Monday, 30 May 2016

It has been 4 months...

It has been 4 months, since a new chapter, a new journey has started. It has had many unique moments, challenges, days of travelling (in total), super tasty food (which made me quite surprised). However, I still cannot forget the reaction of the officer in Larnaca Airport who saw me flying to India and asked the reason behind this. As I told him that I am coming here to work in a small community, his reaction was “Woaww! Be careful and I wish you all the best good luck!” This conversation made me think what I was actually about to do is to start a brand new life in a land with so many surprises that I could not think of at that time! This was a bit frightening and made me nervous. Yeah, I should be careful from a person with a Western life perspective. However, as I kept moving on, I found out that I should be careful not because a bad accident can happen such as an attack from a monkey around our house or an unlucky choice of a food can cause some trouble later on, but more because of the things can go unexpectedly with India bringing surprises to a daily life.

You never know or guess what can happen in a day here. This actually makes me more enthusiastic on the daily routines of the life, making the experience full of thrills and actually fun! You start the day with everything well planned in your mind then ending up at the end of the day doing something completely different, for example being involved in a “Dam” being invited from a known family or even a random person who is interested on to hang out with “Angrieji” people. Such attractions during a daily life become the highlights of the days here for me, being involved in cultural wonders of Hindu family, tasting amazing foods, chatting and even doing yoga after the dinner.

Random Dam Invitations turn into good memories

On the one hand, such attractions can trip the plans involving your projects. I can recall such events on my past 4 months here easily. For instance, a project related visit to clay mines in local area in order to get some clay for building can end up with being involved in wrestling event as part of the festival which took place just in the clay mines where most of the people were watching, community men being involved. Or for example, cancelling training for making bamboo furniture as the trainer person from local community turns out as a drunk man and being inconsistent and unreliable. Although such surprises can be annoying, they are all challenges, which make the whole experience colourful. I need to add the unexpected trips, which were decided in 5 minutes, either project related or for weekends. I can honestly say that such experiences are the ones who keep more places in our minds and of course in our hearts.

As I look behind to make a small feedback to myself for this blog, I am amazed on how much I learnt and I am still learning. I have learnt not only about the culture, local community, foods, language (although I still have big struggle with), but also within eco building premises. As a manager and a newbie coordinator, I now have a freshly growing knowledge, practical experience and more courage to handle the problems that can be small in our daily lives but are bigger in India! Before I have acquired myself as a non-practical engineer, whereas now I am getting into a medium-level practical engineer where I can lead as manager, plan ahead, handle challenges, and create solutions! These can become handy in our house for building shelves, shoe racks, ReStore furniture, garden solutions and the newest ones clay stove and a clay oven or these can even be project related solutions! The latest ones are just because we have been out of gas in the house for several days. 

Clay stove after having no gas at home
Greenhouse construction with a spectecular view

In these past four months, I have met many people with beautiful personalities, some being interesting, funny faces, serious faces, personalities with warm hearts and some people just staring at me endlessly with a lot of curiosity. I would like to mention about the interest of people on me. Hindu people seeing a guy with dreads, I can be a Guru or Baba- spiritual person in Hindu society. By the way my whole country, Cyprus, should be proud of me or award me as a representative of Cyprus as I have so far informed many people about my little island, they are now aware of the existance of Cyprus, an island that exists in the Mediterranean Sea!

PS.1---Another thing that I should mention is how the cow dunks and cow urine is an amazing thing! People here use them for building, burning material, natural pesticide, natural fertilizer; this should be why Cow is a holy animal here! I have used it as building material and it gives a soothing effect to me while mixing it whit my hands! 

PS.2---I am writing this blog post in a day that started with 35-37 degrees Celsius and I am working under hot sun and now, I can barely have access to internet or electricity due to a heavy storm and rain outside with a show of lightnings to our view!

So, one should accept the challenges and surprises here in India as advantages and fully enjoy them!

Faik Nizam - Cyprus
Eco-Building Project Coordinator/Manager in Rait

Saturday, 28 May 2016

EcoBuilding in Gajner

If you told me when I was in school that at age 34, a typical day for me might include things like: strapping a shovel to my motorbike and spending the afternoon in the desert digging ditch in 40c heat; using the same motorbike to transport a leaking bag of cow manure that was sandwiched between myself and my passenger; getting my passenger to stick his head out of the window of our car and shout 'beep beep' because the car-horn does not work and planning my day carefully based on what position the shade will be on my makeshift workshop on our roof - well, perhaps I would have chosen to study something sensible like accounting.

Though I suspect, a career balancing books may not have prevented me from finding myself in this, the most unorthodox of jobs. Afterall, it's not so long since my daily routine was more along the lines of insuring houses rather than building them. How exactly does one go from being and Insurance broker to an EcoBuilder!?

While traveling through India last year, I decided to cut short my stay in Darjeeling by one day. My next step was Nepal and Darjeeling just wasn't delivering the authentic mountain life experience I was craving (mainly because the mountain air was somewhat tainted by the smell of fried chicken from the local KFC). I commenced the 24 hour overland journey to Kathmandu on April 24th 2015. I arrived in Kathmandu on the morning of April 25th, just hours before a massive 7.9 earthquake was to strike the region. My original plan was to spend 2 weeks in Nepal and to cut a very long story short, I spent the next 4 months helping in the relief effort with a number of NGOs. It was there that I discovered that I could use my hands to actually build things rather than just pen pushing and number crunching. 

Eager to explore the crazy world of NGOs a bit further and to use my newly acquired skills to some useful purpose (rather than just going home and building a garden shed) I stumbled on EcuCare India. And What can I say about my work here? Managing my own workload and that of the contractors who helped us out was certainly a challenge. As we headed in to the summer months the main challenge was always to find shade and keep hydrated. And while I'm sure my housemates didn't really appreciate me turning the rooftop in to a sprawling workshop, I like to think I've made up for this somewhat by installing a nice hammock and armchair for everyone to use as a parting gift! 

So, I'll leave you all with some pictures of my work. As for me, I have a lot of catching up to do with my friends at home. No, I don't mean catching up on gossip, I mean I'm somewhat behind on my acquisition of mortgages, nice cars, gardens and such like that all my friends have been busy accumulating while I was living my simple yet content life here in the desert. 

EcoHouse in Indra Colony 
Hammock and armchair on the intern's house roof.

Sign for the Gajner ReStore

Niall de Bhiall - Ireland
EcoBuilding Project Manager in Gajner

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Something Special

There is something about Gajner. That’s what everyone says. And when they say that I don’t think they mean the beautiful Gajner Palace or the lake. Nor the mesmerizing sunsets and the amazing desert landscape. In my case, now that I am leaving after 6 months, I came to narrow it to three things: the people, the animals and the pani puri. I will start with the last.

Pani Puri
I truly believe Gajner has the best panni puri in the world. The only panni that not only tastes amazingly good but doesn’t give you diarrhea (at least not to me). And the special one, as I like to call it, the one without the water you get in the end, tastes like India to me. Sweet, sour, spicy and interesting enough to keep me coming back for more.

The man that creates the magic!

Delhi. Delhi was our house puppy we rescued from the streets, who sadly is no longer with us. He destroyed my favorite pair of gloves and pretty much every shoes I owned. I used to call him “Terrorista”. Manoj says he had an education. Indeed, he had an education, but he was a rebel at heart. 

Delhi's bright and dark side

Mico and Vather, our two beloved pet geckoes. Recently, they have been occupied doingsome horizontal (vertical?) dancing. Actually, I noticed a little bump in Vader’s belly which leads me to believe that the gecko family might be increasing anytime soon. When you don’t have television, this is the best you get. 

Lady, the nicest and smartest dog in Gajner. In fact, the only dog that acts like a dog around here. She wails her tail when she sees you, jumps at you asking for affection, and follows you around. She recently dig a hole just outside of our house where she retires during sleep. Summer doesn’t spare anyone and even the dogs can’t handle the suffocating heat during the night. 

The Cat who comes to our house at night when everyone is asleep to steal our food. He has literally the weirdest taste when it comes to food, and he eats anything from dog food, bread, and eggs, to toilet paper, tampons and sanitary pads. Disgusting I know, but true. Our cat is also a very needy cat and tries to cuddle with people if given the chance. He has found his way into our rooms a few times, and once Orane (an amazing French intern) woke up with him on top of her in bed.

Finally, the moody cows in front of Mr. Bero Singh vegetable shop. For future interns, especially female interns, keep your eyes wide open and prepare to run (and scream!) when crossing through this (dangerous) area, because these cows might attack you for no particular reason. It has happened in the past and it may happen again.

Our community has the kindest and friendliest people I met in my life. Living in a place where people actually remember your name and care enough to reach out to say Namaste whenever they see you gives you an immense joy and a true sense of belonging.

Ankita, is one of the many kids in town who runs to you whenever they spot you on the street. For six months our interactions have been always the same. She asks me my name, I reply and then we engage in fist punch with a boom in the end.

Then, there are all the shopkeepers in the main street who, in the beginning, looked at me with curiosity but, whom with time, I became very good friends with. Not surprisingly, my Hindihas evolved from knowing only casual greetings to knowing back and forth the Hindi words for all the vegetables and fruits and many other foods. And then there is the constant invitations for chai, and all the people that ask you to come to their house for dinner, try to teach how to make chapatti for the hundredth time, and reject your weird shaped chapatti as its form would alter the taste.

Vimla, who the moment you say you have to leave her house, gets you more food so you have stay a little longer. And Sorav, her son, who is one of the smartest kids I have ever met, and who at 13 is already thinking about university and studying abroad. Sorav, who is Hindu but spends almost two hours looking for eggs with you (when many others cringe even to the sound of the word) when you decide at the last moment you want to make a cake for dinner.

Me and the kids

Manoj, who not only helps you immensely with all of your projects, but also tries to teach you Hindi, cooks the best Indian food you will ever taste, and invites you to come to his house and celebrate Holi and Diwali with his family.

And Shushuma and her family,Anjuman and Mubarak Je, Dappu, Durga, Pria, Shreea, Kumkum, the Gajner team (you guys rock!), and all of these others amazing people who I would write things about if I had the space, but I am almost on 900 words now and this is obviously getting way to long.

The funny part about leaving is you are not gone yet and you are already thinking when you are coming back. I guess there is really something special about this place. 

So instead of saying goodbye I say phir milinge Gajner, phir milinge India!!

View of Gajner from our roof

Ana Silva - Portugal 

Rural Healthcare Project Manager in Gajner

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Discovering India on the road

A little more than three months have passed since my arrival in India and I feel a bit more entitled to give a personal impression about this country. Unlike other visitors who may come here only with the purpose of travelling, coming to India to work means that in order to explore a bit of this vast country, there’s a lot of travelling to do in short periods of time. It’s like we live two kinds of lives: a relatively (sometimes very relatively) peaceful lives in our villages and motion-based and frenzy lives during the weekends we choose to travel. Popular destinations are in average 8-10 h of comfortable and relaxing government bus away from Harike. So, much of the knowledge I gathered about India has come on the road, a kind of window-based discovery.

First thing I believe anyone notices is the crazy driving on the roads. On the CIEEL induction course we were shown this really cool TED talk where it is argued that roads are more organized than it seems, that practically everybody and everything is allowed because spaces and boundaries are negotiated on site and at the moment. By living here, I understood how these boundaries are actually negotiated: through honking real hard and imposing your will over the others’ in a survival of the fittest style. Except for the Cow, of course. It’s unreal to see how Indian drivers slow down and stop to let the Cow cross the highway from one lane to another. Even the honking stops as if the drivers were showing their respect and bowing to it.

If you negotiate hard enough you might even be able to travel on the rooftop of a bus.

Second thing that I noticed is the amount of developmental constructions that are in place – as you would expect from a rapidly developing economy – but how every project seems at times paralyzed for a long time or just directly abandoned. There are countless buildings and roads half-built and no one seems to be working on them. Just like in many of our projects, it seems like there is a lot of excitement when the idea and the design is presented and everybody shows a lot of initial support but the hard part is to keep engagement and consistency. It’s awkwardly funny and a bit scary to see that not even the Government can materialize its projects efficiently. 

The other major thing that one notices is the crazy amount of waste that accumulates everywhere, specially concentrated in rivers, canals and open dump sites.That’s really not a cool sight.Perhaps because of my SWASH-focused thinking, I can’t avoid to see the environmental issue as one of the major problems in the development path of this country. It seems that India is following the same way as the West: economic development at the expense of the environment. Certainly directing the effort in improving social equity and infrastructure is an investment for the future and a real need of this country. However, a complete disregard for their environmental resources is putting a long-term mortgage on the society too and it should be acknowledged.

A typical open dump site in India.

Finally, one of the activities I enjoy doing to amuse these long hours of travel is looking out the window for titles and names of stuff. Indian people have a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit and a determined marketing attitude: ‘the best of (insert location), my friend!’. However, they are extremely bad at achieving orthographic rigorousness regarding company names or food menus. We’ve seen funny spelling mistakes such as “barger”, “braquette”, “crossiant” and many more. Sometimes it’s so shocking that I can’t help believing that they are doing it on purpose to give us customers a good laugh. 

Anyway, India might not be the most organized, constant and attentive to detail country but I think that most of us Westerners who visit would agree that it has a lot to teach to “our” world. It all depends on how you want to see things; what could be seen as a lack of boundaries/organization can also be seen as tolerance and freedom for example, and the lack of attention to details could also be seen as a sign of a more essentialist and less superficial approach to things. What I don’t find any “softer” or positive side to is to the environmental mess. It is always the same reaction when I see it no matter what mood I’m in. In fact, despite all the honking and the long hours spent on a bus, I find that travelling is a good remedy for helping me recover energy and motivation and to push harder my project back in Harike.

Pau Vallvé - Spain
SWASH Project Coordinator/ Project Manager in Harike

Monday, 16 May 2016

Educare India, a sustainable change

Educare provides a platform for young entrepreneurs to make a sustainable change in rural areas in India. I was part of the team in charge to open a new center in Rajasthan. The decision making process was challenging : in a few words, we, as freshly interns arrived in India, had to find a place to live and to start our projects. As a grass-roots level organization, the director had no plans about where the new center would be settled. We were part of this enriching process, leaders of change in India. We visited villages that could have been potentially a new VIKAS center for the organization. After three weeks of pros and cons evaluation, and due to refusal from the government to settle in some regions, the choice was finally made for RangMahal.

Once arrived in RangMahal, we had to find a house for us and in the long term, for the organization. From many options we had, the parameters we evaluated before making the decision were : the remaining work in the house before being able to move in, the privacy, the house as a long term basis for the organization, the image that would be given to the community and last but not least, the internet connection. (In fact, 3G was apparently working better in some areas of the village.) It was a month when we all experienced a sensation of uncertainty, which was overwhelming and perturbedour motivation. However, finally settled after one month, I was taking on my role as SWASH project manager and long meetings withs Mr B. gave north to my projects. 

The first objective was to make sure that the organization itself is sustainable. How can the organization be sustainable when six interns are generating more waste than the whole village ? How can the organization be sustainable when six interns are using 500 litres of water everyday ? Those were the first questions we had to deal with.

One week garbage in RangMahal

As interns, we are trying to be as sustainable as we can with the tools we get from the executive committee. That means reducing consumption and making the house as sustainable as possible : using grey water to flush the toilets, reducing toilet paper usage, reusing tea bags, not using plastic bags when purchasing any items from the shops, … 

Except for one representative in each center and the director, EduCARE is run only by interns. In a new environment, even with the ability to communicate in Hindi, running a project that would have real impact on the community was hard for me. So far, in RangMahal, we are increasing awareness about waste management through workshops in the government school.

Finally, this internship is a great enriching personal experience. I have met interesting people from everywhere, travelled around India, learned Hindi and lived far from my comfort zone, through one month in a homestay, sleeping in a room without doors and a hole in the garden as toilets, and rats in our kitchen…

Chasing the rat
This is all about grass-roots level and being a global citizen, the organization will give you the freedom to do whatever you want from your experience, with minimal supervision. It can be as exciting as challenging, but hopefully at the end it will lead into something positive.

Lamia Nouroudine Hassanaly - Madagascar/France
SWASH Project Manager in RangMahal

Saturday, 14 May 2016


Being sick in bed one of my last days in Harike is not the best moment to write my leaving blog post. Even so, good memories and experiences overcome the bad ones. How do I start talking about what it has been the most amazing experience I've ever had?

October 16th - I arrive in Delhi and meet two interns with whom I suffer my first frustration: after paying in advance a very expensive bus to Dharamshala, somehow it ends up broken before we get in and we miss our first day of induction. Today and after hearing a lot of stories about scams in Delhi, I think we were lucky to have only that problem! 

Induction week - we are in Naddi, where everything is beautiful (except the huge spiders) and peaceful, a nice transition for my first time in India. I meet all these interns from different countries, with different backgrounds, languages and interests. I assist to some workshops, a wedding, a cooking contest, fun club and girls club. I spend time with my homestay's family and realize how lucky I am for being born in Europe, with access to education, health, transports, ... even heating systems! Basically, I am lucky for having options.

Arrival in Harike - In my second week I travel from centre to centre with my housemates because Punjab is dangerous until religious protests finish. Rait and Gajner host us and we are invited to their activities and Saturday meetings, which help us to know how to start with ours. I arrive in Harike and want to leave immediately: terrible bathroom, zero privacy, no beds, no chairs, no table, noisy family and buffalos living next to us, mosquitoes everywhere...! But the team is amazing and we are there for each other when leaving thoughts come to our minds. We start the family tree, find a logo and a slogan (s*** it Gajner!) and set up the identity of the new Harike's centre.

Harike's family tree

Quarterlies - EduCARE's reunion in Harike! We develop the house to host around 50 people full of ideas, challenges, knowledge and creativity. We come up with goals by centre and project for the next months and why not to say, we had a great time playing dumb games, getting to know each other and sharing random conversations with people from all around the world.

Community engagement - we walk around the village, talk and take pictures with whoever want to talk to us. I mean... with everybody. We start to identify people: the girl who speaks a bit of English, the stitching girl, the principal's daughter and English teacher, the toilet paper guy, the leader children of the migrant community, etc... Five months later, they all have names and work with EduCARE: Rashvinder and Harsvinder in Girls Club, Janu and Narinder at the school, Amit who works with the SWASH team and still sells us toilet paper, Sansgina and Prince participating every week in ASP... They all make my stay more comfortable, strangers that have become part of my daily life and whom, in one way or another, I'll miss when I leave. 

Christmas break - I love travelling, I've doing it my whole life and I keep looking for being paid to travel (any ideas?). 14 interns and two weeks of holidays, 39 hours and two non-sleep nights on a train just to reach the first stop. In the middle, tuc-tucs, boats, sleeper buses, taxis, ricksaws and scooters. Christmas and New Year's Eve far from home but with our EduCARE's family between Mumbai, Goa and Hampi (Oh Hampi!). Western food and meat after 3 months! Obviously, some diseases - we are not immune to diarrhea or pink eye. And in general, one of the best trips I've ever done, surrounded by beautiful places and people. Then we split, interns go back to their centres but I continue my solo-travels to the South. I visit two different NGOs, the city of Bangalore and in my way back, I got lost in the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere...I don't panic though, because the most awesome family is there to adopt and feed me for a night, until it's time to get on the bus and finally reach Harike. 

Cold times - It's January and it's freezing in Punjab. Some people say it will only last one week, some other say it will last two months. It lasts too much for me, I miss the beautiful Spanish weather! Days working from bed with all my clothes on, improvised talks in the kitchen because it is the only warm space and races to the bathroom at night to go back under the blanket as soon as possible conform a normal day during Harike's winter. 

Finally feeling comfortable - Going out alone is not an issue anymore. The shopkeepers and communities know us and almost every inhabitant of the village has a picture with us, so they don't ask for more. We don't pay excessive prices for daily products (or that's what we think). The guys in the fish shop yell my name and country every time they see me, the cookie shop guy automatically gives me mentos when I show up and Amit wishes us happy International Women's day. We are invited to ceremonies where we taste delicious food and learn Punjabi dance moves while Indians look, record and laugh.

FFRO visits - I could write a whole blog post about them. Six days I spent in that room with the same officer saying: come tomorrow, drink a chai, wait a minute, the boss is not here, we lost your documents bring them again, another chai for special guests? Whether you want it or not, Indian bureaucracy is part of the experience and what you can learn from it is to increase your patience. Maybe learn something else and take a book with you when you have to deal with it.

New interns - We need more manpower, projects start growing and we happily receive five awesome interns in February. The centre is full and we learn how to survive, collaborate, live together, and most important, how to cook for ten hungry young people (the secret: start chopping at 6pm and eat rice and vegetables, let's say, at least 4 days a week) 

Goodbyes - It's time to leave for those who arrived in October. We've been around six months together and shared the most beautiful experience. I can't imagine a better closure than spending Holi in Pushkar and a few more days in Jodhpur that I will never forget. I have now friends in so many countries that I'm afraid I won't have time (or money!) to visit them all. I'll do my best though, and if I ever go back to Spain, I'll be waiting for the EduCARE and specially Harike team to visit me. 

So, what's next? Right now, I can only think in how hard is realizing that I'm leaving and I won't see the lovely kids of our communities grow up, although I'm looking forward to see the outcomes of the seed we've planted. India has taught me to adapt better to any situation and timing, so even if I still don't know what I'll be doing the next month, I'll figure it out. I know though that I only got to know a tiny part of this country and that I want more. I know, then, that sooner or later I will come back to the amazing India.

María Reyes - Spain
EcoBuilding Project Coordinator and Project Manager in Harike

Monday, 9 May 2016

The multiple colors of India

My experience in EduCARE started in the beginning of September 2015, in the rainy monsoon season and in one of the rainiest place in the world, Dharamsala. I arrived in this little village called Naddi and I was delighted by the amazing view on Himalayan Mountains and the Kangra valley. Since the first second there, I felt in a place welcoming, calm and serene. Apart from the crazy rain that could start without warning you and last for hours and hours, the first days in this peaceful village enchanted my senses. People are very nice to you: they don’t hesitate to invite you for a chai or a dinner at their house. These first days surrounded by warm and welcoming people made me feel already like at home.

My first months in the organization were very special to me, I was discovering more than India in itself. By many ways, the internship I did was a first experience for a lot of things. It was the first time I worked abroad, outside my home country. It was the first time I worked in an NGO. It was the first time I lived with a roommate and in an interns’ house. It was the first time I stayed a long time away from my family and my friends.

Meeting the other new interns during the induction and spending some time together made me realize that EduCARE is more than an organization, it is a family welcoming people from all over the world: Italy, Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, etc. Sharing my experience with other interns from different countries around the world was a gift. Living with the center interns made me discover and appreciate life in community. Enjoying free time with my roommates and the other interns, partnering and collaborating with them on different projects, supporting each other: it was amazing to do all these things.

This internship in EduCARE has been also the opportunity for me to travel around India. Working in EduCARE allowed me to get to the other centers of the organization and to enjoy the different tastes of North India: doing a camel safari in the hot and dry Thar Desert in Rajasthan, walking in the noisy and crowded streets of Punjab while enjoying Bhangra (local) music and trekking in the freezing Himalayan range. I particularly enjoyed the different outdoor activities offered by the Himalayan Moutains: it was awesome to be able to do trekking and hiking in these outstanding landscapes.

During my holidays, I experienced most of the beautiful sights that North India can offer: palaces, forts, tombs and plenty of temples. During my travels, I also enjoyed urban India with the crazy Delhi and the outstanding Mumbai, which were good breaks from the countryside. Particularly, these travels made me discover how diverse India is: rural and urban, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Jains, dry and humid, cold and hot. I never saw this much diversity before and it was fascinating that all this diversity was standing in harmony.

I enjoyed a lot being an EduCARE intern. These eight months with the organization were very intense and every day was giving me a different experience from my internship in India. I thank all the people that I met during my internship, all the EduCARE interns, Naddi villagers, Naddi interns and the other people I met in India for making this experience unique. Meeting people from everywhere in the world, contributing to rural development, challenging myself with project management, enjoying Indian cultural diversity and spicy food, experiencing the crazy but also incredible country's sights, and, last but not least, living by myself far from my home country. In a nutshell, I would say that I learnt more in eight months of experience than in the rest of my life:
"You cannot create experience. You must undergo it" (A. Camus)

Kevin Sundareswaran - France
SWASH Project Manager / Project Coordinator in Naddi

Saturday, 7 May 2016

So I have now been living in Rangmahal for just over a month.

At first, there was a lot of adjustment as it is a totally different environment to what I am used to! I am from cloudy, grey, drizzly, fast-paced London and this is a world away from that! It is insanely hot, slow and lazy, the sun is always blaring and there is sand EVERYWHERE. I am sure when I arrive back home in London, I will open my backpack and sand is just going to pour endlessly out of it!

One thing that was a challenge at first was the toilet situation. At home I am used to pristine clean toilet bowls, sinks with luxurious soaps, a bathtub and an overhead shower (I am drooling at the thought of this kind of shower now!) In the village, the typical toilet is one that looks like this:

Our gorgeus toilet in the first house

As you can see, this is simply just a hole in the ground with two bricks either side. There was no door… only a wall that around the toilet, which came up to my elbow, so I was always nervous that someone would peek over the wall and see me squatting. I had several comical experiences as I do my business, coughing constantly as though I have been smoking for the last century to make people aware of my presence, awkwardly walking in on Dada Ji then running away and hiding in embarrassment, and also having a dog jump over the wall like HELLOOOOO. Toilet trips were interesting to say the least!

This set up made me wonder how hard it must be to be a woman in this village, particularly when on their period; it certainly would not be comfortable and if I was a woman here, I would be worried that someone would look over and see me, particularly as menstruation here is seen as disgusting and a taboo.

Here we also shower with bucket and water. As I have been to the Philippines several times, I am very used to it and rather enjoy this way of bathing. However, what I am not used to, is a cow eating its breakfast and defecating outside the shower room, and an old woman peeking into the shower as I pour sand water over myself. I had to laugh so many times when things like this happened! People here are extremely curious, particularly to the way that us foreigners do things!

Another difficulty I had at first was hand washing my clothes. It was definitely a struggle at first, especially with half the village coming to watch the foreigner wash their clothes like a local and laugh at how ridiculous and confused I look. Now, I can definitely say I am a pro hand washer!I had to fill up my bucket with a manual water pump (producing a concoction that is 90% sand and 10% water) and then attempt to wash my clothes by hand sitting in the typical squat position, which is waaaayyyyyy harder that it looks I honestly still do not know how people manage to sit like that for so long.

Actually, most women here experience severe pain in their legs, backs and arms from doing chores such as washing and cooking in this position. Even though they experience such pain, they seldom complain and simply carry on. At home, doing chores can require very little to no effort! It is even so simple for me that if I so wish, I can go to a laundrette or order a takeaway ….so I do nothing at all!

Whenever I was invited to peoples’ house for food, I would always be offered a master class in chapatti making. At first, my chapattis all looked like one of the teletubbies, but hey, as they say, practice makes perfect and I can make the roundest chapattis in the village(with the aid of a bowl to cut it out).

Food has been difficult for us; there are no grocery shops in the village and there are about 12 shops that sell roughly the same thing: biscuits and potato chips. To get food we have to travel to Suratgarh, the nearest city which is 7km away, but this requires potentially waiting for the hourly ‘regular’ bus for 3 hours. The result: a diet consisting of mostly daal, daal and more daal. I do not think I can look at another lentil again after this! However, the food we have made, and have been offered has been absolutely delicious! We have even managed to make hummus desert style which entails mashing the chickpeas for an hour with a dodgy fork.…so worth it and so good!

A huge problem we have been facing as of late is the lack of electricity and water. As it is harvesting season, the whole village has decided to turn off the electricity from 9am – 7pm. This has made living in 41 degree heat extremely difficult without the help of our electric fans! One weekend consisted of Iris and I lying in our beds the whole day just saying“ugh”….”its so hot” …”omg don’t you think its hot?!”…”I’m dying!” … “bring me cookies!”

Holi with the beautfiul girls in the village

On top of this, we cannot use our electric pump to fill up our water tank. We have experienced a few times with no water in our tank, so had to buy a whole pack of 10 one litre bottles to go about our day. ON TOP OF THIS, another village has been controlling the water supply and this is cut off for most of the day until 9pm when we can finally fill the tank. We hope to find a solution to this, particularly when it comes to May and, we have been repeatedly warned, it gets excruciatingly hot with temperatures apparently reaching50 degrees…yay!

Yes, it has been difficult at times, but also has been incredible. I have learned so much from the people here, with their warmth, kindness and openness. The village is BEAUTIFUL. We can walk up a large hill, which everyone calls the mound, and watch the sunset over the lush green farms and the sandy plains around us, or play “Kabadi”, a wrestling game, with the children. I have already been invited to, not one, but three weddings! And have indulged in the delicious food there, and joined in the dancing. I experienced Holi with the girls and ladies of the village, again, dancing and indulging in delicious food and tons of chai.

View from the mound

Living here has made me realise how fortunate I am at home with my plethora of CHOICES. I can choose to eat anything I so desire. I can choose to use the washing machine and laze about watching television as it washes. I can choose to leave my house with the light on in my room, if I so wished, for the whole day and not even think of having no electricity at the end of the day. I can choose to have a hot shower for 30 minutes without thinking about water running out.

It has all been a huge learning experience for me. I feel that I will be a gazillion times more patient; there is a lot to learn from the optimistic and laid-back attitude of the people in the village. I am enjoying this simple way of living, and I have even more appreciation for the comforts and the ease of doing everyday chores at home.

Ta for now!

Danielle Outen - United Kingdom
Microfinance / Women's empowerment Project Manager
Centre Administration Coordinator in Rang Mahal

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Leaving India

I always knew that this internship would give me a chance to learn and have new and unique experiences, but I was surprised at what I became to know about the most. The thing I learned about the most while working for EduCARE was in fact, myself. 

Of course, the internship is about community engagement, practicing sustainable development and sharing knowledge with others-but for most of us, it becomes much more than that along the way.

I got to know more about myself than I ever expected. The frustrations, the challenges, the constant nausea and diarrhea brings out parts of you that you don’t like or try to avoid. But in India, when there is no power or water or horrible and unavoidable weather, you sometimes can’t escape these parts of yourself. When this happens, you begin to learn how to adapt or how to react in situations. Then, after time, you begin to realize some parts of yourself that are really great. You realize you are an innovator, most certainly a problem solver and have more ideas, knowledge and definitely patience, than you ever thought you were capable of. 

On a more narrow point, I got to learn specifically about microfinance in the field. Traditional microloans and microsavings is not the only way to conduct microfinance in developing countries. I understood quite quickly that sometimes the most effective ways of doing a project are not the most efficient or traditional ways of approaching ideas and projects. It could not be truer that flexibility is essential and the key to succeeding in any projects attempts. Even while keeping this in mind, you will almost definitely fail at some stage. Of course we are constantly told failure is good and it takes time to accept this but its true. The constantly failing and mistakes is often what gives you inspiration for better ideas or alternative solutions. So what I’d really like to say is thank you. 

Thank you EduCARE for giving me so many opportunities to fail :)

Breanne Jury - Canada
Microfinance Project Manager / REstore Project Coordinator in Paro and Naddi