls’ Club

As I look back to our first Girls’ Club meeting in March, career pathways other than teacher and doctor and the word “aspiration” appeared to be intangible concepts, too big for our girls group to grasp. Every week, we begin Girls’ Club with an icebreaker activity to get to know one another better. We also use these activities to assess their understanding of the abstract concepts that we try to present. Our first ever icebreaker activity involved sitting in a circle and asking each girl what they like about themselves. The range of 12 to 14 year olds struggled to understand the question, as their responses focused on the people and things they like instead. After noticing the difficulty the girls had with the activity, we tried to gauge which physical attributes they liked about themselves, thus, shifting the focus back onto them. When planning this activity, I anticipated responses, such as, “I like my creativity”, and “I like that I’m different.” This first Girls’ Club discussion, however, was met with “I like my hair”, “I like my eyes”, and “I like my cheeks.”

Since then, we have used crafts and games to encourage self-expression and to foster a sense of self and individuality among the group. Although on some Sundays, they can be quite restless, our attempts at building the girls’ confidence and showcasing women’s potential and achievements seldom fall short of meeting the objective.

Throughout May, the women’s empowerment interns experimented with introducing the girls to various female role models. We began this series with Savitribai Jyotirao Phule, who opened the first school for girls in India in 1848. The girls read the summarized biography of Phule, held onto every detail of her life, but they could not explain why she should be important to us all. They missed the fact that she is the reason they can get an education today. Evaluating this first role model discussion, we observed that not all of the girls were engaged, sidebar conversations took over, and in all, the interest was not there. Preparing to try again the following week, we thought, “maybe we should introduce someone more recent”, “maybe we should make the summary more concise”, “maybe this activity is too much like school”, “maybe we should highlight the points we want them to remember, by acknowledging one key detail each week.”

We began again with Mary Kom, a famous professional Indian boxer, who won a bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics, and a gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games. Upon introducing Mary Kom, some girls were familiar with her story. Each week, we presented a new detail about her life: from being bullied as a child because she came from a poor family, to her father saying that boxing isn’t something a girl should do. The aim of this revised weekly conversation was to introduce the girls to influential Indian women, who faced challenges on heir path to making a difference. Unfortunately, emphasis on these different points didn’t generate the kind of conversation we hoped for. The girls were aware that Mary Kom was a successful boxer, but they were still missing why she was someone we could look up to. And when asked to elaborate on their thoughts of the way Mary’s father felt about girls boxing, not much was stated.

The next few weeks involved taking a break from the role model discussions. We facilitated more hands on activities: we talked about the environment, made bracelets, drew pictures, and we played games to practice our English. Our final Girls’ Club meeting for the month of May combined an abstract concept to a tangible activity. After our opening icebreaker, we asked the girls about their dreams. Two girls immediately expressed their dream of having long hair. Another girl said her dream is to be an IPS officer. After hearing this, the rest of the girls chimed in with more hopes and aspirations: doctor, teacher, and pilot were of those mentioned. In talking about our dreams, we introduced a brief cultural context on the dream catcher. We explained that according to Native American custom, when you hang a dream catcher above your bed, it catches your bad dreams in its net, and filters the good thoughts and dreams, which trickle down the feathers, onto you as you sleep. We shared pictures so that they could see what a dream catcher looked like. The girls greeted each photograph with a soft “wow!” We then pulled out some bangles and thread, and began making our own. Weaving the web was a challenge for some of the girls. As others caught the hang of it, they helped one another make their dream catchers. Because we couldn’t find feathers in any of the local shops, we embellished our dream catchers with beads instead. A photo session was soon in tow, as the girls showed off what they made.

Besides a cool ornament to hang in their rooms, I can’t really say how much was taken from the activity. But to see the progress these girls have shown from March to now is a reward in itself. The first time we ever talked about careers, their most immediate thoughts were teacher and doctor, but now, these girls are expressing dreams to fly, hopes to help others and make a difference.

Alanah Grant, USA
Women's Empowerment Project Manager - Rait

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The First Girls Club in MJD

 Since March, the Naddi Young Women’s IDEA team have been running English Lessons for teenage girls from the MJD community. These lessons are not only educational, but provide a key platform for community engagement. After spending time getting to know some of the girls in MJD, building relationships and gaining their trust, we raised the idea of setting up a girls club.

Some of the girls had heard of the Shenni girls club and were really excited about the idea of having one (which they were clear they wanted to stay separate and just their own) as soon as possible! On the 23rd of May we held the first MJD girls club at the ECRC, which five girls attended.

We explained that the girls club in Shenni provided a safe space for the girls to discuss anything they wanted to with us, and we could talk about the things they felt were important. Then we asked what they thought girls club should be, allowing them to have some input into nature of their girls club and to make it their own. For the first session we wanted to start by discussing their dreams and aspirations. We thought that this topic would be interesting, allowing us to get to know the girls better and developing trust with them so that we can move on to covering more personal topics in the future, if they want to talk about these issues.

Their dream jobs ranged from singer to bank manager to police woman. In a society in which women’s primary duties tend to be domestic, even if they have received an education, we hoped to encourage these young women to pursue a rewarding professional life through talking about their plans for the future.

We brought along a map of the globe and everyone chose the place they would most like to visit in the world. Some were close, such as Delhi or Chandigar, while some of the girls wanted to travel far further away to Australia or Brazil. Sakshi then explained her dream of having a scooter, so she would have the freedom to go anywhere she chose to, which all of the girls agreed would be amazing.

While we carried on talking about how we would like our lives to be and listening to their favourite songs, we showed the girls how to make dream catchers. They were all really engaged in the activity, even though it is slightly complicated and some of them struggled to weave the web at the centre of the dream catcher. They all seemed to enjoy the session, so hopefully attendance will be high at the next girls club!

Lily Pollock, UK
Women's Empowerment Project Manager - Naddi

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Cultivating Community Projects: What’s Really Involved

This blog is usually used to communicate, celebrate and reflect on EduCARE’s successes; be it a successful health project, a significant milestone in community relationship building, or the start of a village-wide environmental awareness campaign. We love to share the photos of smiling interns side by side with satisfied community members, and recount that special feeling of achieving something amazing together. This blog is usually a record of the fruits of our labour.

In this post I have no grand event to report, no milestone to reflect on and no photos of a crowd of community members with EduCARE staff snapped after a long but fruitful day. This post contains no fruit at all, only carefully prepared soil and the first suggestions of a fresh green shoot.

Every morning and afternoon, our landlord, a seventy-something year old man with a neat moustache and gravelly voice, helps us tend our garden at the Rait intern house. With one of our main centre goals being to maintain a sustainable house project, the veggie garden is very important to us interns. With years of agricultural experience, “Uncle” demonstrates how to prepare the soil, explains where and when to plant each crop, and diligently monitors the watering schedule. We are all very excited with the prospect of soon cooking and eating our own home-grown vegetables;perhaps, a little too excited and a little too quick to throw seeds into the unprepared soil of a new garden bed just in front of the veranda.

Our Uncle just shakes his head at this, patiently gets the shovel and instructs us to loosen the soil in the small plot of land. “Do we plant the seeds now”, we ask, Uncle shakes his head and smiles. The next day, he brings a bag of cow manure, directs us to scatter it across the small plot of land and then work the nutrient-rich goodness into the soil. “Do we plant the seeds now”, we ask, Uncleshakes his head and smiles. The next day, he brings three huge bags of dried leaves, scatters them over the plot of land and leaves them there. We don’t ask about seeds this time, we just watch and wait. The leaves stay there for days, weeks even, getting no attention other than the occasional watering. As I write, we still haven’t planted any seeds in that plot of land in front of the veranda. We realise now that there’s more to gardening than throwing seeds into the dirt and hoping for the best.

Similarly,there is more to community development than just throwing a project at the community and hoping it will take root. When the Rait centre first initiated its figure-head women’s empowerment project in March, the Young Women’s Association, it was assumed that a range of other projects would inevitably shoot off, including skills development and training programs, self-help groups and micro-enterprises. Things are never that simple.

The women’s empowerment team in Rait has learnt the importance of leg-work, liaising with stakeholders, comparing options, exploring new avenues and finding creative solutions to unexpected challenges. Take our mushroom farming project, for example. The project design involves training a group of women in the art of mushroom cultivation, providing a small interest-free loan to help with training and start-up costs, and helping the women source materials and equipment to start their own mushroom micro-enterprises at home. Sounds simple enough, right? Hold on, don’t throw those seeds in that hard, compacted dirt just yet.

We’ve spent the last two months travelling to agricultural research institutes and universities, communicating back and forth with professors and mushroom experts, learning about mushroom cultivation techniques, preparing cost analyses, and comparing training options. Only once all of this behind the scenes legwork was done could we go to the women, who expressed an interest in growing mushrooms, to tell them the good news. But wait, you may have broken your back turning that soil, but you haven’t introduced the manure yet!

The women of Rait live diverse and complicated lives. Their time is split between domestic duties, child care, social and community obligations, and a diverse range of income-generating activities. There is a diverse mix of living and housing situations, from large multi-roomed complexes, which house entire extended families, to simple two room structures, and single rented rooms that are shared by each family. The diversity of these women’s experiences poses some interesting challenges for designing a project suitable for each of their living situations, schedules and needs. From difficulties with finding two consecutive days to attend a training course,to identifying a suitable spot in the house to allow the sensitive young mushrooms to grow, communicating with each of the women requires multiple visits to their homes (and lots of cups of chai). The language barrier poses another problem and we often have to enlist the aid of a native-speaker. Every visit presents a new challenge and requires some creative problem solving. It may not be so glamourous, but this is what community development work really looks like.

It takes time and a lot of back-breaking labour to get the soil primed and ready for sowing.
We’d love for this blog post to be about the success of our first mushroom farming training workshop, or to include a photo of a smiling woman proudly presenting her crop of home-grown oyster mushrooms. In the future, we hope to bring you these things, but for now all I can share with you is the nitty-gritty of what community development really looks like. We’ve put a lot of effort into laying the foundation of this project, anticipating and solving challenges in creative ways, and tailoring solutions to meet the individual and the collective needs of the women of Rait. We are currently putting together individual contracts for each of the women, to ensure the micro-credit process is both transparent and specific to each woman’s needs. We plan to hold our first training workshop in early June; our first mushroom crop should be ready by late July or early August.
We might not have anything to show for our efforts just yet, but with such rich and carefully cultivated soil, we are bound to have a successful crop soon enough.

Katherine Woolnough - Australia
Women's Empowerment Project Manager, Rait