Monday, 31 October 2016

Two Sides

There is always two sides when we are doing an internship for EduCARE India. 
The two sides when you are a project manager or project coordinator, where outside the intern’s house we behave (or we try) like locals. As a woman I cover myself, no smoking or drinking allowed of course, we put our bigger smile in our face and carry on the workshops, meeting or whatever we have to do. 

And then is the other side, our little oasis in the middle of India, our houses, where we can wear crop tops, shorts, treat our fellow male interns as equals and there is (almost never) language barrier.  But even inside the house there are two sides, the professional and the personal one. We live and work together and usually in the same place, some of the centres have an office and can separate those two lives but when that doesn’t happen the two sides usually merge and confront each other. We have to be able to have a serious meeting over the same table we will eat later, play cards or relax. We have to be able to keep focus and active while we work from our beds and houses. We have to be able to challenge our fellow interns and explain our ideas or why we think that theirs are wrong without becoming personal. We have to be able to take critics from the same person we will cook later with. 

Personally I love the chance to work in pyjamas but for some people the ability of separate professional and personal life is not that easy. 

Cool Office in Gajner

We also have the two sides when we travel. When we are out of our villages we are tourists but we already feel ourselves at home in India. You feel like a local, not freaking out anymore by the bumpy buses, lack of privacy, toilets standards in the stations or cheap guest houses, you know what are the prices and you know how to bargain, you know how to deal with trains, buses and any other transport in India but...but still you are not a local, your Hindi is below “tora tora” (little, little) and your face shows you are from the West so you are not treated as a local. Some rickshaw’s driver will want to charge you more, the fruit seller will try to charge you more, the stares remain and no matter how much you cover yourself you feel the attention. Also there are good things to this; Indians are usually extremely nice and helpful and they will try to make your stay and experience in India as best as they can, you will be offered the best food, drinks, blessings and usually having the best treatment as guests.

Enjoying the Punjabi hospitality

And then we have the two sides of any experience, while my experience in EduCARE India has been beyond good and I have learned an endless list of things and skills there is always a darker side in any experience. I have been a really positive person all my life and I was not thinking about being any different in India but sometimes I have been overwhelmed by the situations around me. The delays, the heat, the monsoon, the animals, the bugs, the internet, water and electricity cuts, the few Indian or tourists that tried to take advantage of us in many different senses, the lack of commitment of some interns, the lack of response in certain cases from the community, the wanting of some privacy or some time alone, the small things that bring you comfort and that are impossible to find here... Those things some days and just some days make you see things in darker colours that they actually are (and I could continue but as I said positivity is a must for me).  
But if you focus in the other side like, the extremely and unbelievable beauty of India, the hospitality of its families, the amazing sleeper beds in buses and trains, the peer-to peer learning from other interns and staff of the NGO, the possibility of being your own boss, the smiles of the children, the feeling of the wind while you are in a rickshaw, the happiness when you meet again other interns from other centres, the successful projects, the laughs and nice nights around candles because electricity was not working (but everything is more poetic with a candle right?), the walks to the public taps for getting some water that lead to nice conversation with the neighbours and women, the amazing trips, the things you thought would never see (like me in Pushkar, I saw a cow with a chicken leg in her back!!), all the religions, culture, customs, landscapes present in India that are completely unique, and the list could continue for thousands of words...etc. 

Making friends around India

I have learnt to not be selfish here, to be conscious with what I advocate for and what I do, to behave ethically and to take in account the environment. I learnt what is to be a woman in a country where being a woman is a dangerous thing and I met some very strong women that are making the change in this country happen. I learnt how to deal with a different range of people, I met compulsive complainers here seeing everything as problems and not challenges but I also met fighters who will do their best and work hard to achieve what they want to. I learnt how to put away my ego and listen to the criticism of others about my work and the most important to learnt from it! 

As Communications Coordinator I have been working in front of my computer or having meetings with other fellow interns mostly of the time but I also tried to help in some projects of the centres so I could witness the grass-root action and be a part of it. I hope that communications is consider with the importance that it has in any organization and that is a respected field from now on in EduCARE India. When you don’t communicate, when you don’t participate and contribute in an organization you are taking a big step towards failure. 

For working in EduCARE India, we have to leave behind our preconceptions, our western minds are so conditioned that we forget that our way of living is not the only one and for sure not the best in many aspects. Ethnocentrism is not allowed if you come here. Open your mind, go with the flow, make an effort in understanding what and why are certain things happening around you. It is hard to leave behind the pre-conception that “the way we do it” is more acceptable because this way is only valid where we come from. Cultural sensitivity has to be present and patronizing the communities around you is not an option neither, here life has been different for thousands of years and while we are working towards the global needs through local action it is important to understand that the definition we have in our mind of some words it not the same and can`t be the same in India. 

All this time in India has been a gift, it helped me grow and change to a better myself. I could never forget all the moments I lived during this 7 months and I am really curious in seeing what EduCARE India is bringing on during the next months and years. I am very thankful for my internship with EduCARE India, all the learning that it brought to me and discover of a new world and a new way of seeing myself within that world.

I already miss my time there and all the people and places I got to know. I am already looking forward for my next time in India and who knows, maybe my next time with EduCARE India! 

Breathtaking landscape in Ladakh 

Mercedes Mil├ín - Spain 
Communications Coordinator 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Working on Disaster Management in Naddi

Considering all the natural risks the communities we work with face (earthquakes – the fault line of the Dharamsala region passing through Naddi and McLeod Ganj, floods, landslides…), it is coherent for an organization likeEduCAREto have a Disaster Management & Emergency Planning Project to reduce the vulnerability of the population to such hazards.
To achieve this goal, my project consists in providing the communities with cognitive and technical tools in order to lower the effects of hazards.

More exactly, I am running workshops to raise awareness about disasters among the youngest through the school and the Girls Club. I am also setting up a training session for the adults in partnership with a Training and Capacity building coordinator from the United Nations Development Programme, also consultant to theDistrict Disaster Management Authority, for them to receive first-hand information about hazards and get advice on mitigation strategies they can easily implement.

The other side of the project is to build a community action plan so people can respond appropriately and efficiently in case of the occurrence of a disaster. 
This is probably one of the most challenging aspects of my project since it implies for us to be the link between the authorities in charge of the disaster management and the communities. Indeed, if the programme theoretically exists at the rural level, although the population is not aware of it, it is far from being functional. Furthermore, it has proven difficult to understand how the Indian administration operates and especiallyto identify the people in charge.The ultimate goal would be to have a village level incident response team that would be able to react automatically.

Also the monsoon doesn’t make our lives easier! But at the end of the day, the challenging environment we live in makes the job even more interesting!

Sam is ready for brave the elements

Aude Guiraud
Disaster Management & Emergency Planning Project Manager

Monday, 17 October 2016

Work for living and enjoying life

Here we are, close to the end of this internship. It is hard to describe in words what it means to leave a place that has given me so much and has made more clear who I am and where I want to go. Many people intentionally come to India to discover their inner self in the land of diversity and contrasts. They train through yoga and meditation in order to find their path in life. Me, I came to India primarily for my CV and a genuine work interest. It turns out, it did not solely made me grow professionally, but personally also and I would say most importantly. 

I must admit the first weeks in this foreign place had not been easy. Leaving behind familiar faces and places for the unknown and not knowing how long you will be away kept me awake at night. The pressure of a remunerated job, a life stability and eventually the generation of a family are social expectations that all societies put on us. And I am not getting any younger through the years flying by…The social pressure trap had caught me unexpectedly! 

NGO work, particularly at these levels and settings, are not regarded as serious positions most of the time. Many people I know would tell me ‘You have satisfied a desire, you visited an exotic country, worked/volunteered a little, but now it is time to get back on track and work seriously’. It is indeed the truth that the developmental sector has much to offer, but in term of salary lags still behind other fields. However, and personally in my case, it was not at all what people say or perceive of it.

In these past 6/7 months I have worked more than 8 hours per day on average, I have undertaken many different roles, learnt a lot (more that I could possible expect and wish for) and stressed out much (as in all jobs, regardless of the field). I still vividly remember the major power crisis of Gajner, one day before the Coordinator Retreat, when most of the computers fried due to a power surge. Or the rushes at 7 in the morning to welcome the new interns, in the rain and still wearing a pijama. I have put 100% of my effort and at times more in the job and I do not see it as less valuable of any other position.

In fact, the minimal supervision from the beginning and the flexibility of working in a diverse setting where rules are alien to you, could be considered a hurdle as much challenging as any possible corporate responsibility.

Perhaps in this typology of work we do not see immediate results. Perhaps the systems we put in place are to be altered constantly as they are to be adapted to ever-shifting conditions. Perhaps the failures and setbacks are more often than successes. However, this does not diminish the importance of the job and the dedication that each person, be a volunteer, intern or employee put into place.

Let us do what we like to do and enjoy life and work in the meantime. Nowadays we are totally losing sight of it. WE MUST WORK FOR LIVING AND NOT LIVING FOR WORK!

EduCARE India, as well as India, has gifted me with an invaluable opportunity that will always remain in my heart (and my CV). Who knows what the future holds? I will not say ‘Goodbye’, better a ‘PhirMilenge’!

Martina Fraternali - Italy 
Education, Training and Development Coordinator

Thursday, 13 October 2016

India and its transportation

Indian transport has a reputation for being a bit wild and having traveled around the country before, I was ready for anything. My weekend vacations have involved eventful travels, sometimes frustrating, sometimes amusing and sometimes downright scary! So I’m going to summarize some of the craziest things that have happened to me so far while using public transport in India…..

One of the first weekend trips that I took was to Amritsar to meet a friend from university. I took an overnight bus and slept in a small compartment attached to the wall, much like a display cabinet, it even had a sliding glass door. In the middle of the night I was woken up by angry shouts. Looking out the window I could see a crowd of furious men screaming at the bus driver Things escalated quickly and before the long they were throwing bricks at the driver who quickly retreated into the bus. They then started pelting the bus with stones and bricks, one of which smashed a window! I was pretty confused as to what was going on but after a conversation with another passenger I learned that there had been an accident and that the bus had hit someone. I’m still not sure of the details, I only hope that it was a vehicle rather than a pedestrian and that no-one was badly injured. It just made me sad to think about the impunity in India and the fact that a bus could have knocked someone over and just driven away from the scene. 

On a slightly lighter note, my journey back from induction, while long and boring, was broken up by a few amusing incidents. Firstly, the sheer ridiculousness, of a bus having to swerve to the opposite side of the road to make way for two cows having sex made me laugh. Cows can really get away with anything here. Secondly, after the bus driver took a wrong turning he proceeded to drive full pelt down the motorway in the direction of oncoming traffic! And no one in the bus seemed at all fazed! 

Finally, what should have been a perfectly ride home from the neighboring town Suratgarh turned into something entirely different. This was definitely one of the more frustrating rides that we took. After an afternoon shopping for groceries and materials for our projects we decided to try and catch a bus rather than a rickshaw home as the bus is so much cheaper. A bus was beginning to leave the station and I shouted to the ticket man to ask him if it was going to Rangmahal, which he confirmed, so we ran to the departing bus and jumped on just as it was taking off. The problem is there are two Rangmahals close to Suratgarh….  It seemed like the bus was taking a strange route out of the town so I asked the passengers if we were going to Rangmahal-Jogi (our Rangmahal) or Rangmahal and everyone confirmed that we were going to the right place. However, we took off in the wrong direction! Me and Mae were getting really confused by this point and a bit nervous as we continued down the motorway, getting further and further away from our village! So I kept shouting “RANGMAHAL JOGI??” and everyone kept responding “YES!” So I told myself that maybe they were just taking a strange route. They weren’t. Finally, we got kicked off the bus at  the other Rangmahal. Even at this point people were telling us that we were at the right place, even though it clearly wasn’t!!!  A few people who finally understood what we were talking about told us that we would have to catch a ride back to Suratgarh and get the correct bus home from there. By this time we were so fed up that we didn’t bother trying to save any more money and agreed on a rickshaw. ;)

So thanks Indian transport! You’ve made the travels to my destinations become a very noteworthy part of my vacations!

Louise King - UK
Project Manager in RangMahal 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Straight from my heart

Before I could realize, I was done with my first year of college. It seemed the year went very fast. Travelling, studying, socializing, that’s all did.I got a nice two months break after my first year. Many of my friends were making plans, some planning to intern. I found the idea meaningless, as just after completion of first year, there is hardly anything learned to apply! I wanted to do something good before the start of my second year. Something which will make me satisfied, I didn’t wanted my summer break to go waste.

I decided to volunteer for an NGO. As I belong to Ladakh, so I wanted to intern there. I had no ideas of nearby NGO’s. I started researching and looking over the internet. Then I contacted EduCare. I called them initially to know whether they were looking for interns. Surprisingly, I got positive response and was selected as an intern for the project to be held in Ladakh. We started exploring the villages from 21st of June, 2016. We ended up visiting seven different villages and finally decided CHANGA as the best location for the center.

On the first day, I meet with Yangkyi who was an intern as well. We went to Leh to discuss our plans for our project. We bought a map of Ladakh and spotted few villages to explore and we also made a schedule to be followed in the next following days.

Both of us decided to meet at ChoglamsarZampa and it was difficult to get transportation because there are no government buses which goes to these villages. This was the situation which was bit problematic throughout our journey.  Our first destination was Thiksay which is quite big and they also have a big monastery. We further moved on to Rambirpur which is 10 to 15 minutes away from Thiksay by taxi. In the following days we explored Rambirpur, Nang, Stakna, Kharu and Changa.

We ended our research of finding the village for the center on 1st July, 2016. While exploring all the villages, we felt that the villages were self sufficient because almost all the families grew their own vegetables and crops. On top of that they had AmaTsokspa which is a Women Association operating in most Ladakhi Communities. These associations were doing there small business of micro finance project to earn extra income.

When we went to these villages, we met Lambadar which is like head of the village and members of AmaTsokspa. But in Changa they don’t have any Women Association because few years ago they had a disagreement among themselves due to funds which were received from outside. So the group was dissolved. Another thing we felt why Changa was a good location because of its proximity to Kharu Market and in that way we thought that we could work on the Waste Management issues in Kharu. We realized that Kharu Market was a good location but we were conflicted because the accommodation was expensive but later when we explored Changa because it was near to Kharu Market, we learnt that it is equally a good location because of the reasons mentioned earlier.

We really thought that we could do a lot in the village by forming a small Women Association which involves women in micro finance project so that women in the family is dependent.

Everyone here collects the waste and dump it or burn it. So this is one of the areas which needs a lot of attention because we felt that the villagers were not conscious about the environment destruction that is causing. In terms of Health facilities this village only has a small medical centre which is runned by the nurses and the nearest hospital is in Thiksay which is 15 kilometres away from the village and if something gets severe they go to SNM Hospital in Leh which is 35 kilometres away.

So as an organization we were not sure what we could do in terms of health facilities or medical facilities but this was the issue that needed a lot of attention. Waste Management is an issue all over Ladakh which needs to be looked after. But hopefully we could begin from Changa and Kharu Market and reach further.

I believe that community involvement is not an option but a necessity. Every one generates waste. That’s understandable. But we can change the amount, the kind and the fate of the waste that you generate by taking.  After exploring the villages, I met Mr. B.S Bhullar and all the other interns. We had a small meeting where Mr. B told us about the organization, how it works and about our tasks.

Our main agenda was Waste Management where we could aware people and the community about the harmful effects which it causes and how it degrades the environment. We also worked upon Women Empowerment which is a burning issue all over the world. We wanted to create an environment for women where they can make decisions of their own for their personal benefits as well as for the society.

We found a small happy family in the village where we decided to stay. We also wanted to promote home stays in the village from which the women could earn and not be dependent on others. They were five members in the family which includes father who is a carpenter and had a shop in Kharu Market, mother who was working sometimes in the bank and looks after farming and cattles, the older son who is studying in 6th grade in LamdonSchool at Sakti, the younger son who was a monk in Hemis Monastery and the youngest daughter who goes to play school in Changa. We tried our best to interact with the family so that we could understand them better and so that they could be comfortable with us.

At first we told the family about our organization and our agenda. What we want to do for the betterment of village. Then we started exploring and mapping the village so that we could deeply understand everybody’sproblem. There was a Lambardar which is like the head of the village or the panchayat who looks after the village and takes all the decisions. But there was no AmaTskospai or Women Association, unlike other villages.

So we worked on this idea of making a Women Association where all the interested women could work together for a common goal. The main purpose of forming this group was that the women become self-sufficient, independent and save some money. We started planning a small business for them like knitting socks, caps, gloves by providing them the material and paying them the labour charge by selling it outside. So we were gathering all the interested women for this.

While exploring the village, when we asked the villagers about their savings. Most of them said that they don’t save and their daughters don’t have bank accounts which was quite surprising for me. So we focused on this issue and told every possible family in the village about the scheme and bank accounts. We told them that they should start saving money which would help them in a long run for their health issues and in emergencies. We also told them that they should also open bank accounts for their daughters so that it could help them in their education and marriage.

About the Waste Management we told them about how to manage waste from its inception to its final disposal. We told them not to burn the wastes but collect them, segregate the waste and dump it. We taught them to keep their environment clean for the goodness of their health.

I was left with with few days since my college was going to open. So during those two three days we mapped the village and did a survey of the village. We came to know about their occupation, problems, hobbies, passion, aspirations, etc. We covered almost all the half of the village including the school and the medical centre.

My internship got over on 20th July, 2016. I wished I could stay there for some more time so that I could be a part of their happiness. My volunteering at EduCare taught me many things like.

To see person smile and to know you contribute something for that smile gives ultimate joy and internal satisfaction. Not everything is done to get returns, social work and charity has a value and many other things. I cherish each and every moment spent with the villagers. My personal advice to each and friend of mine is to experience the joy of giving.

Straight from my heart 

Kunzang Angmo - India
Project Manager in Changa Centre 

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Incredible India

Educare was not my first experience in India. I had the chance to spend 7 wonderful months in this country before, and I have been so marked by this culture and these people that I started looking for a way to be back as soon as possible even before leaving. One of my friends, who was already a fellow for Educare told me that the organization was always looking for new volunteers, and especially it was looking for someone to be in charge of PR and Marketing.

When I get the approval for the position, it was such a relief. I knew that I was leaving India being sure to come back and even if the things were more complicated to get my visa and it took a long time, noting could stopped me.

So I arrived in Naddi and fully enjoyed my stay with the Com Team. Spending my weeks working for the organization and my weekends enjoying my favorite place in India. Thanks to the NGO, I got the opportunity to experience a total freedom in my work, which is more than rare for a student. It makes me want to give my best to achieve the objectives in collaboration with HR, other team members or even alone.
But working in India does not only have positive aspects. This country definitely teaches to have patience and resignation. Oneself has to admit that the things can’t always be controlled and to let everything go sometimes. There is always obstacles, delays that sometimes pop up when working on a project, and oneself just has to deal with it. It improves your ability to face any issue, your sense of humor and teaches you to trust in a better tomorrow.
But it’s so worth it … I never found a country in the world where I feel at home like this one. Never met people that makes me feel better than these ones. Never been afraid of living in a place as much as this one. And I promised myself to do what it takes to come back as I did since I’m here …

Sometimes you just can’t explain why, but you know that something’s made for you. And that’s what happened pretty fast when I reached these mountains. There’s something mystical in the atmosphere that instantly calms you down and makes you feel like you belong to this place. Something that makes you feel like a better version of you, a soother one. And even if people keep in mind that India is a patriarchal nation, I never felt as free to be myself than here. It’s not about wearing short skirts or loose t-shirts, it’s about meeting people who look through your eyes to touch your soul and respect your heart. There is a strong belief here that what truly matters is to have a beautiful heart and soul. And for our own good, we should try to act more often like this in Europe.
Anyway, India was like a “lifesaver” for me. A place where I can truly feel myself, no matter if I am alone or surrounded by people, a little peace in a large world in war. I spent almost one year here, and I know I am changed forever. Maybe I will find another place where I feel this good while traveling. But I know that I’ll need to come back here. I have the opportunity to go directly to India after my studies and I honestly can’t think to another plan. Let’s see where the future leads me and what will be the next steps of my life…

Namaste India.

Juliette Dabe - France
PR and Marketing Coordinator

Sunday, 2 October 2016

My time in Punjab

Prior to my arrival in Delhi, I hadn’t done too much reading about what it was life to spend a significant amount of time anywhere in India, especially Punjab. I had gone over EduCare’s pre-arrival instructions and manuals, but wanted to surprise myself in terms of what the experience would be like, and what I would ultimately receive from the time I would spend here. Now, as my internship is coming to an end here in Harike, I can look back on the experience and reflect on what I accomplished, what I was unable to accomplish, and ultimately how I view the experience as a whole. 

As I sit here typing, I am realizing that it is difficult to put an experience like this into words because living here is all about the smells, sights, and interactions with locals, travelers, and animals; all of which have been so distinctly different from anything I had experienced before. Every intern comes to EduCare with different expectations and ultimately is greeted by a different experience as a result, but I do believe that the internship is what you make of it. For me, the experience became all about the local Harike community members with whom the team engaged on a daily basis for their projects, Hindi lessons at the government school, etc. Finding ways to reciprocate the kindness that was shown to us in the face of strong language barriers and cultural differences was difficult, yet the openness and willingness to allow us into their daily lives and routines was heart-warming as well as astounding. 

I was fortunate enough to work with a team of thoughtful, intelligent, and hard-working individuals at the Harike center, who adopted a more team-centered approach to the projects instead of the traditional division of roles based on personal goals, which allowed for the successful facilitation of projects such as a the reusable scrap-fabric bags project, which combined aspects of microfinance, SWASH, and women’s empowerment. 

For me, this project became the center of my attention while at the center, and allowed SWASH, microfinance, and women’s empowerment interns to meet and interact with a number of families in the community in a combined fashion that helped cement working and trusting relationships between the center and the community in ways I had not thought possible during my first month in Harike. That is not to say that the project did not face adversity, as the comings and goings of interns, coupled with the difficulties involving communication that often ended in smiles, shoulder shrugs, and awkward laughter undoubtedly tested our team. What living in Harike allowed me to do was take me out of my comfort zone and force me to act on tasks I might not have previously acted upon had I stayed in the states, such as waking up in the morning and walking to a local family’s house, not knowing if they actually wanted me within the presence of their home, while understanding that I would be unable to speak with them about such an issue as my Punjabi language capabilities were nonexistent. 

These barriers pushed me to become a problem-solver, organizing Hindi lessons with the Hindi teacher at the public school in order to help the team potentially communicate at a basic level, and thereby strengthening ties with the local schools where the team would present workshops on various topics, including waste management and domestic violence. 

10 days from leaving India and I can now communicate semi-effectively with community members in Hindi (although many only speak Punjabi), something I never would have expected to be able to do before arriving in this country. What I will miss most, in addition to all the Paneers and fried street food of course, will not only be individuals, both in the organization and in the community, but the daily lessons I received on cultures that at first seemed so foreign to me, but now have become reminders of how fortunate I have been to experience life in the state of Punjab. 

Moreover, what the experience has also given me is the knowledge that issues such as widespread trash littering the streets and waterways, and domestic violence in the home may be more apparent in this country, but that does not mean they do not exist in the places I come from. In this regard it falls on me to take responsibility for my waste management and my actions towards other human beings and the natural environment, because although my country may be better at disguising the presence of these problems, they ultimately still exist. Working in India has simply reminded me of this, and my responsibilities as a global citizen of this planet, not just one or two countries. 

So for this experience, I am thankful.

Justin Cole - USA 
                                                                                         Microfinance Project Manager in Harike