Monday, 30 November 2015

First visit to Harike temple

During our first week of arrival, Jessica, Maria and I decided to go to take a look around the village and the Harike temple in order to have a better understanding of our future place of living.

After a good walk where we saw some schools and the general stores necessary for our survival, we decided to go to the temple. Just before arriving at the temple, one man stopped us and tried to explain (it wasn’t easy to understand what he said J) that we needed to cover our heads in order to enter the temple. For the girls, it was not a problem because they had their scarves, but unfortunately for me, I had nothing to cover my head, so the man then asked me to follow him. When I started to walk with him, I was certain that he would give me a turban to wear on my head and I was really excited for that. However, when we arrived near a parked truck, he just took an orange scarf and put it on my head. My dream to wear a turban was crushed!!!
Maria, Jessica and me in one of the temples of Harike

Then with our covered head we were able to get in the temple and, as always, we had to take off our shoes and clean our feet before entering. When we got in, another man started to talk with us (again it wasn’t easy to understand what he saidJ) and he showed us all around the temple to the top, but the problem was to walk in a construction site (the temple was under restoration) without our shoes!

Once we reached the top, we enjoyed an amazing view of the city and of the wetlands for a few minutes. When we got back down to the ground floor there was another man waiting to give me what I thought were some kind of white stones; as it turned out, they were actually sweets (which I put in my pocket)! Then, just as we thought our visit was over, the man of the temple invited us outside for some dal and chapatti with other people. I was so full that I was about to explode!

All of this was for free, so we offered a donation and then I went back to the parked truck to give back my orange scarf. The temple caused a good impact on me because all the people that we met near the temple were really kind to us and despite the language barrier, I really felt accepted.

Anyway, this is our story of the first visit to the Harike temple and I think that it will be difficult to forget!

Tommaso Luvini - Italy
Microfinance Project Manager, Harike (Punjab)

Saturday, 28 November 2015

How my experience in EduCARE has changed over time

Did the time fly or did it crawl? I honestly can’t tell. The last six months have not always been easy. I’ve cursed India, I’ve loved India, but in the end I’m leaving EduCARE feeling pretty good. I didn’t always embrace this experience, but about half way through my internship my attitude started to change for the better, and I think this can best be demonstrated by my very different coordinator’s retreat experiences.

Back in July I attended my first coordinator’s retreat as the new Center Manager for the Paro center. I was a little stressed and overwhelmed at the time, so I was looking forward to going to a new center in Rait, and learning from the other veteran managers. When I arrived in Rait the other interns were busy with meeting the waste department and setting up new waste facilities. I thought “wow, their interns do so much more than Paro! They have a strong project and get things done! Why can’t we do that?” That night the interns cooked mixed veg for dinner, with so much variety, I thought “wow, they have pumpkin and carrots! I wish Paro had as many vegetables as them”. Everything annoyed me little by little. The next day I woke up with the infamous Delhi Belly (my first time experiencing said illness) and I spent the next three days in the toilet stall of the Rait house with some serious bowel issues (“wow, even their bathroom is nicer! I wish Paro had a toilet like this”). I was miserably sick (I even missed the last workshop of the retreat because I had passed out with a half eaten piece of bread in my hand) and between trips to the bathroom I was on the phone with interns back in Paro trying to mitigate conflicts between the team. I just wanted things to be easier. I wanted my team to get along and do their work; I wanted to spend a normal amount of time on the toilet; and I just wanted things to be better. I left the retreat weakened physically and mentally and ready for a holiday (a holiday at this point would just mean a burrito, a smoothie, and a western toilet).

Cut to my second retreat in the middle of October. I was coming directly from my holiday and going to Khuri outside of Jaisalmer. I was so excited to see all of the old coordinators I’d gotten to know, and the new ones who had just arrived. I was so stoked to tell people about my trip and to talk about the projects that were breaking out of Paro. I celebrated my birthday with 20+ co-workers who surprised me with a chocolate cake (no easy feat in the Indian desert), and we slept in the desert under an incredible night sky. The workshops may have been long, but I felt I had a lot to contribute. I had a project that was uniquely my own, I knew the organization better, and I was enjoying myself. Jokes were still made that I was a plagued mess at the last retreat, but I laughed and embraced the Khuri toilet stall happily.

 Celebrating my birthday in the Khuri desert with all of the Educare coordinators
Two things occurred between these retreats, and I owe them a lot. First, I met Daniela; second, I found soap.

Daniela was a new intern that arrived a few weeks following my IBS filled retreat. When I met her, everything was “amazing” and “beautiful” and I thought it was “too much”. Surely, she couldn’t truly find everything “amazing” and “beautiful” when I thought everything was “overwhelming” and “difficult”. But after Daniela came with me back to Paro, and it was my turn to give her a tour of my Indian home, the constant exclamations of amazement and beauty started to resonate with me. She’s right! It is incredible that when you walk down your street complete strangers invite you in for chai and start a dance party! And it’s super cool that the migrant community greets us with hugs and practical jokes when we enter their home! Daniela made me realize I was being negative about an experience that offered so much positivity and beauty. And at the same time that Daniela changed my outlook, I found soap. 

Playing with the Paro kids during Laura and Daniela’s center tour  
Finding a project I felt good about gave my time in India a new purpose. I no longer felt I was floundering, but I had something to work toward that could produce tangible results. And having Daniela in the back of my head reminded me to appreciate the opportunity. While I still don’t feel like I’ve finished what I started, and I have so much I want to keep doing in terms of making soap with the community; Daniela reminds me to revel in what I have accomplished and embrace the relationships I made with the community. I still have a list of goals for the soap making project that I hope another intern will take on, but in the end I embraced the work that Paro did, I embraced the vegetables in our town, and I’ve embraced that India does stuff to your bowels that sometimes is funny…after the fact.

With Geeta, Sonya, and Vide, our soap makers and Restore girls at my final Restore opening

Madeline - USA
Center Coordinator and Microfinance project Manager, Paro (Punjab)

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Lessons learned from EduCARE

Even after 1 1/2 years of EduCARE, I have laughed, cried, been thoroughly stressed, and also overjoyed many times in what feels like a blink of an eye throughout my internship. Now that it is time for me to move on, reflecting on what I have learned has showed me that I am leaving EduCARE as a completely different person than the girl I was when I first arrived.

I wanted to first join EduCARE because I wanted community development experience and I wanted to ‘help’ people. I have learned that we all come to do service work for our own reasons but we are not here to merely work for the poor. Yes, most of the communities are marginalized, and many of the people do not have huge financial incomes, but in no way are we doing poverty relief. Everyone I have met in the communities, especially the women, are strong, powerful, capable people, with ideas and opinions on how things should work. This doesn’t mean we can’t come with our own ideas and knowledge of how to improve their lifestyles, but my approach is no longer to help poor people, but instead empower people that maybe haven’t had the same opportunities as everyone else.

Playing with the kids from the migrant camp in Paro

During my induction when I first arrived with EduCARE I had a workshop on sustainability. I took my sustainable living index and ranked horribly. If everyone lived like me, we would need 3 planets! Never have I ever had the opportunity to not only become aware about environmental issues, but actually make real improvements in my life to make a difference. Organic gardening, water conservation, reusing grey water, and managing waste were all foreign concepts to me before but have become an integral part to who I am now. I want to take what I have learned in doing my small part to help the world and inspire others in my own country.

I now have so many more couches to crash on during my travels and I have made lifelong friends. Living and working with so many people from all over the world has broadened my horizon of how the world operates and I can now go home with a whole new repertoire of international culinary dishes I have learned from my roommates. In many ways EduCARE is like a family away from home. You would be amazed at the level of comfort and kinship that can arise from living with people in such close proximity in a foreign land. These people have become my family and helped me truly embrace that home is where the heart is.

Paro Center members
India is a challenge, no doubt about it. Nothing is done on time, and we must face a language barrier in everything we do. On top of that, EduCARE doesn’t make it any easier. It was definitely a challenge at first to work in an organization where everything could change from one day to the next. As an Operations Coordinator it can be a major challenge when trying to organize meetings for the organization. Now that I have adjusted, I have learned to roll with the punches; meaning change is a good thing. When we are stuck in our ways we fail to see the potential in a different outcome. Yes sometimes the chaos can cause temporary confusion, but in the end it all works out for the better. It always does.
Me with Sundar in Hariana, Punjab
Of course there have been many moments where I have been frustrated, homesick, or even unhappy. But whenever there has been a challenge I have always had wonderful and supportive people around me to help me push through. Sometimes all it took was for me to go for a walk in my community and see the sheer beauty of what lies around me. I mean, I’m in India after all, a country very far and different from my own. It is bound to be difficult at times, but I would just have to remind myself I came here for a reason and the strength and courage that brought me here is the same motivation that will pull me through.

Me with Geeta and Sonia, girls from the migrant camp in Paro

All in all I have fallen in love with EduCARE, the philosophy, and the people involved. EduCARE has given me so many opportunities that I will carry with me for a lifetime. When I signed on to become a fellow one year ago, I wasn’t fully sure how it would be, and one year later I feel that it was one of the best decisions I ever made. There are no guarantees in life; we all have to be objectively selfish. Your experience and your life are what you make it. Learn, be happy and be free. Always be an intern, gaining knowledge and awareness about the world. Make you mark and make it count. And make sure when you have to go, go without having any regrets.

Me and Shannon with Simu and Nancy during Girls' Club
Thank you Mr. B, Rachael, COM team, the community and all the interns. You have made my experience amazing and you will be greatly missed.

Margaret Arzon - USA
Operations Coordinator,  Maiti (Himachal Pradesh)

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Feeling free and alive, a feeling of belonging to nature

Gajner has got a treasure, a treasure that not a lot of people take care about. It is unique, huge, beautiful, amazing. I am talking about the desert and the wildlife sanctuary.

My experience in the dessert started during my first week as an EduCARE intern in Gajner. Léa Monin, the SWASH coordinator when I arrived there, used to run for an hour twice a week. She told me about the wildlife sanctuary in the desert, which seemed to be really interesting, so I decided to go with her. We woke up around 5:30 in the morning, before it started to get hot and then we head off to the sanctuary.

The first thing that struck me was that, as we approached the desert, we met with more and more men with alcohol bottles in theirs hands and looking like being drunk. These men seemed to have spent the night drinking in the desert, and near the village there was pieces of broken bottles everywhere. This event shocked me and soon I found out of the big problem with alcohol that exists in India. In Gajner, many men of all ages get drunk every night, either because it has become a habit for them or because they suffer from depression. This leads to some of them losing their control and spending the night lying anywhere. For me, this was something really sad and shocking.

Running and exploring the desert in Gajner, has been one of the best experiences that I´ve ever had. Feeling the cold breeze in my face, admiring the sunrise and sunset in the horizon and seeing the Gajner Palace far in the distance is incredible, although what really makes the difference is its unique wildlife.

It's impressive to run between groups of gazelles, feeling their beauty and energy and imagine for a moment that you are one of them. Following footprints and getting lost between the bushes for hours to later realize that what you were following were actually cows. Raising your head and seeing above you huge flocks of eagles and hundreds of green parrots. Sneaking up on the lake and finally finding the blue cow (an impressive sort of large antelope very difficult to find) drinking water. Seeing something moving and running after it as fast as your legs can until you are close enough to hear breathing.

Feeling free and alive, a feeling of belonging to nature.

Gajner wildlife Sanctuary

Enrique Reig Navarro - Spain
Eco-building project manager, Gajner (Rajasthan)

Monday, 16 November 2015

Settling in India

I came to India with excitement and fear: I was on one hand excited to move to India and start my internship with EduCARE, and on the other hand afraid that my internship with EduCare wouldn’t be as I had imagined. Despite of my mixed feelings, I booked my one-way ticket to Delhi. Looking back, I’m so happy that I decided to come to India. So much has happened since I left my comfortable life in Norway 2 months ago... Let me start from the beginning.

My first week with EduCare was amazing! I spent 5 days living with a family in Naddi, learning about their culture and costumes. When I wasn’t attending workshops or interacting with new interns, I usually spent my time observing my host family everyday life.

Savita and Sunita's family 
After spending 5 days in Naddi, I moved to Rait, a centre which is located 2 hours from Naddi. During my first week at the new centre, I spent my days getting to know the community. I didn’t start my After School Program project – Fun Club – before my second week at the centre. My first day with the kids in Fun Club was a lot of fun! We did different activities and games to get to know one another. One of the activities involved tossing a ball at a player while remembering his/her favourite hobby. We also did some drawing. After my first Fun Club, I felt confident and that my experience with EduCare would be good.

Children from Rait attending Fun Club

A girl making a drawing during Fun Club

Besides from Fun Club, I taught English once a week at our main office. Teaching English was with no doubt my favourite activity during my entire week; it was immensely rewarding to see the kids learn English, and improve their speaking. Because of the kids’ eagerness to learn English, my job felt very meaningful.

Hellen teaching English to the kids in Rait

Even though I loved my job as a project manager for ASP, I had a desire to gain more responsibility in the organisation. When the HR Coordinator position became available in late October, I had a talk with the administration team about my interest in changing job position. After several conversations and a weeklong training, I became the new HR Coordinator. Since I took upon the job position, I have been busy recruiting prospective interns to join our organisation, facilitating induction, and communicating with project coordinators. Though HR is completely different from ASP, I still get to engage with projects that EduCARE has in Himachal Pradesh. Once a week, my team and I have Girls’ Club with the girls in Matti where we show films, draw, make bracelets, and dance. Next week, we are going to celebrate the Universal Children’s Day, a day to commemorate children around the world. I’m very excited to celebrate this day since we are planning some fun activities for it. Stay tuned!

Hellen - Norway
HR Coordinator, Maiti, Himachal Pradesh

Saturday, 14 November 2015

We Cannot Stop Natural Disasters, But We Can Arm Ourselves With Knowledge

As a Disaster Management Project Manager I'm constantly met with the questions: Why study Disaster Management? Why here?

I have always been fascinated by natural hazard events and the impact and interaction such events have with human populations, so for me it's a simple answer. India is a geography lovers heaven and the vast environmental diversity that India presents also allows for significant scope for natural hazards to impact on the lives of its' 1.3 billion inhabitants.

This map only indicates the risks posed by earthquakes, volcanoes and tropical storms - let alone mentions the other risks posed by flash floods/flooding, avalanches, landslides, tsunamis and extreme weather. All of which could affect the interns and the communities that we are engaged with.

To me this is why Disaster Management is important, our Naddi centre is located so close to the same fault line that ruptured causing the earthquake in Nepal on the 25th April 2015 - in addition to which seismologists are predicting the same fault line will rupture again in the Indian Himachal mountain range sometime in the near future.

The beautiful but ever threatening Himalayas
If you even look back at past events that have impacted the Himachal Region, there has been a significant loss of livelihood as a result of Natural Hazards. In 1905 an Earthquake (Magnitude 8) occurred in Kangra which resulted in 20,000 deaths alongside significant damage spreading radially 416,000km2. Alongside, there are significantly disruptive landslides yearly in the Shimla District that cause extended road closures and a handful of deaths too - an issue that the district authority is still failing to address since the first event 10 years ago.

Recently I walked around Naddi in order to document and map the visible landslide sites on a 5km stretch of path. What I found was a number of sites showing potential for future landslides as well as the locations of past landslides varying in size. This is something that can be lowered by promoting appropriate land use and discouraging deforestation - but currently there is no established awareness programme to champion such behaviour.

Working with the forestry team to record our findings using GPS
One of the biggest landslide sites we recorded - Only a few kilometers away from the Naddi Community!
All of these issues are right on our doorstep, yet the communities are blissfully unaware or happy believing it'll never impact them. This is something that I want to address through my project work starting in Naddi and then spreading to our other centres. It is vital to raise the perception of such hazards and also to encourage and promote appropriate grassroots mitigation strategies; accessing all ages via targeted workshops and community activities. No matter how small, the difference that can be made through future Disaster Management projects is so important as a matter of saving lives and maintaining environmentally sustainable rural livelihoods.

Rebecca Lewis - United Kingdom
Disaster Management Coordinator, Naddi, Himachal Pradesh

Thursday, 12 November 2015

EduCARE India - the good, the bad, and the disgusting

Seven months ago I remember saying to a fellow intern, “wow, time is going by so slow,” and he responded, “wait until you start working.” He was right. The past few months in Educare have flown by and it has been an amazing experience.

For someone like myself who didn’t join Educare as an internship requirement for university, my reasons for coming to India were a little different. I wanted to leave the regular 9 to 5 job in the States to go abroad to experience life like I never imagined, I wanted to utilize the skills that I have in an NGO helping a local community, and I wanted to learn more about life! I ended up learning so much and about everything – not only about Indian culture and life in India, but about cultures all around the world from my fellow interns, about the concept of objective selfishness and more about myself. As cheesy as it sounds, this experience was life changing.

The most significant change I found in myself is my patience. Patience is a word that was redefined for me while working in Educare and living in India. Internet is slow, ordering food at a restaurant normally can take over an hour, plans change last minute, everyone is late, the bus schedule in Maiti is random, the FRRO change their requirements on the spot, there are power outages constantly, vegetables have to be bought in the next village, flour- two villages over, the new intern you’ve been waiting for never arrives, COM meeting is in a village two hours commute away, you want something done and the answer you are given is “not possible today, come back tomorrow.” I can stay shockingly calm for much longer now.

Thinking about the past seven months, a few moments stand out as the happiest and there are a few that I would have to claim as my worst moments. All in random order…

Happiest moments:
1. Going on the camel ride in the desert at the Coordinators Retreat in Khuri and playing games in the dunes the next day. Who knew Mathilde and I were evenly matched in strength (we tied in our wrestling match).

2. Creating the superlatives for the June quarterlies and laughing until 2am with Elliott (whitest trash picker alive), Harmonie (swaggalicious swiss), Bruno (wannabe hippie), Whitney (most likely to tell you the office is her house and she almost pooed herself cleaning your mess), Remy (B’s favorite) and Johann (coolest geek).

3. Dancing to “Lean On” on top of Triund with Harmonie, Dani, Shannon, Hellen, and Laura (music video coming soon).

4. Making it to the top of the 5000m pass in Ladakh during my 3 day trek after an interminable trek uphill.

5. Laughing uncontrollably when Pooja, my favorite girl in Girls’ Club, points to the neighborhood dog and says “Lenty is my favorite bitch.”

6. Discussing our dreams and crafting dream catchers in Girls’ Club with the craft supplies my friends in the US sent me.

7. Shamelessly eating countless chapattis for breakfast, lunch and dinner with Margaret in Maiti.

8. Riding with Elliott in the motorbike I bought and I never used again after falling from it at the beginning.

Unhappiest moments:
1. Throwing up off the bus at 4am on the way back from Leh, praying nauseated and in fear that I would shit my pants at any moment (luckily I did not).

2. Spilling liquids from both ends at the same time in Atul’s homestay during June quarterlies with no toilet paper and missing the gender circle. Definitely felt like I hit rock bottom at this point.

3. Getting peed on by a rat in the kitchen TWICE. I almost died I was so disgusted.

With fellow interns at a wedding in Naddi, Himachal Pradesh

Playing Red Rover in the desert during the Coordinator’s Retreat in Khuri, Rajasthan

With the Maiti Girls’ Club in Maiti, Himachal Pradesh

Michelle Fujisaki - USA
HR Coordinator, Maiti, Himachal Pradesh