Wednesday, 29 July 2015

To Leave Gajner

Child from the community playing with a kite

Five months ago I arrived in India to start my internship with EduCARE and yet it is the end: I have to go back home in France. But, full of that experience, I am sure that my relationship with people will be different and I will reduce as much as can my impact on the environment.

I worked in Gajner, a small village in Rajasthan. There it is the desert and with our little team we had to face electricity power cuts, live without water for few days, undergo sand storms… Many events that locals have to face all their lives. Actually, what could seem really uncomfortable back in our western countries, is not so awful: we get use to everything and we learn to live with it.

In Gajner, the cast system is still running and while some young people go to college, other children can’t go to school and run with no shoes in the street.

In that environment, the cluster, that is to say, few young interns, tried to implement projects to help with the development of the community. We worked on After school Program, Women Empowerment, Environmental issues, etc. I started to implement a solid waste management system, which this village, as others in India, needs badly. Indeed, there, trash is on the ground, in the water and polluting everything. It involves one local trash-picker, several shopkeepers and the population, especially the kids from our different clubs. The purpose is to develop awareness little by little within the community.

To be honest, I learned more than I taught. But I believe that in some way I helped to start a change. The population here is ready to move forward and open to any suggestions, much more than in my country. They listen and take time to understand, they are hungry for knowledge and love to share theirs.

By dealing with trash, I also realized how difficult it is to get rid of it, even in western countries, and how much we just throw in the nature. In France it is hidden so we don’t notice it, but we can’t get rid of too much of our waste... and we produce so much.

I faced lots of challenges: working in a different culture with different codes and languages is not easy. But I also discovered how welcoming these people are and how happy they are to give. I spent so much time with families drinking a chai, playing with kids: to build relationship here is the most important thing. In Gajner, they don’t believe in ideas, projects or money, they believe in people. When they give their trust and love, it is true and forever. It is difficult to describe how they would do everything they could to help us and to bring you what we need.

So I leave and my project stays without monitoring. I tried to do my best every day to build a sustainable system but it is difficult to give up something so young and so unfinished, something where I put my heart and my energy for 5 months. I hope someone will come soon to take my place and keep working on this. Because people I worked with believed in that project, they are sick of the waste everywhere and they care about their health. They may just need a little help to find resources and ideas. I believe in Gajner’s cluster and I am very exciting about the other interns’ projects so I leave Gajner but I am full of hope for the future of this village and for all his kids.

Lea Monin - France
SWASH project manager, Gajner

Monday, 27 July 2015

Organic Farming Field Trip

Cow dung and organic waste. Not usually on your list of favorite things, but they are considered hot commodities in the organic farming world. They are treasures for composting as I learned on my visit to Palumpur University’s Department of Agriculture. Together with the newly formed Educare organic farming team and Mr.B, we took a field trip for some organic learning and some inspiration.

Palumpur, located two hours by bus from Dharamsala is beautifully located between tea plantations. The organic farming section of the agriculture department is spread out over 38 acres. When I first arrived, the professor was explaining the various types of vermicompost we can try starting as part of our organic farming/kitchen garden projects. The speedy process takes around 6 months, with the average length of time taking 12 months, composting, I realized, is a commitment. We learned about 10 different ways to compost as well as ways to create organic and nutrient filled pesticides. A main ingredient in creating a great compost or organic pesticide is cow dung, and luckily, I don’t see India running out of it anytime soon.

Visit to Palumpur University’s Department of Agriculture
Visit to the Palumpur University's Department of Agriculture

We walked around the campus admiring the greenhouses filled with ceiling high beanstalks and tomatoes, the lush rice paddies and vegetable plantations. Awed by the vibrant color of green beanstalks, I decided then and there I wanted to plant beans in my garden in Maiti! Fortunately, we purchased two types of hybrid beans from the university that day.

Bamboo fences, benches and shelving were also another source of natural inspiration I took in at the university. There was an entire house made of bamboo complete with tables and chairs inside that the department uses occasionally for trainings. The bamboo creations were beautiful as well as sturdy. I carefully took pictures of how the bamboo fence and bench were built, so I can hopefully mimic the construction after the monsoon.

Maybe I am being overly optimistic in my venture into organic farming (as it is my second side project), but the Palumpur visit was inspiring and motivating nonetheless. And now to start planting my seeds!

Michelle Fujisaki - USA
HR Coordinator

Thursday, 16 July 2015

New Microfinance projects are on a roll in Paro, Punjab

The Punjab Microfinance project is undergoing an overhaul! The cluster went from zero microfinance interns to three, and thus the weeks since Educare’s quarterlies have been spent coming up with a shared vision for the microfinance initiatives we would like to see here. Assessing some of the past microfinance projects here we decided we wanted to go ahead and open a ReStore, and the best way to do this would be to start with a juice stand run out of the Paro office.

We believe this juice stand will be a good way to increase Educare’s visibility in Paro, and we can gradually encourage some of the girls in the Paro migrant camp to come help work the juice stand. We’re hoping this will teach the girls financial literacy skills (such as bookkeeping, addition, and subtraction), independence, and a desire to expand on new projects!
Rachel hopes to engage the women in Paro in a sewing project to make and sell re-usable bags either out of the ReStore or out of the local shops, Aurélien plans to expand on an organic farming project to sell fresh produce, and Madeline hopes to re-engage the chicken coop project out of the Paro camp to sell eggs in the ReStore.

We have a lot going on for Microfinance here in Punjab, stay tuned for some big changes!

Madeline Zdeblick - USA
Cluster Coordinator, Punjab

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Updates from Gajner Cluster

Gajner cluster opened in October 2014 and remains as of now the youngest of EduCARE. But so much has happened since and the people who have been living and working here with me and the wonderful community who has welcomed us with their open-heart are the reason why.

View of Gajner from our roof top

Until I arrived, previous interns worked on getting familiar and building relationship with the community, mapping the village and establishing basic cluster programs such as the Girls’ Club, After-School Program and Young Women’s Association.

When arriving in February in Gajner, a small village located 40 minutes away from Bikaner, we were only 3 interns: Jazzmine from Canada, Lachlan from Australia and myself.

We each took on responsibilities to develop and assist each other in projects. Jazzmine started the solid waste management system with Manoj a local shopkeeper who has become since a great resource for the interns and a role model for his community. Lachlan conducted a poverty research in the migrant camp of Gajner called Indra colony and started a Boys’ Club. As for me, I became the project manager for the Girls’ Club. Jazzmine was holding multiple responsibilities at that time: cluster coordinator, YWA and ASP project manager while I was also assisting her in those last two and helping Lachlan in implementing the poverty research.

From left to right: Lachlan, myself, Jazzmine and Léa. Having dinner at Sushma and Pradeep house

In the month of March 2015, we welcomed Léa who took over the waste management project. She bought bins to separate trash in Manoj’s shop and created displays to explain the importance of not throwing garbage in the streets. She also engaged a local trash picker from Indra colony, Mool Chand to come and collect trash from our home, from Manoj shop, and other shopkeepers in the main street. Mool Chand collects it each week and sells it in Bikaner now.

Bikaner Garbage dump, Manoj
The Multi poverty assessment tool (MPAT) survey implemented by Lachlan was a great resource for the cluster. We involved two locals to conduct the survey in the migrant camp : Pradeep Badgujar, a young man who is preparing his Master Degree in Accounting/Finance, and Anjuman Ali a female leader who runs 7 different Self-help Group (SHG )in Gajner. By involving locals in the planning and implementing of the survey, it provided us a platform for community engagement and it made them feel engaged and committed in improving the life of their community. The survey itself also provided new ideas to consider to establishing new projects and enhancing existing ones in Indra Colony.
Pradeep and Anjuman conducting the MPAT survey in Indra colony
The YWA managed by Jazzmine led to a microfinance sewing project that successfully engaged six women in Indra colony where they sewed and decorated pillowcases. The women were given money each for their work. The pillowcases are now located in our house for future sale in our ReStore. Anjuman has also recently attended one of the YWA meetings to introduce the idea of a self-help group to the women. Anjuman’s regular participation to the YWA meeting will be very beneficial to the development of an SHG in Indra colony.

Until the month of April, the ASP project was running once a week in Indra Colony. Since then, thanks to Jazzmine and Léa who created strong bonds with a family, we have successfully expanded ASP to Chandasar (a village located 2 km away from Gajner), which takes place on Mondays afternoon, while on Wednesdays it takes place in Indra Colony in Gajner.
ASP Indra
ASP Chandasa
Girls’ Club in Ward 1 from left to right: Nandini, Bharti, Puri, Sushma, Ria and Shalu
Until May, the Girls Club was running in one location: Jessa colony. The cluster has also expanded the Girls Club to another community in Gajner called Ward One (where the intern’s house is located). As I regularly engaged a local 20 years-old girl named Sushma Badgujar (Pradeep’s sister) and her family since my arrival, she was really curious about the Girls’ Club and she decided to come with me at Jessa colony to help out in facilitating the session. She really enjoyed it and we both decided to create one in her community. Beyond the fact that Sushma is one of the potential future leaders of the VIKAS Center, she has become my little sister and our relationship has grown so much.

Same month, we started to go once a week in Modiya and Mansar, a very poor community located above the highway (9 km away from Gajner). Most kids never went to school, and those who have the chance to go attend until the age of 13-14 years old. There is no shops, no markets, and most families do not earn a regular sufficient income to feed their family properly. So, after meeting regularly a family and assessing their needs, the potential for a microfinance and ASP project is huge and really needed.

First meeting in Modiya Mansar
The cluster has also grown in numbers since! We were only 4 interns for 3 months and we are now 10 people living in the house! It is a very exciting time for us and for the community we work with as we are expanding our projects to Chandasar and Modia Mansar.

Laure arrived in May and she became the project coordinator for ASP as well as the project manager for ASP in Gajner and she will develop general knowledge classes for the kids. Camilla from Italy arrived at the end of June and she will be leading ASP hand-in-hands with Laure. Mercedes and Lucia from Spain arrived in June and will be responsible for YWA and Water Conservation respectively. Johann and Vijay are managing an alternative energy project to have drinkable water, hot water for the winter and enough to cook without using too much gas. Mariko and Arindam arrived in Gajner recently and are working on an alternative energy project to provide our house electricity.

Laure, riding a camel on the way to Manoj’s farm
Boy’s club: from left to right: Lucia, Jazzmine (on top), myself and Mercedes

Enrique and Arnaud will arrive very soon to work on Eco-building in our house and in Chandasar for the Eco-Homestay project. Harmonie, our health project coordinator will also arrive very soon to conduct health research in Gajner.

I am also working on opening very soon our first ECRC and Restore and finding a new intern house in Chandasar.

I have been very lucky so far to be working with talented, energized and dynamic people who share the same values as me and EduCARE India. As I became the cluster coordinator when Jazzmine left, I am optimistic and very happy to be staying here to see Gajner, Chandasar and Modiya Mansar growing into villages full of opportunities for these communities.

Mathilde Buchet - France
Girls’ Club Project Manager and Cluster Coordinator, Bikaner

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Water or not water?

Water may seem secure and reliable for most of us back in our home countries. In here, it is much less of a given resource : we are surrounded by streams, it is raining almost everyday ; yet our taps remain empty for more than half of the week. As often in India, it is all about contrasts. The Naddi hotels show off with impressive number of tanks of water and the number of leaking pipes is ever increasing. On the other hand, families in Naddi don’t necessarily have running water in their houses.

Living with short supplies of water is challenging for sure and has actually led to lot of skills learning. For the first fews days without water, we were lucky enough to find water at the office, just 3 floors up. It was just a matter of carrying the buckets back down, under the intense scrutiny of the construction workers working next to our house. It’s when this back up option stopped that things became a lot more interesting.

How to do the dishes, flush, shower, or simply wash hands ? Luckily enough, there is a public tap nearby. By public tap, I mean a broken pipe that dispenses some water. This lead us to get to know Deepu, whose chai stalls is right next to the tap. Also, needless to say that foreigners waiting by a broken pipes with buckets at their feet is attracting much attention and we have offered entertainment to more than one person.

However this arrangement could not last forever and the ‘public tap’ – to our despair – got fixed… But in India there is always back up plans to the back up plan. Indeed, couple of meters after Deepu’s shop there is a temple. And the temple conveniently has a tank full of water. We need to share it with people who come in here to pray. At first they are surprised to find us there, but - after some starring - they are rather amused by our situation.

In addition to finding new supplies of water, we had to learn how to use our water as efficiently as possible. Baby wipes and 2 liters showers are part of our routine. Flushing is done only when necessary. Plate sharing and cup mingling has been adopted in the Dal Lake flat. And whenever water is back, we turn hysterical and run around filling our buckets and completing our collection of bottles, graphically lined up on our kitchen and bathrooms floors.

 Bottle Collection

As a result, even though water shortage is not fun everyday, we have learnt how to appreciate simple things. The sound of water running down our tap has become music to our ears and a bucket shower (or better: through the shower head) is assimilated to happiness. Simple things…

Harmonie Bucher - France
Women's Health Project Manager and Health Coordinator, Naddi