Sunday, 28 February 2016

Experience with EduCARE India, SWASH and other projects.

Hello EduCARE....I am very glad to work with EduCARE-India. I have learned many things here. I was always improving myself. This was a really good platform for me. I feel proud to has been part of EduCARE-India.This has been my second time working with EduCARE-India and there are many things that popped into my head when i`m thinking about my first month in RAIT.

Writing a blog post can be really difficult for me. Where could I start from? Ordering my thoughts, I would focus my feeling on the arrival to the Rait Center and the engagement with the community, especially building relationship with the kids of the village as well as with the shopkeepers/ and trash holder. 

I immediately fell in love with Himachal Pradesh and I mean it, it`s such a beautiful place! I definitely enjoyed my job as project manager for Swash Project. I still remember my first day meeting with the shopkeepers and local gov. Grampanchayat members. At that time I did not understand how could I deal with them, but after few weeks I found my way.

Spending time with the kids in Fun Club was extremely funny! We did different activities and games every Sunday in Rait Gov. School. We also had the possibility to prepare some educational activities related to the Waste Management and Sanitation. The kids really liked it! 

I would like to show you some photos representing the path I follow during my EduCARE India experience: 

At the beginning of my internship I started to work with Kevin the SWASH Coordinator. We had a meeting with the Sitaram. We had a great conversation about the Swash project and solid waste management system: how can they separate the trash, how many were the different kind of trash.....etc.

SWASH meeting in Mcleod Ganj with Sitaram son

Then me together with Sylvia,Madhu,Craig and Tom went to meet the local Government and all members of the Grampanchayat as well as the local community. It was our first step to try to engage the community and it was very successful.

Meeting with local Government Grampanchayt in BDO Office

Here you can see the trash collected form the shopkeepers and sold to the trash holder. He`s a very good person, always supportive and kind with us. We built a very good relationship with him.

Selling our trash in Rait

The Fun club with the kids is amazing! They are doing every time something funny with us. The girls are always very happy to see us in Girls Club. We also found out that involving the mothers in the Girls Club in our office has been very beneficial in maintaining the girls’ interests and focus. Plus, it is also a good platform to engage with the kids’ mothers and the families overall increasing EduCARE’s visibility. 

In these last weeks kids made artistic boxes with us. They decorated the boxes, they cut the important things they find in the magazines and then they put inside the boxes. It was a very successful and amazing things...I enjoyed every moment!

Our charming kids at the Fun Club and Girls Club

Our Girls Club activities

This is very sad moment for me because I am going back home in Varanasi. I have to leave all the Rait team and the community. I will miss everybody and our amazing house. I will try to express my feelings for my good friends writing down a few words:

Forever is a very long time. How is it that people can talk so casually about a concept that we cannot even wrap our minds around? Sometimes we have a friend and we sense that our souls are very closely connected. We know that the connection is above time and space. We know that wherever we are in our lives we will always remain friends. Even if we do not see each other for years we are able to pick up right where we left off. This is what people mean when they say friends forever.

Friends Forever 2015-2016


Pooja Gautam 

SWASH Project Manager 

Rait, India

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Workshops at the schools in Harike

One of the first weeks in Harike, Jessica and I went to a school to meet the principal and get some information about the students. We went there as part of our community engagement because we were a new centre and we wanted them to know us and the work EduCARE does. What we were not expecting from that first contact was to have a formal meeting that set up the workshops in which all the interns and two schools are currently involved.

Two weeks later Jessica and I came back. We were asked to deliver a workshop on SWASH and since it was my second project, I prepared it. All we knew was that the students were 16 years old and don't speak a lot of English. That could only make me more and more nervous, but who wouldn't be scared of a bunch of teenagers that don't understand-not your mother tongue- but your second language?

The good thing is that right before getting into the school, a pigeon dropped one on my jumper and that could only mean good luck. The workshop went great, the students, principal and staff were satisfied and encouraged us to extend the program to more schools.

SWASH workshop about water pollution, sanitation and solid waste management

SWASH: María explaining a practical activity about recycling

For the next session, we had another challenge ahead; Jessica wanted to speak only to the girls about puberty and menstruation. As all of us know, that's a controversial topic! However, the school was very open about it and accepted the proposal. We were surprised when some of the girls asked intimate questions that they may not dare to ask their families or teachers.

The next topics were Disaster Management and Forestry delivered by Tommaso, Sydney and Aless. Seeing how good the workshops were working, we felt comfortable enough to extend the agenda to a government school. When we showed up there they said they were aware of our work and they were expecting us! After a few chais and somosas - which are always welcomed - we started a new successful round of workshops and we have established a close relationship with the principal.

Jessica during a group activity about menstruation
So far, we have done seven sessions. Every week we keep improving with the experience and recommendations from each new lesson and we feel the students are getting as involved as we are. All of us enjoy with the activity and it's definitely a good way for the community to get to know us.

Both schools have a post-exam break in March, but we'll be back in April with new and fresh topics and interns!

Part of the team with the principal and staff of the public school

María Reyes - Spain
 Ecobuilding coordinator in Harike

Monday, 15 February 2016

India, a Country of Contrasts

I’m sitting in a Starbucks in one of the nicest neighbourhoods of Mumbai making time for my train to depart to Udaipur. I’m on my way back to Gajner, the new village where COM Team lives now. When I decided to come to India I knew that I was going to be working in rural villages and, when I arrived there I strangely felt at home. Rural India is not that different from rural Spain 50 years ago in some aspects. Obviously, cellphones didn’t exist back then and the villages were not entangled with wires everywhere, but washing clothes by the river is something that my mother used to do when she was a child. My grandma tells me all the time, “you better save money, you don’t know what could happen in the future, the world is getting worse and you may end up living like I did when I was young”. She was right, I’m living more or less like she did years ago, but thankfully the world is still in good shape or at least Spain is still what it was a year ago.

Housewarming party at Labu’s house

Now my experience here is coming to an end, a couple more days to go, and I am thinking about what I am going to tell people when they ask about India. “How was India? What does India look like?” I’m trying to prepare my answer in advance because, let’s face it, people will only ask you about your amazing experience once, maybe twice, but this incredible and life-changing experience won’t mean anything to them or anyone that hasn’t lived something similar. I had the chance to visit India as a tourist and as a local. I was two people here, the western woman that can dress and act as she wants, as a mere tourist, and the woman working in rural India where there is a complete different code of clothing and behaviour. It truly changes your perspective when you have been living in India and go to other cities as a tourist.

Thousands of people in their finery visit the Golden Temple each day

So going back to the original question…. How is India? India is the country of contrasts. Colourful and beautiful India, people say, and they are not wrong. Women wearing colourful dresses, Hindu temples combining as many colours as possible and lights, neon lights everywhere, in the bus, in the temples… Yes India is a country of lights and colours, but there is also a lot of darkness and dirt. You just have to look around to realize to what extent Mumbai and Delhi are cities of contrasts. For example, when you meet young women holding their babies and begging for food in a nice area full of expensive restaurants, or when you are walking around a fancy neighbourhood and you meet a woman carrying pieces of wood on top of her head for the fire. Yes, cities in India are a place of contrasts and within 100 meters you can see both sides of India, the rich and the poor. Inequality is alarming and not only in terms of wealth but also in terms of gender. Men can go wherever they want at any time of the day or night, but if you arrive home after the sunset your neighbour will let you know that “you are late”. Yes, that happened to me. 

Same street, two different scenarios, Chandni chowk, Delhi

These inequalities and contrasts made me come to India and to EduCARE, to try to do something to change it. I enjoyed my experience here and despite struggling with the slow Internet, which is the worst thing that can happen to you if you’re the Communications Coordinator and your entire work depends on it, I think I did my best for EduCARE and I will continue to do it from a distance. I enjoyed every second I spent in my village, in Maiti, especially with the girls from the community. We did Girls’ Club every Sunday and I hope they learnt something from me because I definitely did from them. Going back home is going to be difficult, India definitely changed me for good or for bad, I still have to judge it. But it definitely did and I am not the same person that came to India 6 months ago. I’ve grown up more than I imagined and that is what I was looking for.

Making dream catchers in Girls’ Club!

I am going to miss my EduCARE family, the children in the street shouting “hi” while waving their hands, the spicy food that it took me so long to get used to, the colourful dresses and especially my little family inside EduCARE, the COM Team, the girls that made my experience an amazing and unforgettable adventure.

It’s getting dark so I guess I should go home… or not?

My crazy lovely COM Team!

“Because it’s a lie that things are as they are; things are as we leave them to be. The world changes when we change and in order to do that we have to believe that change is possible, that is an act of faith, of courage, of compromise, of love”.

Laura Sabater – Spain

Communications Coordinator, Gajner (Rajasthan)

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Surviving Without Gas!

I am currently working as the ReStore/Microfinance project manager in Rait, Himachal Pradesh, as well as the ReStore Supply Chain Coordinator for EduCare.

Being in India for almost a year now, I learned a lot about myself, about others, but also about how resourceful human beings can be! Sometimes, you have to deal with power cuts, sometimes there is no water running, and sometimes you run out of gas!  Not being able to shower and smell for a whole week is one thing that I can do! But, not being able to cook and taking away my body juice, ohh my god this is too much!

Just kidding!  Human beings are capable of always finding a solution to their problems, isn’t this amazing? Not that I didn’t know that before coming to India, but sometimes you truly realize things when you are facing them.

So, this is the story of when the Rait center ran out of gas!

It happened on a Saturday morning, we woke up and, as usual, we want to cook our breakfast. As Pooja turned the stove on, no gas was coming. No pressure, don’t panic! We tried to call Uncle, our landlord, but he was not answering. We, then, went to his house but he was not there. Can we panic now? No, of course not! We will just have to deal with it. So, how do we do that? Well, we go back to the basics!

Lunch was not such a problem because usually people go to the dabba in Rait to eat something but we had to be prepared for dinner.

Since we are eight in the house now, we divided people into cooking teams. That night, Pooja, Sylvia, Fayk and Andrea were cooking.

Cooking on the fire thanks to Pooja!
Led by Pooja, they scavenged some woods and paper in and around the house and used bricks to build a fire place. They set up everything on the roof of our house. They brought the utensils and had previously cut the vegetables. They managed to make a nice fire. Before cooking on fire like this, you need to dip the pans in soil and water so they do not get dark and ruined.

It was pretty awesome to look at how they managed to cook all the food like this. They made pakora and curry with rice and, I gotta say, it was really tasty. The hardest part during the cooking was the smoke because it was getting into their eyes. And let’s not forget that at this time of the year, it is really cold in Himachal Pradesh. Cooking in the dark with fire and the cold was a big challenge, but they did it! The taste was so different than when we cook on the stove. It did take a long time to be ready, of course, but the result was amazing!

Interns having a great time despite the inconveniences of cooking on the fire
The day after, it would be our team cooking (Kelly, Craig, Federica and I), so we got some good tips that night. We were already talking about what to cook the next night and when we should start cutting the vegetables to have the dinner ready by 8 o’clock.

On our way to the Fun Club on Sunday, we saw a truck delivering gas tanks in Rait. We did the exchange and we didn’t have to cook on fire that night. I was pretty disappointed because I was really looking forward to doing it. It was not the first time the Rait team had run out of gas and this won’t be the last time, I’m sure. When it happened, they had to cook outside for a whole week before getting a new gas tank. Fortunately, Pooja was there to save the day and she showed us everything.

So, if it happens to you, don’t panic! Team work and a little bit of imagination always makes it work.

Mathilde Buchet- France
REstore Supply Chain Coordinator, Rait (Himachal Pradesh)

Monday, 8 February 2016

Learning to Drive in India

Having Rahul, the little old red car, has made our travels to projects a lot easier as we can get there faster and not worry about leaving before it is dark. The only thing is that I cannot drive the car because I don’t know how to drive standard. Coming from Canada where everyone has an automatic vehicle, I never learned how to drive stick. Having this car has given me the opportunity to learn.

The community was very surprised at seeing the women interns driving. The mobility of women in Gajner is quite low. They mostly stay in the house. When women have to leave the house they will bring their husbands, fathers, children or brothers with them. This subjects them to stares, gossip, sexual harassment and rape, in serious cases. We decided that teaching women to drive could improve their mobility, independence and safety.

Many different women wanted to learn to drive but we decided to start with Manoj’s little sister, Durga, and Sunita, their neighbour. I was very excited to learn to drive with Ana and Ilaria as our teachers and my fellow students.

Claire trying to get through the traffic jam

Our first lesson was scary, fun and impressive all at the same time. I was first up. I was able to get the car in first and second gear after a couple of stalls. Through our broken Hindi and Durga and Sunita’s broken English, we explained how to shift and use the clutch. Durga stalled a couple of times but finally got the car into first gear. Sunita had a little more trouble but still got the car into first gear as well. We continued like this for a little while, switching up drivers. It was then Sunita’s turn. She started going fast so Ilaria and I were saying “Deera Deera”, “Slower” but she kept going. She turned the car to avoid a part of the road but we soon realized we were heading for the sand ditch. By the time she pressed the break we were stuck in the sand. Ilaria got into the driver’s seat and Durga, Sunita and I got in front of the car to push it out. We pushed and pushed, but it did not move and inch. We then realized that the back wheels were not touching the ground. Durga waved down a man walking by, who was one of Manoj’s close friends. He helps us dig the car out and push it out of the ditch. We thought ending the lesson here was a good idea.

Me teaching the girls how to drive

The next lesson, Sunita was at her cousin’s house so she didn’t join. Ana, Durga and I headed out. Durga practiced getting into first while I practiced getting into first and then second. This time, the car didn’t seem to be working well. We thought the car had only a little gas in it, as we never fill it up completely. Durga and I kept practicing even though the car did not sound great. Durga stalled the car and tried to turn it back on although it did not start. We thought it was probably out of gas. We called Manoj to bring gas, although he said he had filled the car with gas yesterday and there was no way it was out of gas. He came with gas anyways. When he arrived Manoj got into the car and said we had been driving the car with its lights on the entire lesson and turning the car off and on again killed the battery. Ana and I felt terrible because we thought we had killed the car. Manoj got us to push the car at running speed while turning the key. This restarted the car. Ana and I, relieved the car was okay, decided the car had enough hard work for the day and we ended the lesson.

Durga trying to turn on the engine 

In the most recent lessons, Durga had improved a lot, after a month of no driving. Durga can now get the car into first gear, drive to the end of the road, put the car in reverse and drive back without stalling. She also drove home after one lesson through deep sand with no stalling or getting stuck. We are only four lessons in, with a month break after the first two, and Durga impresses me every day with her confidence and perseverance.

The driving lessons are one of the most fun times of the week for me. I get to hang out with my friends, laughing and learning. This project is no longer just a project. It is a time for me to learn and spend time with the people that I have started to create long lasting friendships with.

Claire Mackie—Canada
Women’s Empowerment Coordinator, Gajner (Rajasthan) 

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Chicken Coop Journey in Modiya

When I came to Gajner in Rajasthan, the previous microfinance intern was about to leave EduCARE. For the past three months, he had been working on finding an agreement with a family in the nearby Muslim community, Modiya, on building a chicken coop. He asked me to take over his project and I was not sure about what to do. I just had gotten to the centre and I had not even met the family interested in the project. I felt I needed more time to decide. Yet, the more we discussed it, the more I was finding the idea of a chicken coop an exciting way to help a woman, not only to empower herself, but to provide food security to a community that has limited access to vegetables and eggs, as well. On these premises, I embarked on this journey with Saira and her family that turned to be a true adventure.

Saira's family and the interns building the chicken coop

It was mid-October when we started to bring materials for Saira, and after three months, we can finally say that the chicken coop is ready. There have been vicissitudes as in every journey, but a few exciting and surprising moments are certainly what I will take home with me. The fact that we are going to buy chickens by the end of the first week of February is extraordinary. However, what really matters to me are the financial literacy lessons Saira and I started back in December. Back then, I discovered that she is illiterate, while until that day I had been told she could read and write. I was still positive though because I realised she can write numbers and she is treasurer of Gajner Self-Help group. It was a great starting point!

Ilaria has been giving financial literacy classes to Saira

Right before Christmas we had a lesson and I gave Saira some homework for the holidays. When I came back in January and I visited her I was pleasantly impressed to see that she did it all and really well too. The surprises did not stop there. Saira showed me her notebook and she is learning to write and read Hindi. I do not know whether studying math together made her want to learn more, but I want to believe that we are truly bringing change in people’s lives doing our small part.

Ilaria Iovieno - Italy
Microfinance Project Manager, Gajner (Rajasthan)