Sunday, 23 July 2017

Experience of adapting in rural India, and developing a new project of my choice - Cora

The post-adaptation phase at ViKAAS Centre, Harike

The intensity things are lived with here in Harike speed up the adaptation process, making one feel an integrated part of the community in no time. There are still of course some aspects of life here that are almost impossible to adapt to, but that, one can learn to endure with a touch of patience. Take for example the thousand mosquito bites at night (which are then replaced by intruding flies during the day) - you will never adapt to these little guys, but you will gradually pay less and less attention to them. 

Once the adaptation phase comes to an end, the real Vikaas (meaning development in Hindi) work begins. The novelty of being one of the only foreigners in a rural village wears out pretty quickly and locals slowly start treating you like one of them – this means losing the luxury of being treated like some prestigious princess from a faraway land, but it also means gaining people’s trust and respect; vital if you are attempting to reshape long-standing dynamics and mentalities.

When I first arrived in Harike, I knew I would be designing and implementing a project in what they refer to as Women Empowerment. However, I was unsure as to how I, a women from Europe with its culture of equality and opportunity, could ever be able to empower women who knew the hardships of life more than I could possibly imagine and who had become thick-skinned to battle through the daily oppressions they faced. I had a vague idea of the various ways women were increasingly being empowered around the world (micro-finance projects, language and IT skills, practical skills development etc.) but I needed to find something that not only the women in the community would benefit from, but that I would also feel capable of carrying out. The first thing I had to decide was whether I would be working with adult women or concentrating more on girls and teenagers. Considering my stay in Harike was only three months I decided that whatever project I did would have a longer lasting effect on the younger generation. 

I wanted to design a project that encompassed as many aspects of EduCARE’s holistic SHEEE* approach as possible. I was adamant to start an innovative project that would eventually be community-led, run by the very same participants. The moment I became aware of the lack of opportunities for girls to practice team sports outside of school, I didn’t have to think any further - I was going to start the first Girls Sports Club in Harike! Sports is the perfect vehicle towards empowerment since it fosters confidence, self-worth, team-work and endless skills to improve the quality of life of a woman.

*SHEEE (Social, Health, Economy, Education and Environment)  

All the motivation, the dreams and aspirations were there and of course a bag filled with optimism (either genuine or forced). However, the less romantic side of me also knew that I had to be realistic and that it was very probable that my project would flop or not even take off.  To avoid disappointment in this unpredictable field of development, I told myself that as long as I tried my best I would be happy with the project results, regardless of whether they were a success or not.   I had already had two very positive GSC (Girls Sports Club) sessions at the local government school, but the success of the project was going to be judged the following week when the sessions were to be moved from government school to our Vikaas centre. The girls were not going to be forced to attend the sessions by teachers anymore and it was going to be entirely up to them whether they wanted to show up or not.  Aware of the difficulty in gathering a specific group of people, in a specific place at a specific time I spent the whole preceding week reminding the girls where and when to attend the session, never forgetting to transmit enthusiasm and motivation.

 The day of that initial session at our ViKAAS centre arrived and I was bouncing with excitement and utter dread - what if no one showed up? What if my selling skills were so terrible that I hadn’t even managed to convince a group of girls to attend a weekly sports session?  After spending two hours setting up the room and the workshop (we were going to discuss the importance of breathing correctly) I went outside the office and began pacing up and down, hoping that the afternoon would run smoothly.  I checked my phone and felt a wave of sadness when I saw that it was 16:10 and no one had shown up. “It’s fine if no one shows up” I told myself “it’s all part of the experience” but deep down I was gutted. As soon as I gloomily turned around to go back into the office I heard my name being shouted from behind. I turned around and about 10 overly excited girls started running in my direction. I am not exaggerating when I say that my heart was filled with extreme happiness when I saw that they were all wearing sports gear and all had a bottle of water in their hand (just as I had told them). I began the session with some breathing exercises and stretching and still, girls continued to show up. Twenty minutes into the session and I was in charge of a class of 20 girls, my project was working after all. The session was extremely successful, so much so that the number of girls was increased to 35 the following week. This made me realise that once you’ve gained community interest and collaboration, the hard part of a project is done.
Cora Craigmile 
Project Manager,
Girls Sports Club
Women Empowerment
Harike, India
Aug 2017

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Food Security through small-scale Sustainable Desert Agriculture and Agro-forestry

Food security, the availability of food, and access to it, has been a concern in arid and semi-arid regions throughout the history.  The incidence and intensity of food insecurity have increased significantly in recent decades due to climate vagaries because of climate change.

In order to improve food security in such regions, desert agriculture and desert agro-forestry has been used as a successful agricultural technique.  Desert agro-forestry has been promoted for growing of crops with the environmental support of trees in desert or arid areas. Canals have been dug up to bring river waters to remote desert areas for desert-agriculture use.   

However, food security still remains an issue in some poor households in the rural desert areas of Rajasthan. A weak welfare infrastructure, widespread insecurity, frequent droughts and limited livelihood opportunities keep many residents in conditions of poverty and vulnerability.

Since 2016, we have initiated a project with a focus on food security and nutrition for women and poor households. The approach includes awareness, food and nutrition awareness, training and resource support to start micro/small scale household food gardens promoting cultivation of vegetables, herbs, food and fruit trees within the households or in the backyards as a mechanism to respond to nutritious food shortages. This project is expected to promote self-sustained initiatives by the affected families at grass-root levels through good case projects.

This project has varied components such as community research, education and awareness on food and nutrition to create a change in people’s mindsets about nutrition through continuing inter-personal and behavioural change communications.

This project is integrated with other projects such as health, women empowerment, micro-finance, grey-water sanitation, sustainable agriculture and organic farming, etc.
As per the 1996 World Food Summit, food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. And. food insecurity, on the other hand, is a situation of limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.

Food security incorporates a measure of resilience to future disruption or unavailability of critical food supply due to various risk factors including droughts, supply disruptions, fuel shortages, economic instability, and wars.