Saturday, 29 August 2015

Why an EduCARE India internship won’t be what you expect; and why that’s ok

I find myself at the end of a six-month internship with EduCARE India. As I was saying my final goodbyes, finishing up the last monthly report and making travel arrangement, the Project Director, Mr B, asked me if this internship met my expectations. And I had to say no. Not at all.

Any undergrad, recent graduate or anyone at the “entry-level” of their career knows the importance of experience and how hard it can be to get that experience on your CV. Most of us know that to get that elusive first job, you need to put in a lot of unpaid hours. I had volunteered and interned with many organisations before EduCARE India, both international and domestic. So I’m used to that kind of role. I’m used to coming into the office one day a week and being given some simple tasks to complete. Or sitting in on team meetings to listen and learn. I’m used to being given a little responsibility, even whole projects to oversee, under the watchful guidance of a supervisor.

EduCARE appealed to me because they had a diverse portfolio of projects, offered on the ground experience and focused their efforts at the grassroots level. As I tried to get an idea of what my six months in India would look like, I eagerly read blog posts about successful women’s empowerment projects in a remote hill village called Naddi. I was excited to meet the project managers and pick their brains about what challenging things they debated in their Young Women’s Associations meetings. I search Pinterest and Google for feminist movements and personalities, specific to India, so that I could contribute and prove a useful team member in their operational projects.

I was prepared to watch, listen and learn, as I always had, from those who had done it all before. I wanted to find out what worked and what didn’t, from those who has tried it all before. I arrive in Naddi, with a blank notebook and an eagerness to learn as much as I could from those around me. To gain experience from the experienced.

I spent less than one week in Naddi then was sent 35 km downhill, to a little village clinging to a busy highway, called Rait. Venture beyond the main road and its shoe-box shops and you’ll find quaint clusters of mud rendered homes disperse amongst small wheat or rice fields. For EduCARE India, it was a new centre, which had only been operational for about a month, and whose most senior team member had been living there for little more than three months. A team of seven novice interns from different backgrounds were sent to live and work in a little house in the south of this village. Our goal was to establish the centre, engage the local community and begin projects. It dawned on me that this wasn’t going to be the usual internship.

I’ve spent the last six months learning by doing. I have gained experience, not from observing and copying those who are more experienced, but by experimenting, trying and - at times - failing. I have had the opportunity to develop plans, implement those plans and watch as completely unplanned and unplannable things have happened. There have been challenges and frustrations and obstacles and triumphs. I made mistakes, and witnessed first-hand the consequences of those mistakes. I also found ways to overcome those mistakes and get things back on track. No other internship or volunteer experience has ever given me so much freedom and autonomy over my own projects. With this flexibility comes responsibility, and an overwhelming motivation to make things happen.

Early in my internship, in a project management training workshop, the incredibly knowledgeable Ben Flemming told me “everything you planned to do here, you won’t do. And that’s ok.” At the time I thought that was nonsense.

“Ok” I thought, “so I might not be able to do everything, but surely I’ll achieve some of my goals”.

But as I’ve undertaken this internship, I have seen my plans constantly evolve and adapt. What I thought I could do, couldn’t be done, and other things that I never even considered possible, proved achievable. I have learnt so much professionally. And personally. Just not in the way I thought I would.

It’s true; this internship didn’t meet my expectations. At all. Instead, it presented me with something completely different but equally useful.

If you’re considering an internship with EduCARE India, a word of warning. Expectations can be dangerous. They can let you down or mislead you. Better to go in with an open mind, and a blank notebook, and learn as much as you can – yourself.

Katherine with Suman in the migrant camp in Rajhol

Katherine Woolnough - Australia
Young Women's Association project manager, Rait

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Drinking Water Production in Gajner, Rajasthan

Considering that all interns in the house have had stomach issues at least once during our internship, I started a research about the drinking water treatment possibilities and needs we might have.

At the beginning of July I went to see Jeetendra, a doctor in Gajner’s hospital. He told me there were many patients showing different sicknesses related to the drinking water in Gajner, such as typhoid fever or diarrhea and pain caused by bacteria such as E. Coli. This fact suggested that the water we were consuming was not safe. We have a filter in the house but it was clearly not enough.

Considering the weather in Gajner, disinfection of the water through Ultra Violet (UV) radiation seemed to be a good way to proceed, followed by adsorption onto activated carbon (AC). So, at the beginning of August, when my water conservation project was more or less running without too much supervision, I started with the construction of the drinking water system.

UV radiation is present in the energy of the sun, and is capable of interfering in the DNA chains of bacteria and viruses, causing their death. Moreover, UV radiation also reacts with the oxygen present in the water generating free radicals and hydrogen peroxide, both of them able to destroy pathogens and contributing to disinfection.

Furthermore, high temperatures are a limiting factor for the survival and development of pathogens in the water. The temperatures reached making use of this method are not high enough to exceed the limits for all pathogens to die (reached for instance when we boil water), but both factors together are responsible for the ability to get a water with high quality.

As for the AC, I consider myself a big fan. Its huge surface area allows the accumulation of a large number of contaminant molecules and ions. As an example, one gram of a typical commercial AC has a surface area equivalent to 1,000 square meters. So once we couple both processes together, the quality of the drinking water should be very high.

I had a glass box constructed, with a capability of 25 L. The height of the box is 7 cm (it must be less than 10 cm in order to ensure that the radiation reaches the lower layers). The glass needed to be very thick, so for the cover I used a thinner glass which allowed better for the solar radiation to pass through. The glass box was connected to the water tank (see figure A) and situated above an aluminum sheet so as to reach higher temperatures. The outlet of the box is connected to two activated carbon filters (see B and C).

Figure A: The water tank connected
 to the glass tank
Figure B: Glass tank connected to
carbon filters 
Figure C: Front view of the drinking
 water production system 

The cleaning method consists on filling the glass box through the tap connected to the water tank. After, the water must be left in the glass box under the sun for a period of time of six hours. Then, we can open the outlets of the glass box and collect the water when it comes out of the carbon filters.

The carpenter of Gajner, who helped me with the installation, wants to set up the same system in his house, which makes me feel very proud; but first I would like to make sure that the water is safe. For this matter, I contacted a Professor of the faculty of Environmental Science of the University of Bikaner in order to ask him if I could carry on some lab analyses to measure the degree of disinfection and other parameters for my water conservation project. He does not seem to be very interested in my story though. Still, I will go this week with some water samples to the university and let’s see if someone allows me to play in the lab.

Lucía Villamayor - Spain 
Bikaner Cluster Coordinator, Gajner

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

EduCARE India is Kicking-off Stitching Project in Rait

Sewing is traditional craft in probably every region of the world. In India stitching activities play important role for national economy as well as on local level. In rural Himachal Pradesh, most of the women wear typical for India slawar kameez aka Punjabi suit, which they either tailor themselves or have it tailored.

We knew that a few women in the village are interested in stitching activities. We also knew that many women here already know how to operate sewing machine and have some basic understanding of stitching. We’ve figured that stitching activities could be a good way of earning money for local women as they know basics of stitching and are interested in doing it. This is how the stitching project began.

Cecile and Mila with some women from the community

The initial stage of the project is mainly about providing the interested women the opportunity to practice their stitching skills. For that we’ve organized a training facility in EduCARE office in Rait where we put two sewing machines as well as threads, fabric, as well as old clothes that are subject for recycling. We also agreed with a local tailor Kopina to pick up scrap fabric from her. That will be a chance for the women who don’t have a sewing machine to practice stitching and for us to see who is genuinely interested in starting stitching business. Apart from that, weekly meetings in our office could be a platform for the women to exchange skills and generally socialize. From our side, we will try to provide tutorials and design ideas for stitching products that are simple, marketable and, of course, eco-friendly.

There are a number of challenges that we faced at the initial stage of the project. First of all, we needed to disseminate information about the new opportunity. For that we employed several outreach technics from flyers and posters in Hindi to the word of mouth. Secondly, we do realize that tailoring market in the village and its surroundings is pretty saturated. Our solution to that is focus on the stitching products other than clothes, like bags, blankets, bed sheets, and others.

After talking to about ten women of different age several of them agreed to come to practice and share their skills. Eventually, on our first “stitching Tuesday” we met Joity and Radha who came to our office on Tuesday 4 pm – the day and time we’ve allocated for stitching self-practice. They actively participated in the discussion and seem to be very motivated to try new things in stitching. We showed different possible designs for patchwork and other simple yet marketable things they could produce, and both women agreed they are able not only make it but sell it in Rait and beyond. Let’s hope it will happen this way.
Sample of a possible design

Mila Pestun - Belarus
Microfinance project manager, Rait

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Juices, hot chocolate and scarves

When I first arrived in Naddi in February, I thought B didn’t want to open Restore. I was focused on making it look nice. No, think about the concept B said. What do we want Restore to be? Five months later and I feel at last the concept has been defined.

The journey started with the idea of a juice stall. We wanted to promote healthy living, and after seeing a juice press in action in Dharamsala, we realised that fresh juice was missing from Naddi Main Square. B liked the idea so much that the juice press was purchased in record time. It only took a few days from proposing the idea to B to a juice press and mixer arriving at the square.

The main aim of the juice stand is to help young girls from the community earn additional income and gain confidence in themselves by serving customers and interacting with new people. We decided the girls should work on a commission basis - they receive five rupees a drink for every drink sold. However, even with this financial incentive finding staff was not easy. Finding motivated and available staff has remained our main challenge for the last three months.

EduCARE Team preparing juices in Restore 
Sisters, Nisha and Bindu, now come consistently every Sunday. However, both go to college and school every day, apart from Sunday, as do many girls in the village. So at the moment Restore is only open every Sunday, with a big remaining challenge being finding staff for other days of the week.

The actual juice business has been surprisingly successful: daily sales have gradually increased since the opening of the stall, despite the worsening weather. The resulting profits have been reinvested into the shop. We have put down a new gravel floor, painted the shop and invested in a small gas stove. We plan to start offering coffee, hot chocolate and herbal teas, again drinks that are missing from what is offered on the square at the moment. The purchase of tables and chairs have also given the shop more of a cafe feel.

Elliot, SWASH manager, helping in Restore
The profits have also been invested in other microfinance projects. Many local women are very good knitters, and we have developed some scarf designs with them that we feel would appeal to the tourists from Punjab and Delhi. Some of these scarves are already being sold in the shop. We have also started initial investigations into pickle making which could also be sold in the store.

If the shop is a respected, successful business, the girls who work there will feel a pride in themselves and their work, and hopefully want to take on more of a leadership role in the running of the shop. This is the long-term goal and will probably take several years to fully implement. But at the moment, small steps continue to be made, profits are being reinvested into the shop and other microfinance projects, and the girls are smiling and taking home money and hopefully increased confidence each day that they work.

Eileen McDougall - UK 
Micro-finance project manager, Naddi 

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Girls' club in Gajner

I have been in India for almost 6 months now and I have been running ever since the Girls’ Club project in Gajner, a small village in Rajasthan.

When I first arrived, the Girls Club was running since October 2014 twice a week every Sunday and Tuesday from 4:00pm – 5:00pm in Jessa colony (a community located a bit outside of Gajner center). Previous to my arrival, the girls club was very informal. Activities included sports, dance and coloring with little structure involved. In a couple of months, I managed to set up another Girls’Club in the Badjugar community, to involve a local 20-year-old young girl named Sushma Badjugar in facilitating the sessions as well as to structure the activities with each week a specific educational theme to discuss about.

Now, the Girls’ Club based in two different locations in Gajner and runs every Tuesdays. The first one takes place in the Badgujar Community from 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm which currently consists of 7 girls aged from 8 to 12 years old and the second one takes place in the Jessa Community from 4:00pm – 5:00pm.

It was not easy and I faced many challenges. One of them remains the age gap and the different interests between the girls in Jessa colony specifically. Indeed, the youngest are 8 years old while the oldest are 17 years old. Some subjects are too complex for the little ones to be interested and when I go too deep into fun activities to involve the youngest, the oldest are not interested anymore. The other challenge related to it is the participation. Even though, all the sessions in Badjugar community have always had a 100% rate of participation, it is quite different in Jessa colony. Indeed, I always felt a lack of commitment from the girls in Jessa as the participation has been highly variable. Some girls come and go or disrupt the activities, especially the teenagers.

It is much better now that Sushma has joined the Girls’ Club team as she creates an interesting and more joyful dynamic. She knows very well the girls in Jessa colony as they all went to the same school so it helps us in establishing our credibility and legitimacy.
Sushma and me 
Above the fact that she helps in translating, engaging Sushma as a leader in facilitating the activities, means the Girls’ Club has the potential to continue in our absence in the future. Indeed, local participation in the planning and implementing of projects is crucial for development workers as it guarantees the ownership of beneficiaries and durability and efficiency of projects.

The girl’s club in Badgujar community with Sushma’s cousins and neighbors has been going really well. The girls are always very happy to see us and are waiting for us at the corner of the street at 1:45 p.m every Tuesday. Part of why it is going so well is definitely the strong relationship I was able to build with Sushma and her family before creating a formal GC. This is what might have been missed out in Jessa.

I also found that involving the mothers in the Girls Club in Badjugar has been beneficial in maintaining the girls’ interests and focus. Plus, it is also a good platform to engage with the mothers and the families overall and increase EduCARE’s visibility and comprehension of our presence.

Until now, we have discussed topics on health and hygiene habits, environment, gender roles in job opportunities, and female leaders. I realized that utilizing different types of media especially visuals such as videos and powerpoint really help the team to keep the girls focused.

Girls Club in Badjugar. From top left and then bottom left: Nandini, Bharti, Muskan, Rhadika, Ria, Puri and Shalu. 
The next step is to open the first ECRC (Education Career Ressource Center) to hold the Girls’ Club session there and create a safer and neutral space for the girls. I have talked to the mothers of Sushma’s cousins and they very well welcomed the idea.

I have been really happy in taking over this project and I can see how my relationship with the girls grew. I will continue to engage them in educational topics and create opportunity for them to come together to enjoy new experiences, become more self-confident, and develop skills that will help them throughout their life.

Mathilde Buchet - France
Girls' Club project manager, Gajner

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The real price of the windmill blades

Hi dear reader, I’m gonna tell you an incredible story of this incredible India.

I went there, arrived the 1st of April in Dharamsala, 22 years old young French engineer called Rémi, totally unexperimented about developing countries and strong of three years of managing in a famous brand French company. In my mind, I would have been easy.

Huh yeah, actually, no.

The first night, I was really wondering what the hell I’m doing here? I was supposed to manage a renewable energy project there, but there were no hierarchical structure, no boss, no managers and I didn’t have a clue about the opportunities of renewable energy.

And now, dear reader, three months passed away so fast, like a lightning.

It has been the strongest professional experience of my young carrier. After a short period of induction, I totally dove in Indian culture. I was really like a fish in the sea, grow a moustache, bring a Shiva’s necklace all the time and transform to a real Indian guy –Namasté Namasté ! -.

I’ve decided to build a small wind mill for household. The goal was to provide electricity to a standard house. I designed it, calculated all the stuffs (wind resource, wind strength, rotation speed, blades shape, alternator rewinding, etc.), planning and budget. All was perfect.

Huh yeah, actually, no.

In India, dear reader, nothing comes as you planned. When it came to the building steps, I had to travel thousands of kilometers. I went to Gaggal, Horshiapur, Chandigarh, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Delhi, Rajkot, Amehdabad, and so on. I met people, professionals of small wind mill, professionals of huge wind mill, mechanics, electricians, ”Jugaad” (handymen), CEO's and technicians. My design wasn’t perfect at all dude!

One thing you have to keep in mind, dear reader, is that working in India needs flexibility.

To get the blades, I went to Rajkot. 24 hours of travel to meet a guy, who was supposed to help me (maybe? First we go, and then we will see! – Indian style). Hopefully it was successful, I learned a lot and got blades, perfect blades, and WAHOU I was so glad!! So then, 24 hours of travel to go back to Bikaner by train, no seat, a night train incredibly crowded, 6 hours of standing in the corridor facing the smelly toilets. Man, this is the real price of the wind mill blades.

This is just an example, but managing a project in India looks like that. T.I.I: This Is India, and it’s wonderful.

Now, the wind mill is fully assembled, with electric parts, mechanic parts, pole, blades, transmission chain, etc. It will be installed in Khuri Village, near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan (an incredibly beautiful city in the middle of the desert, 50°C during summer, easy).

To conclude, I would just say that it was such a rich experience! To manage a renewable energy project in India, dear reader, you don’t need to be an engineer, a manager or whatever, you need to be you, trust yourself and persevere, and everything will be alright.

I’m lucky to had this opportunity to challenge my skills, I’m lucky that EduCARE trust me like that, and I think I wouldn’t have this opportunity in western companies.

Reading this blog will not give you a full description, neither a real picture of this experience; so go there, dear reader, and you will understand, you will learn or unlearn, but you will grow up.

Maja aa gaya !

Rémi Matray - France
Alternative Energy project manager, Jaisalmer

Friday, 14 August 2015

My experience in Gajner

There many things that popped into my head when having to think about my first month in India.

And having to write a blog post can be really difficult. Where do I start from? Ordering my thoughts, I would focus on my feeling regarding the arrival to Gajner and the construction of the relationship with the community, especially with the kids.

I immediately fell in love with Gajner, and I mean it.

Before arriving here, people were keeping on describing the heat of this place, which made me think that I was going to hell, instead of to a physical place. Can a place be that hot? Will I be able to survive?


I arrived here and Gajner smelled like home. The house, the village, the dust and the heat: everything was in its own place. I felt like everything was just fine, nothing was too much, nothing was too less.

Engaging the community has been easier than what I thought and, although the process is still ongoing, hearing kids shouting your name when walking in the street, makes you forget about the heat and everything e. There is something special about these children, and it is not common sense. There is something authentic and sincere. It is a sparkle in their eyes; it is a smile or a football match. I’m not saying that everything is easy, it is tiring and frustrating especially for what concerns the language barrier; it is hard to communicate, it is hard to express yourself and can be difficult to stand the impossibility to understand what kids themselves want to tell you. This is the hardest part for me, there is a lot which is unspoken from both the parts. However, anytime you manage to communicate and see that whatever you are doing is working, you come back home already thinking about the next time you will see these kids.

Moreover, working at EduCARE means being a multi-tasking person, one day you dig a hole to collect sand, one day you work with kids, another day you attend an English class and another you spend time mapping a community. I heard many times that EduCARE is an extremely flexible environment and things can change anytime, you adapt to the environment you live in. It is true and it is challenging and fun.

I also believe that a very important aspect for the functioning of this is having a strong team to work with. Having people around makes you stronger, no laziness allowed; what you face becomes a collective action, rather than an individual one. Doing that, any action turns to be easier, because is shared.

My first three weeks in Gajner have been a full and intense human experience. It is like being in a blender and being constantly moving and shaking. It is like a tornado of people and experiences, at home and outside. It makes you feel alive. The best is yet to come and I couldn’t ask for more!

Thanks Gajner.
Soccer championship outside the house with Laure, Vijay, Johann, Mehar and Camilla

Camilla Brancolini - Italy
ASP project manager, Gajner

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Health Clinic in Rait

After the success of the women’s health clinic in our Naddi centre, made possible by our partnership with Fortis Hospital in Kangra, EduCARE decided to bring a similar clinic to the Rait centre. Rait is one of EduCARE’s newest centres and very little is known about the local women’s current health status. So with preparations being made for the upcoming clinic day, it was the perfect time to investigate what kinds of health concerns local women have, what kinds of health services are available to them and how they go about acquiring health care. We began engaging women in conversations about their health and healthcare practices, and I was struck by how different a Rait woman’s experience with health services was from my own.

Back home, in Australia, I have a very good relationship with my G.P. I see her every six months for a check-up and to discuss my overall well-being; diet, fitness levels, immunity, reproductive and sexual health, mental health and any niggling little ailment that might be bothering me. Waiting times rarely exceed twenty minutes, and we meet in a comfortable, private consultation room. She knows my health history and can conveniently recall the details of past tests or prescriptions, etc., which are all recorded electronically. She carefully explains prescriptions, giving clear instructions on dosages and side-effects. Her manner is warm and patient as she allows me time and space to ask questions or express concerns. She reminds me when my next pap-test is due, and makes sure I’m up-to-day with flu shots. It’s this long-term relationship with my G.P. that provides me with holistic and complete healthcare.

From what the local women of Rait have told me, their experience is very different. Firstly, women don’t attend regular check-ups. Seeking medical services is reserved for the most severe problems or only when ongoing conditions deteriorate to an extent that they can’t be ignored. Most women priorities their domestic responsibilities or their children’s wellbeing over their own health. Going to the Dr for a minor complaint is seen as self-indulgent and a waste of time and money.

There is no personal, on-going relationship with health care providers. In fact, there are no G.P.s. Women receive medicines and advice from local clinics or dispensaries, or visit the local hospital’s out-patient department. Waiting times can take hours, even at private hospitals. Consultations are short and rushed, and only deal with most pressing complaints. Follow-up consultations are rarely performed by the same medical staff, so it’s up to the patient to remember their own medical history and repeat it several times.

For serious or ongoing concerns, women often visit multiple services and receive contradictory advice or duplicate prescriptions. Tests are often recommended, but rarely performed, and if performed but found to be negative, then additional tests are even rarer. Dispensaries often sell only the exact amount of pills that have been prescribed. This means pills are removed from their original packaging and information such as dosage instructions or side effects are only verbally communicated, if at all. Clinics and dispensaries offer no privacy or confidentiality and so health concerns that are considered taboo, such as sexual or reproductive health concerns, are often avoided or ignored. All of these things add to make women feel uncomfortable and inconvenienced when seeking medical services.
Women waiting to be received by the doctor during the health camp  in Rait

It’s no wonder women neglect their health.

EduCARE believes that women have a right to adequate health information, advice and care and that valuing women’s health is one way we can address entrenched gender inequalities in the villages in which we work. This is why our ongoing health projects are so important. EduCARE is able to act as the link between patients and services.

The health clinic held in Rait on the 12 July provided women with a different kind of healthcare experience. They were given a comprehensive check-up performed by two trained nurses, and a free consultations with a multi-specialist Dr in a private consultation room. The very friendly Dr Arka was warm and sincere as she tended to her patients. We scheduled appointments to reduce waiting times and had plenty of friendly faces to make small talk in the waiting room. Only female Fortis and EduCARE staff were present, so that the women felt comfortable and relaxed.

Katherine with the Kangra Hospital staff in one of the consultations
Our plan is to repeat health clinics every three months to ensure the women receive the ongoing healthcare they need. EduCARE provides follow-up support between clinic days too, to see if the women need any help in following the Dr.’s recommendations. Do they need someone to accompany them to get tests done? Did they understand the advice that was given on clinic day? Are they aware of the services their government issued health cards entitle them to? We also intend to design future health projects based on the information we’ve gathered about the women’s health needs. For example a prevenance of kidney stones amongst women who attended the clinics in both Naddi and Rait suggests the need for an awareness campaign about the importance of drinking water.

Health camps are just the beginning, and we have big plans for EduCARE’s health program.

Katherine Woolnough - Australia
Young Women's Association project manager, Rait (HP)

Monday, 10 August 2015

The bureaucracy of a stolen passport

When friends at home warned me of the bureaucracy in India I would just nod, fully expecting to never have to face the Indian legal system, I was, after all, not planning on doing anything wrong. However, one moment of distraction in Delhi left me without my wallet and therefore no passport, visa, driving licence or credit card. The Western part of me wanted to get everything done as quickly as possible, however, as I quickly found the Indian ‘no problem’ mentality works in precisely the opposite way.

Throughout my various visits to the embassy and registration offices it has seemed that my lack of passport is one of their last concerns. Many other factors have been more of a discussion to them, for example how much my tuc-tuc cost to get to the police station, the wording of the letter from the embassy (It was addressed ‘Dear Sir’ which they didn’t like), and finally the fact that I was not Irish, have all proved to be talking points as my documents were checked and disputed at every stage.

My first port of call was the police station to log the complaint and receive a document to then take to the embassy. Arriving at the police station was a slight shock in itself. The main desk is right next to a police cell, complete with toilet, open to the entire waiting room; to the cell’s side is the ‘women’s counselling area’- a concrete bench, again completely open to the entire room. This part of the process was the most frustrating, the combination of the police talking across me due to my being female and accompanied by a male, and the language barrier meant that it took 3 hours for one piece of paper to be printed.

After this it was off to the embassy to get my emergency documents, where I found that they had omitted to tell me that I would have to pay £95; queue a desperate call to my mother at 5am UK time begging for money. Proudly in possession of my little gold booklet I felt that all was done and I could relax, but it was far from over.

The other problem that happens when your wallet is stolen is that your money goes missing along with it. My parents sent money, but, no matter how shady Western Union’s reputation is they still are not so keen when a white girl lacking in both a passport and visa, (I presume I must have looked like an illegal immigrant by this point) asks for money to be handed over. My organisation before my trip paid off and the copy of my passport and visa were accepted, and photocopied for me another couple of times just for good measure.

The last document needed for me to travel back to the UK was an exit permit, something provided at the Foreign Registration Office. Unfortunately I didn’t realise I had booked an appointment with the Dharamsala office, and so turned up at the office in Delhi when it was closed. The soldier (With a very large gun strapped to his back) told me I couldn’t go in and seemed very confused when he saw my appointment was indeed booked for the Saturday. A cleaner from the office then called a man, who turned up on his motorcycle, soaking wet from the monsoon rain who then explained to me that I had not booked an appointment with them and that I would have to travel back to Naddi. This man was taking none of my nonsense, made clear when he told me ‘madam you need to calm down, I can’t understand you when you cry’. Having had the process explained to me I was feeling better, and now well in to the Indian mind set that because I wasn’t leaving the country for another 2 months it didn’t really matter whether or not I had papers to board a plane.

Finally I travelled back to the Dharamsala office, where I was told that I would not be given papers until two weeks before I travelled, as they needed to give me police clearance before I left the country. Something that could not yet be granted as I still have time to go on a massive crime spree before my flight. After yet more photocopies of documents being taken I was told I had to go and speak to their boss, an appointment that I felt may have had some important use, however, it was just me going to exchange pleasantries with an army general, and his commenting on my lack of Irish accent (I still am unsure why they thought I was Irish). So, with a wobble of the head and another confirmation that it was ‘no problem’ I am still in India, still it seems to me with out a visa but apparently with no upcoming problems to prevent my returning to the UK.

Although a hassle, the experience has made me more understanding of just how India works, and how in a country with a distinct lack of Internet and electricity everything will get sorted, it all just takes a bit more time. What it all comes down to in the end though is that there will always be someone there who will try and help you, even if you cant understand a word they are saying.

Rachel's new passport 

P.S. The day after I finished writing this I had a call from the embassy. Someone had handed in my wallet (Money gone) but with passport, card and driving license still inside. Unfortunately because I acted so quickly my passport and card have been cancelled and so I cannot use them, but I can still recover my licence and will have my passport cut and sent to my home, which means I have the more sentimental part of the stamps and visas I have collected. I know they will never read this but I am eternally grateful for their kindness, and for the assistance and concern I have received from everyone who has helped me.

Rachel Parry - UK 
Microfinance project manager, Punjab

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Grey Water Conservation in Gajner

I´ve been in India for one month already but there is not much I could do for my project: The first week I stayed in Naddi for the induction; the second I came to Gajner, but I was following my pals to their activities (girls/boys club, ASP, YWA) and knowing the community, in order to learn about the cluster’s routine and the community itself; the third week we were back in Naddi for the Quarterlies (that trip is a nightmare and I’ve done it three times in three weeks), and then we came back and I started with my thing.

The idea is to treat the grey water we produce in our house (water from taps, shower, laundry…) making use of a biological filter to use it to water a small garden I will start soon.

I have a design of the biofilter. It consists on a two-step biological filter. The first step is a soil filter with anoxic conditions where the carbon will be reduced as part of the metabolic activity of bacteria attached to the soil and denitrification will take place. The second infiltration step will consist on a soil filter with oxic conditions, which I hope to arrange by planting one plant which name I ignore but is everywhere around here, growing even in soils flooded with wastewater. Also the lower amount of carbon after the first infiltration step limits the growth of bacteria in the second filter. Less bacteria need to breath less-> there is less oxygen consumption-> more oxic conditions.

Plant growing in a soil flooded with wastewater
The oxic and carbon limiting conditions enable for the growth of slow growing bacteria capable for degrading a big range of trace organic compounds, contained in soaps and detergents, and which have a dangerous impact once in the environment. The oxic conditions enable also for nitrification to take place.

I think I’ve found a soil with a good corn size after the physical analyses of several soils around our house. This soil is near the Gajner Palace. The idea is to have a corn size that allows the water to flow down the filters, without getting stucked (too fine corn size) or without flowing too fast (too big corn size). If this last possibility happens, the bacteria attached to the soil corns won’t be able to degrade the carbon contained in the water.

Materials used for the soil analyses of three different soils
The trouble is that this sand is a bit far of home, and it’s too hot to carry it here. Good news is I made friends with a shop keeper who gave me some nails for free. I brought chai to drink with him and he was so happy that he drove me back home with his tuk tuk (yes! He has a tuk tuk too). I asked him, and he will help me carry the sand with it.

I found all the materials I need for the set-up of the filtration system in Bikaner, thanks to Manoj’s help. Coming back to Gajner with Léa in the bus, carrying 4 huge bins (she also needed 2), food and 3 mattresses for the house was a real challenge. The set-up of the filtration train is still in process.

I’ve been learning how to make compost. I have built a compost box and started composting. For the moisture, the effluent of the biofilters will be used. Until they are constructed and in order to be able to start as soon as possible with the compost, we are saving the water used for cleaning the vegetables for this matter. The compost is very important, as the soil here is so poor. 

The garden will be in Manoj’s shop’s backyard, right below our house, and the filters will be situated along the height of the wall, so as to let the water flow with the gravity and avoid the need of external sources of energy, and to drip directly on the garden. I cleaned the backyard as it was full of plastic bottles and bins and waste in general, and I will also have to work on the soil. 

Manoj's backyard full of waste
The heat was too strong for cleaning the backyard, but some random super nice guys of the community helped me early in the morning, making it so much easier.

Improvised awesome cleaning team
The plan is to have the kids of the ASP to help me with the garden, to learn about gardening and about the importance of recycling water, especially in such a dry area. The ASP team is very happy with this idea. In order to let the rest of the community to know about the project, we will also paint the wall where the filter will be situated with an explanation of what is it about as a cluster activity and also with the ASP kids, this way everyone can see it from outside the backyard.

I want to thank all my cluster partners for their help because without them the implementation of this project wouldn’t be possible, as there are so many things I just can’t do alone. Thank you so much guys!!!

Lucía Villamayor - Spain
Bikaner Cluster Coordinator

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Health insurance project

On a rainy Monday, Harmonie and Maddy boarded the crowded blue bus bound for Dharamsala. Their mission for the day was to unearth information about health insurance policies that the internet could not provide. As the bus sped down the mountain they reviewed the plan for the day. First, they would visit the Zonal Hospital to research the RSBY Health Insurance Scheme. The Indian government provides a variety of programs that address health issues, but often citizens in poor, rural areas are not aware of these programs. EduCARE acts as an intermediary link between the government and community members to provide information and find beneficiaries. Second, they would visit New India Assurance, the insurance company designated by the government to provide health insurance to families living below the poverty line (BPL) in Himachal Pradesh.

These visits were the first step in finding affordable health insurance options for community members in Naddi. The health insurance project combines the project goals of Women's Empowerment, Health, and Microfinance. Providing affordable health insurance encourages regular visits to the doctor. Currently, in most homes, men's health is prioritized because they are the breadwinners. This means that many women suffer from chronic health issues that go untreated, because treatment is expensive and viewed as nonessential. Health insurance is not a traditional Microfinance endeavor, although EduCARE India does not take a traditional approach to Microfinance. Within EduCARE, Microfinance refers to small scale, community based enterprises, often focusing on financial inclusion. Affordable health insurance plans are a method of financial inclusion. Financial inclusion refers to increasing a person's documented financial activity and increasing their awareness of financial options available to them.

They entered the main doors of the hospital and explained they were looking to speak with Saroj Kumari about RSBY. This request began a fifteen minute race through the hospital from one room to another. As their guide led them at top speed through hospital hallways, patients looked on curiously, no doubtably wondering what the westerns were doing there. Though the hospital was crowded and there were patients waiting in all the halls, the two western interns waited no longer than three minutes to see anyone. They spoke with Ms. Kumari, a nurse responsible for RSBY patients. She explained that beneficiaries of RSBY would receive free health insurance if they were a BPL family. Next they travelled to a separate wing of the hospital, which was hot and humid with open windows and the distinct smell of cleaning bleach. The interns were rushed into an air-conditioned room to visit several doctors and important hospital personnel. The purpose of these visits were unclear and mostly involved chat about the weather. Eventually the interns found themselves sitting in the office of Dr. Gupta having a chai discussing EduCARE's mission, rural health, and the importance of health insurance. Dr. Gupta was very kind and answered all their questions in detail. They stayed to discuss India, France, the United States, and visas. After swapping visa stories, Dr. Gupta declared "In my experience, India is easy, a simple government and simple procedures for those who are honest". The interns disagreed.

As they walked out of the hospital, they felt fully prepared for their meeting at the insurance company responsible for insuring BPL families under the RSBY scheme. Soon they found themselves in the New India Assurance office listening to a story about a woman who had come to Kangra years ago working for an anti-deforestation NGO. This woman was Muslim and Caucasian, a detail that seemed to be the most important fact of the story, according to the teller. Roughly half an hour later it was revealed to them that there was no new information regarding RSBY that the office could provide.

All in all, the day was a mixed success, as is the case with most projects that set out to navigate and conquer Indian bureaucracy. It was encouraging to learn that NGOs have an important role built into the RSBY scheme, meaning EduCARE can positively effect the health of BPL families. Although, it was learned that BPL is a designation given by the head of a village and the government, which often means it is a relative title and excludes many families who are also in need of affordable health insurance. On the one hand, many of their questions were answered, but then on the other hand, with those answers come additional questions. At the end of the day, on the winding road back to Naddi, Harmonie and Maddy planned the next phase of their project, the mission to find affordable health insurance continues.

Maddy Kennedy - USA
Microfinance project manager

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Organic Gardening in Meti (Maiti)

Some people think that the management team in Educare doesn’t really work in field, but that can’t be further from the truth. Take for example, our impromptu gardening session in Meti (Maiti), the place where the Collaborative Operations Management (COM) team is currently living. Maiti is a small beautiful farming village outside of Dharamshala and about 30 minutes from our Rait center. EduCARE used to have a functioning center in Meti (Maiti) but we decided to close it in the Fall of 2014. Since then there has not been much activity there, until the COM team moved in in April 2015.

Our day started like this- HR meeting in the morning, followed by a discussion on Project Coordinator positions, and resulted in a conversation about creating a garden in Maiti. With the help of an Organic farming intern, Gyaneswari, and our Project Director, Mr. B, communicating with our house owner, before we knew it we were clearing the field for our future vegetables. What started as work by a few people, soon became an entire house effort. It also happened that Cesar and Alanah from the Naddi and Rait centers were coming by for meetings. To their surprise when they came everyone was in the garden and they jumped in to help as well!

From left to right: Hanh, Alanah, Cesar, Michelle and Gyaneswari. At the back: Margaret

The teamwork allowed for a lot of progress that would have taken much longer had it just been Michelle and I alone in the house. We managed to weed the already growing crops, clear the land and turn the soil. As the rains have come this is a perfect planting season and we already have growing buds of Indian and French beans, garlic, cucumber, bitter gourd and spinach. We also have a nice mushroom garden growing in our closet provided by Emma, a microfinance intern in Rait!

Michelle and Margaret weeding the garden

Although we have a unique arrangement in Meti (Maiti) as the COM team does not hold all of the projects that a center usually does, we are still working on some community and environmental projects. We maintain projects such as Girls Club and environmental projects like mushroom farming, kitchen garden and eco-building. While our focus is on supporting the management end and administration within the organization, we are still doing our part to learn more about the area, work on sustainable living and help the environment. There's more to come, but for now I can’t wait for our delicious veggies grown with the help of Educare interns to spring up soon!

Margaret Arzon-USA
Operations Coordinator