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.

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!

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)

Friday, 29 January 2016

Little Trip to Lajwanti Nursery: a beautiful place, a passionate owner, an amazing help for EduCARE!

January, the season for grafting has come! Back from the holidays, we remembered a visit in October to Lajwanti Nursery, a beautiful nursery in Dharamshala. The owner of the place, very friendly, had offered to show us grafting when the season would come.

We called and were immediately offered to come the day after. Near the police station in Dharamshala, nobody was able to guide us to the nursery. We were a bit lost! After a phone call to the nursery, someone came to pick us up. We arrived at the nursery by 11am.

How nice to see the place again! Lajwanti Nursery is a quiet place, owned by a passionate man who is always very keen to share and discuss about his passion. Plants are everywhere! From the ground to the walls, they are grown on every space available. Here is the ideal for anyone who wants to learn: nearly all the trees are labeled with the local and the Latin name.

It is also well suited if you just want to wander around. The nursery is very beautiful and full of flowers depending on the season. A member of the family is passionate about animals so you can also see some dogs, birds, etc., on your way.

The subject of the day was grafting. Naddi, the village we are working in, is surrounded by the forest. We are planting some trees on a steep slope and the inhabitants would be very interested in having fruit trees. But the fruits that we can find there are really tiny and not very good.

A solution: grafting!

What we could do is use the local trees as stem trees and graft a fruit tree branch on it.

The result: a tree adapted to the area because it is local to it, with branches and big fruits from another tree! To do this you need to pick up two trees of the same family (genius).So we learned how to do this properly and grafted pear on “Kanth”: a local wild pear tree. There is a lot of “Kanth” in Naddi so we can definitely reproduce this. We can also graft Cherry on “Paja”: another local tree.

We should be able to see the result of the grafts in about 2 weeks’ time. We will go there again to see if the graft went well and to buy some trees to be able to begin our grafting process by next year! We hope to be able to bring a community member with us so that she can meet the owner of the place.

The owner is very enthusiastic and will be a permanent help and contact for the organization!

Thank you Lajwanti Nursery and see you soon! 

Louise Brunier and Johnatan de Larminat - France
Forestry Project Managers, Naddi (Himachal Pradesh) 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Welcome to Harike

The first month in Harike has passed, and it has gone very fast. Many things have happened, and the team has been working hard to establish strong connections with the local communities. After the end of quarterlies, the team began strategizing on the future of the centre and planned the centre's activities for the following year. After some house decoration activities (led by our former centre manager Ethan), the real work began.

First Saturday Meeting complete
Until now, we established two weekly ASP’s with two different local communities. The wonderful  Jessica, our Women’s empowerment project manager, has initiated a Girls’ Club with the Makhu girls and has received a very positive response. Our Eco-building project manager, Maria, has been working hard at establishing relations with local women who will host the eco home stays in the future, as well as worked on the plan for eco-buildings in all of EduCARE’s centres. While our new centre manager Tommaso, in between cooking delicious meals for all the interns, has begun his business plan for Harike’s ReSTORE. In addition, we also began giving workshops to a local school on a range of subjects including SWASH, girls’ health, disaster management and environmental awareness. Maria and Jessica gave the first two workshops and received very positive feedback from both the children and the teachers. These workshops will be given twice a month for the next year and are aimed at raising awareness amongst local children about important issues.

Harike team members standing next to their caricature
With respect to the forestry project, Harike has a lot of potential particularly due to its proximity to Harike’s Wetland, a protected area which includes a bird sanctuary home to hundreds of birds migrating from places as far as Siberia. The forestry team, composed of Sydney and I, had a pretty successful month in terms of establishing contacts and planning future projects. During this month, we have managed to meet and interview a number of officers from Punjab’s Forest Department in both Harike and Firozpur, as well as visited Makhu’s tree nursery to learn about the local flora and fauna. After some brainstorming sessions and lengthy discussions with Mr B, we came up with a number of projects to implement in the future. These include:

·  Establishing a tree nursery at the local Sikh temple, planting bamboos and a number of other local trees, with the aim of engaging the local community in taking care of the trees and create, in this way, a social forestry project.

·  Work with some of the women from Makhu village to create organic vegetable gardens for self-consumption.
·         ·  Establish an income-diversification project aimed at the two local communities we work with in Harike. As these communities’ incomes rely on extraction of resources from the wetland (for example by fishing and cutting wood for fuel and fodder), our aim will be to create a number of organic vegetable gardens for the families to use for self-consumption. This will allow the families to reduce their expenditure on food, improve their levels of nutrition, as well as promote more sustainable agricultural practices.

Harike team at Quarterlies
For the moment, these are the forestry project priorities and steps have been taken to ensure we’re on the right track to achieve these in the next year. In addition to the main project, Sydney and I also created a new garden for the interns’ house which will be used to grow organic vegetables, as well as mosquito-repellent plants (which are very much needed for the summer months here).

All in all, our first month here went very fast, between some planning and strategizing, drinking many, many chais, film nights, perfecting our parantha recipe, running away from frisky buffalos, playing cricket with the children and experiencing our first Punjabi wedding, we have learnt a lot but still have a lot to achieve.
Our first Punjabi wedding

Alessandra Sciarra- Italy 
Forestry and Organic Farming Project Manager, Harike (Punjab)

Monday, 25 January 2016

My experience in EduCARE: from Paro to Rait

I have to refer to two different places when I write about my experience with EduCare as I had worked in two centers (Paro and Rait) completely differentiated by people, thoughts, projects and atmosphere but united by EduCare. What I can mention and what I cannot in this blog seems very difficult to me because there are a thousand memories coming to my head when I think of my last three months with this organization. To witness the diversity in this country in two neighboring states with respect to people, lifestyle, language, food and landscapes was very intense. Two states so close to each other but so far in many ways.

Initially, attracted by its mountains and scenic beauty I wanted to be placed in Himachal where I thought I could work alongside nature but I was asked to move to Paro which I must say was disappointing. However after speaking to Mr. B I realized that to begin with it would be better for me to move to Paro to work on the projects that I was interested in and then move to Himachal later depending on the projects I will be involved in. Punjab was a very good experience indeed as it was a remote village and I had the opportunity to learn a lot from the villagers and the other interns I met and worked with. All of us were from different parts of the world and it was very nice to live and work together on different projects, we had the time and liberty to work on our projects at our own pace and convenience. Even though we were all assigned to different projects we made the most of it by sharing ideas and helping each other wherever and however we could from soap making to making a garden for the migrant community, we had our hands on all the possible work that we could be involved in. I am missing all those people I met, the migrants at the camp, the kids, the interns with whom I had spent so much time every day from making breakfast till hitting the bed and not to forget, breakfast at Indojap and Fauji’s chicken curry. I hope to meet all of them soon during my travel. 

My initial plans were to stay with EduCARE only for 2 months, but by the time I started enjoying my work it was already going to be the end of my internship so, I decided to extend my internship for another month to be involved in something I really liked and always wanted to do. Thus, after a month and a half in Paro, I was asked to move to Rait. I was happy to go to the hills but I was equally sad to leave Paro as I had been already attached to the people and place there. Thus saying good bye to the place and people I already felt belonged to in just a month and a half, I left for Rait ready to meet new people and a place which I was not aware of. 

Me with Aurelien, Breanne and Amelie in a festival in Hariana

The place and the intern house was very different from Paro, two neighboring states but so different in every way pertaining to weather, language, people, food and landscapes. To witness the diversity in this country was very immense and intriguing. Nevertheless, I had to start getting used to the new interns, the villagers and also the projects that I would be working on. But in no time I was very comfortable with everything already and I commenced work with the same enthusiasm I had been working in Paro. Again it was an intense time in Rait as I had only 6 weeks there. I felt that I did a lot of different things in Rait when compared to Paro as I was always on the move working with the other interns on different projects, meeting the villagers to speak about our projects, meeting government officials, working at the local school and so on, I was never confined to a single project, I had something to be involved in all the time which helped me learn and understand many things, things I may never be associated with In the future. 

Working with completely different set of people in two different centers in such a short span of time was very intense for me, but I enjoyed every bit of it during my three months with EduCARE. This organization has helped and inspired me to get involved in the kind of work I was always interested in. Now all I wish for is to involve myself in helping the underprivileged in this country in whichever way possible.

Madhu, Sylvia and me with Dr. Sudarshan Dabroch and his family, the only ones using biogas in the village

Rizwan Ahmed - India
SWASH Project Manager, Paro (Punjab)-Rait (Himachal Pradesh)

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The crazy house

“I’m going to India, where I’m gonna work as a center coordinator”. That’s how it started and I had no idea what I was about to do. Arriving in the center… after few days I understood better my role and things started.

Rait house: interesting people, interesting personalities, interesting characters. A movie could be made out of this house. From drama to lovely moments, all the emotions changing so fast that will exhaust you quickly if you can’t manage these feelings. 

This house has been mixed with people that would have never talked to each other if they had been put in the same party. 

How should I manage a center with these people? What to do with this hyperactive guy, this impulsive girl, that quiet girl, the one who can sleep for an entire day or again the one who will work on the computer all the day?

I have been told that the other interns see Rait house as crazy and how many times did I hear “how do you feel? Is it okay now? Is it better? That should not have been easy for you.”?

So yes, full of drama, full of conversation, full of repetition… You have to be full of patience to work here and understand why certain people are acting like that. But at the same time, you are living with so different people that you are learning from everybody and discovering more things every day from them. You have to go through ups and downs to be a family and this house wanted to be a very strong family, apparently. From the dance moves on the dance floor of Rait, eating so much yummy food cooked together that we could not move sometimes, sharing and finding a solution together to personal issues or, again, travelling together during the weekends, watching movies or doing your hair mask.

It’s crazy to see how you can feel so close to people so quickly. After 5 months here, you start to see people coming and leaving. You wish these people didn’t leave and you have to try to start new things in the same place but with new people. It’s not easy and it takes adaptation from you and from the others, but with laughs, talks, food and other crazy moments, it can work! 

So far, this experience made me go through different stages, but what do you keep from it? Victor’s stupid jokes that you will still laugh at; Ines’s conversations about what we can do here and deal with personal issues; Pooja’s food even though I am ready to hear my aunts telling me that I gained weight; Ashna’s talks even though I have to tell her to slow down every time to understand; Rizwan’s support to deal with the craziness things and keep it cool or again Craig for remind us the time to eat.

Besides that, I have to add that being a center manager is not just dealing with people's feelings. It’s also about coordinating the projects and make sure that all the projects are going well, looking at the house’s needs, the expenses and the communication. It’s quite a lot so being well surrounded and supported by this family is very important. To all these people, brothers and sisters who came here, I am waiting for the next adventure together and for the news that are coming, you better have to be as crazy as these idiots!

Yummy food cooked all together! 

Sylvia Rajaonah - France
Rait Centre Coordinator, Rait (Himachal Pradesh)

Monday, 18 January 2016

From Himachal to Harike

The coordinator role at EduCARE involves providing support and guidance to not only yours, but all projects that run under your department’s domain. As of now, EduCARE has official forestry projects in both our Naddi and Harike centres, however when I first arrived Naddi’s was the only one established. I gained a lot of valuable knowledge living and working in Naddi for 3 months – the Indian culture, the biodiversity of Himachal Pradesh and ‘torro torro’ Hindi. When the centre opened in Harike and the first forestry intern arrived to take a position there, I knew my time in Naddi would come to an end to fulfil my role of project coordinator. Within my time living in both states, I’ve come to understand three main differences between the two centres: the projects, the people and the pollution. 

When I first arrived in Naddi, there were many documents I needed to catch myself up on in order to get a grip on the existing and past projects. The green gift project, the plantation and the tree nursery were all great efforts from past interns, but unfortunately had been halted with the several month gap between forestry interns. My goal in Naddi was to revive each of these projects, starting with shifting the ownership of the plantation to the community and restarting the tree nursery to supply saplings to the plantations and community in the future. After Johnatan and Louise arrived, the projects made great headway and they each took their contributions to another level to lead our initiatives to sustainability and success. 

Johnatan, a forestry project manager, in the recently constructed tree nursery in Naddi. The main sowing season is in March, however Deodar and Kaintt, planted in the polybags pictured, should be sowed in December.

On the contrary, Alex and I made it to Harike with little to go off of other than the few research papers on the Harike Wetlands and the knowledge that the communities surrounding the protected area were depending on its products. Most of our work so far has been creating a network of local stakeholders and support, as well as engaging and learning about the communities that we will eventually be starting our projects with. Being the first forestry interns at the centre, we are committed to creating a thorough and organized database of our gathered research. 

Over the years, Naddi interns have made strong connections with the community and local shopkeepers; it’s not uncommon for Omi of Om’s cafĂ© to slip you a free chai with your breakfast paratha or share a delicious dahl dinner with the village families. Naddi was so much like a second home to me, that when I arrived in Harike I almost forgot that I wasn’t native to India! We are still met with curious stares from every direction and have to barter in the markets to get local prices. Although we are becoming acquainted over chai with individual families in the villages, we still have a ways to go to establish a trusted bond that is parallel to those with Naddi’s communities. 

Flock of birds at Harike Wetlands, a Ramsar site. The invasive flora specie, Water Hyacinth, has posed many issues in the wetlands, including siltation.

The landscape between the two centres is vastly different; Naddi is in the foothills of the Himalayas, whereas Harike is located in the agricultural plains of Punjab. To the naked eye, Himachal’s environment seems pristine with its clean air and abundant resources. However, the area is severely littered with solid waste, its 5.1 million livestock population is degrading its productive land and its inhabitants and tourism sector are taking forest management into their own hands. 

Punjab’s pollution problems are much more obvious. A thick cloud of smog gives the sunset an apocalyptic hue and the natural landscape has been transformed into chemical ridden crop fields. The bird sanctuary in the wetlands is a beautiful escape from the bustle of the city, however effluents from industries upstream have threatened aquatic life and an invasive specie, Water Hyacinth, has taken up almost 50% of the wetland’s surface water. Both centres have pollution issues that would rouse the concerns and action of environmental enthusiasts everywhere. 

It’s important for interns to experience more than one region of India while they are here, coordinator or not. New perspectives and a heightened knowledge of the Indian culture will bring a lot to your projects and will send you home with stories. Although saying a temporary so long to my project and friends in Naddi was not easy, the comforts and challenges in Harike have welcomed me to a whole other world within India.

Sydney  Strelau - Canada
Forestry Project Coordinator,  Harike (Punjab)

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Want subdji?

It all started with a simple request: “Can you show me the vegetables you have in your house?” Meera and Kursida, the two older daughters of Saira and Sadiq – a family we have a chicken coop project with in Modia Mansar- pointed to the phali (rajasthani beans) drying on the floor of their one room house and to three pieces of kakria (an Indian sweet cucumber) laying in a small basket. To me it didn’t seem like a lot of food for a family of 6 (they have two more children) so I asked “Or subdji? (More vegetables?) Aloo (potatoes), gobi (cabbage), tamatar (tomatoes), piaj (onions)?” The girls shook their head no. After some more questions, I came to realize that Modia Mansar only has a small variety shops that sell cookies, chips, and dhal, but no vegetables or fruits. They have to travel all the way to Gajner to get them.

Gajner is located 10 km away from Modia Mansar and although 10 km doesn’t seem that far, unfortunately not everyone owns a car or a bike, and not everyone can afford to use a tuk-tuk on a regular basis. Even if they can afford it, we know by experience that tuk-tuks are not always available, nor its drivers willing to do that specific journey, as there is a highway in between and the roads are in really bad shape. That’s when I realized the limitations this community face in terms of accessibility to food and how it to a certain extent affects their food choices and health. In conversation with one of my fellow co-workers this idea of a pop-up vegetable came up and now we are doing it every week.

Our formula is very simple: every Monday, in the morning, we scavenge Gajner vegetables stands for the best prices; around 3 p.m. we pack our vegetables and fruits, a bed sheet to display our goods, a scale and off we go. Once in Modia Mansar, we display our things in the front porch of Sadiq’s house with the help of his children and then we wait. Usually it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes for our first customer to arrive. Saira is often present, and usually helps manage all the weighting in a not-so-easy manual scale and understanding the more complicated customers’ requests. All I can say is that so far the initiative has been a great success. We already have requests to bring more products, such as eggs, and a woman from the community has demonstrated interest in taking over the project.

Me selling a bag full of vegetables to one of our regular customers

In addition, last week we almost sold out all the vegetables we brought. Only the cauliflower didn’t find a home, as usual, and to this I must say something about. Our customers are really demanding when it comes to cauliflower. At first, the problem was the stalks. They didn’t want to buy cauliflower because they didn’t want to pay for the stalks, as they don’t eat them. In order to make our customers happy, I started bringing the cauliflower without the stalks. It was not enough. I came to realize that in addition of being stalk-free, the cauliflower needs to be a certain size (not too small but not to big), have the perfect beige color and be just firm enough, to have a chance of conquering a place in their kitchen. In the presence of a non-conformity, even dropping the price from the usual 20 rupees to 5 rupees is not enough to convince the cauliflower experts. 

Carrots are also neglected but surprisingly not for aesthetic reasons. The truth is people don’t know what to do with them. I believe part of the reason for this is that people are not used to having this vegetable around, as it is only available during the winter months. In the beginning of November, we started to hear “carrots are coming”. The possibility of having carrot soup or a simple raw carrot was something that made us all pretty excited, but unfortunately many Indian families don’t share the same enthusiasm, as carrots are not frequently used in a lot of typical dishes. Spinach faces similar popularity issues, which is something that I’ll work my best to change, as spinach is one of the few high sources of iron in a community where anemia is prevalent. On the other hand, green chilies, ginger and bananas sell effortlessly, and radishes are equally appreciated by humans and the goat population, as some of the goats walking around always try to get some when we are not looking.
A goat trying to steal some radishes
The vegetable stand in Modia Mansar is much more than a way to provide the community with a service that was not available before. It’s not only about making things easier. For me as the Health Project Manager in Gajner, it is ultimately about forging new relationships, deepening my understanding of the community’s eating habits and diversifying their vegetable and fruit intake. 

A successful vegetable stand in Modia Mansar with Saira's family and neighbors

Ana Silva - Portugal
Health Care Project Manager, Gajner (Rajasthan)