Monday, 1 September 2014

Gulshan aka God

Gulshan a.k.a. God for two of the other clusters here in India. He handles house maintenance, business relationships, the intermediate between the migrant camps and the interns, all around go-to person for Punjab and Rajol and Maitee. Not an easy job for anyone. He's got all kinds of "I once saw him stories". I once saw Gulshan break barbed wire with two rocks. True story, and I was looking around for scissors... We were taking abandoned barb wire which they call fencing here to use for the garden one of the interns is building. I turned around to see him smashing the rock down on the wire, I think twice was all it took to break it. Impressive to say the least.

He sleeps at the male intern house for weeks on end and then goes home to his wife and two kids maybe once a month to spend time with them. He helped to organize the food for the quarterly meetings that include everyone in the organization. I asked him why he had stayed with the organization for so long. He said, “I love what I'm working on. I can't imagine doing anything else.” I asked if he ever thought about moving back home and working near his family. He said, “I can't go back there because no one understands what I’m doing here. They think I’m crazy.” He doesn't like the feeling of judgement and he knows what he's doing is important and when he's working he feels free of the judgement. He likes being around similarly minded people who are crazy too. Made perfect sense to me, and he was so honest and real in our first conversation that I immediately felt like he's a friend.

He also had so much joy from little things like me. We did a drawing exercise together as part of cross cultural workshop and he laughed for 10 minutes at our drawing we made, made me laugh so hard I cried. I miss crying from laughing, there's something special about your body reacting so fully to an image, and another person’s reaction. I appreciate Gulshan. His dedication, passion, kindness, and joyful spirit. One of many special people I've met here in India that is a part of this organization. I hope to meet more “crazy” people like myself and Gulshan in the future.

- Katherine Rothschild, USA
- Hospitality project manager

Friday, 25 July 2014

What it's like to be illiterate

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve never known what it’s like to be illiterate. At some hazy point in your childhood, you were unable to read, but you did not need to interact with the written world back then. Until recently, I also didn’t have any but the most general of ideas what illiteracy was like. Moving to a country where not only do the people speak a language that I’m not familiar with but also write in a script that is completely foreign to me gave me a taste of what illiteracy is like. During the most recent work I did on one of my projects, I faced the rounded script of Gurmukhi directly.

A fellow intern and myself are standing in front of a sign for the Forestry Department that on one side is entirely in Punjabi, and on the other, English. It’s the last sign we’ll see with any English, and we are without our typical (amazing) translator. We have to navigate the maze of the area on our own. We quickly gravitate to anything with a sign – the larger the sign and the bigger the letters, the more likely we figure it to be important. We pass a sign that even has a special welcoming shape, and assume we are likely headed in the right direction. When you can’t read, you quickly learn other rules for getting around. Something with a sign is more likely to be important or something you can enter, as someone put it there to tell you something; the bigger the lettering or a sign is, the more likely it is to be important; and shapes both on and of signs can give you basic information about a place. However, when you can’t read and you’re not trying to find your way somewhere, you pay hardly any attention to what’s written around you. For my first two months here, I assumed most things were written in both Devanagari and Gurmukhi (the alphabets that Hindi and Punjabi are written in, respectively), because I never paid signs enough attention to notice otherwise. It was only when I started learning Devanagari that I realized nothing around here was written in Hindi. Being able to read also gives people a type of mysterious knowledge. Everyone always seems to have secret information that comes to them as if from thin air, in what appears to be some form of Indian telepathy – until you realize that they can read many of the signs around you, and that’s why they know what bus to take or when all the stores will be closed. It is information transported silently from one mind to another, but it’s via paper rather than telekinetic waves.

Having the ability to read expands a person’s world dramatically. In trying to teach an alphabet to the individuals in the camps we work with, we are attempting to provide them with the ability to interact with the world around them on a different level. To have access to the same information that others in the society around them take for granted. Exclusion from the community they live near is a major issue for the migrants we work with, and in a small way, being able to read will allow them to become more a part of that community than they are now. And of course, being able to read will also make books accessible to them – one of the most powerful educating tools. Literacy will give the communities we work with the opportunity to better not only their own place in life, but hopefully that of their family as well.

I always thought of being able to read as something that was simply enjoyable; having now experienced illiteracy, I realize how important it is. How being able to read can expand someone’s world.

- Kayleigh Walters, USA
- Organic farming and SWASH project manager, Punjab 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

My life as an EduCARE intern

My life as an EduCARE intern could be compared to what I presume being a Celebrity Unicef ambassador would be like. Travels through striking lands. People taking photographs of you while you shop for food at a local market. People asking to take “ek photo” as you travel in touristy locations. In general you find your self the gaze of many stares. I can now relate to Selena Gomez and David Beckham in a way I would have never have expected, as I’m sure they draw equally if not more attention as they serve the global community.

Most importantly the greatest aspect of being an EduCARE intern is the opportunity to work with a unique Indian population. Currently I find myself working on a Maternal Health and Education initiative in migrant camps located in rural Punjab. My job title requires that I go into the migrant camps, hang out and talk with the residents and then try to determine how the organization can help them create a better quality of life. This week I am working on developing a Health and Sanitation workshop for adults in the camps which will teach the migrants on cross contamination processes of food and water. From there on out I will work on developing Maternal Health workshops.

As an EduCARE intern you have the unique opportunity to develop and implement programs in an exciting environment. Although this poses quite a challenge, demanding personal introspection and awareness, it is also an opportunity to live something many only dream about. Being an EduCARE intern provides you with the space to be “the change you wish to see in the world”. Along with that I have already met so many amazingly qualified interns, whom you get to experience India right alongside. Just last weekend I went to Amristar with two fellow interns. So far, travelling around India nurtures a more holistic perspective on just how diverse the Country can be.

If the work and the travel isn’t enough, as an aspiring anthropologist I live in a beyond ideal environment. First I have the pleasure of sharing a home, with 4 other interns, with a local couple, Ma Ji and Uncle Ji. This has really opened up a doorway to being a member of the community that I don’t think many foreigners get to experience. Ma Ji serves as grandmother in our home away from home, always keeping an eye out for us, and being their to help us if we have any problems. Along with this our house is nestled amongst a ton of trees which are home to multiple Rhesus Macaque Monkey troupes. At time these monkeys can be outrightly obnoxious, trying to steal our food and knocking our clothes of the clothes line, but it is still an incredible experience to be cohabiting with such lively primates!

Living in another country as an intern has served me an abundance of opportunities and experience I could have never imagined. From being a celebrity to living with monkeys to all that’s in between it is truly a wonderful experience. I look forward to seeing how the next few months will unfold. 

- Alexandria McCall, USA
- Maternal health and education project manager, Punjab

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Challenges of living in rural India

This past month in Punjab has been especially hot (115 degrees Fahrenheit or 45 Celsius). Higher temperatures often put a strain on the finite amount of resources available in rural areas. In day to day life this means people want and should be consuming more water but because everyone wants more water, and the amount of water available actually shrinks in the summer water shortages occur. This recent month of heat has made all the interns more aware of how we perceive resources and our access to them.  To give you and idea about the daily access EduCARE interns have to resources such as water, electricity, and even cars, we challenge you to try to complete the following list below for a week:

  • Spend less than 5$ USD a day
  • Hand wash a full load of clothes and hang dry them
  • Spend a night (minimum of 5 hours) without electricity
  • Cook all your meals only on a stove top (don’t use oven or microwave)
  • When you have to use the bathroom walk outside and then go back inside to use the bathroom (suppose to be like using an outhouse)
  • Only eat fruits and vegetables that are in season
  • Don’t use your own personal vehicle, other option can include but are not limited to: hitch-hiking, public transportation, and hitching rides with friends
  • Only listen to radio channels, or watch television that is in a foreign language
  • Only shower every 3 days (washing face and feet is allowed)
  • When you want a hot shower take a cold shower, when you want a cold shower take a hot shower
  • Don’t ever wear shorts EVER (that means in your house)
  • Turn off all electronic devices when you leave a room
  • After you have used a dish immediately wash it then put it away
  • If its yellow let it mellow if its brown flush it down (when in the bathroom only flush solid waste)
  • Don’t use any water from a tap, if you want water first fill a bucket and then use only that water.
  • Don’t eat any meat, eggs, or consume any alcohol
  • Don’t leave your house after 7 pm, unless you are staying at a friends house for the night
  • Only use the internet every other day
  • Collect all plastic trash and then sort it
- Kiana Cateriano, USA 
- Health and education project manager

Thursday, 5 June 2014

World Environment Day

This auspicious day not only holds up to its name for me, it was the day I realized my passion and what field I would like to study in.

It was not just a day to celebrate but to also be conscious of the state of the environment around us. It was a moment of epiphany for me, a flash of my destiny to dedicating my life to the welfare of the planet which is so important. We cannot wholeheartedly celebrate the arrival of a newborn as our world is still in crumbles. Almost like trying to redecorate the interior of a home when its outsides are shattered and broken or there are no proper walls.
According to the United Nations, this day is used to stimulate worldwide awareness of environmental climate changes, degradation and fragmentation of our landscapes, pollution and wildlife threats. The theme of this year’s WED is focused on ‘Small Islands and Climate Change’ as the consequences of global warming have had its impacts on small islands like the eco-tourism of Barbados (as said by WWF).

As I was once an Environmental science student and currently the project manager of the Community Forestry Project of EduCARE India, I feel fulfilled as I am not only encouraging the community members to plant trees for their financial and social empowerment, but I am also doing my part to make planet Earth greener and safer.

- Monica Fatogun, India
- Social & Community Forestry Project Manager, Naddi

Sexual Violence Free Society Tournament

Dhasa Tibetan Women’s Basketball Tournament Summer: Monday June 2nd, 2014 

EduCARE’s Young Women’s Association (YWA) was invited as an honoured guest at the Dhasa Tibetan Women’s Basketball Tournament on Monday, June 2nd, 2014. As it was a late notice, many of us were unable to attend the event. Fortunately, Kiana, Hanh, Elizabeth, Ruthie, Bertrand, Guilhem, Lenka, Josefina, Amanpreet, Alex and Priscilla were all there to support the incredible basketball tournament. It was quite the adventure finding the place, since none of us knew where the tournament was being held. Each time we passed someone we would ask them where the Tibetan Library is, as the tournament was being held in the court close to the library. After what seemed like hours, we finally found the location of the tournament. As we walked in, it was evident that we were late and that everyone was waiting for us. Everyone from EduCARE India gathered with the participating teams in a picture. 
We found places to sit and waited for the tournament to start. This was the championship game between Regional Tibetan Women’s Association and Tibetan Women’s Football Team. Mr Penpa Tsering la, the speaker of Tibetan Parliament in Exile graced this event as the chief guest. Ms Gyari Dolma la, the Kalon of the Department of Home and representatives of Young Women’s International Institute and EduCARE India were also present as the guest of honour.

The tournament showed the teamwork, spirit and their love for the game; yet being very competitive and intense. Though being opponents they showed respect through the way they played. One of the objectives of holding this tournament is to advance the participation of Tibetan women in sports and health. The purpose is to address sexual violence in the Tibetan community and also to improve the quality of life for Tibetan refugees. All the players, volunteers and the guests wore purple armbands as a symbol of solidarity towards a ‘Sexual Violence Free Society’. The nine days tournament observed hundreds of spectators enjoying the matches from all corners and every possible space around the Gangkyi Basketball ground.

It was an honour to have the opportunity to witness this incredible event. As EduCARE India and YWA are working towards creating women empowerment through various means, seeing the women participate in the basketball tournament made our goals more consequential. Being part of the Dhasa Tibetan Women’s Basketball tournament has reinforced the capabilities of women in all societies. It is events like these that continue inspire organization like EduCARE to continue the amazing work we are set out to do.

- Amanpreet Sidhu, Canada

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Himalayan Experience

When people hear about India, some of the first adjectives that come to mind are; hot, chaos, and noises. But these kinds of characteristics describe only half of the sweet and sour madness of India. However, in the north of India everything changes, especially in the Himalayan area.

The first impression I had when I arrived in Naddi, was to wonder whether I was going to wake up to this landscape every day, and yes, fortunately my thoughts became real. Next my thoughts wondered to what beauty I might discover and what I would see around the area. For sure there must be a lot of places to trek and relax in peaceful areas! And I was right.

One of the first treks I did was to the river and waterfall that provides water to the villages in the surrounding area. The water in India is not known as the best water in the world, especially in Delhi (the famous Delhi Belly that nobody would like to experience). One of the main questions that you might wonder about is where the water from the pipes is coming from? You can see many pipes everywhere. All kinds; thin, thick, leaking pipes, etc, so we tried to find the origin of this water and see how it looked. First we went from Naddi to Galu temple. Galu temple is one of the starting points for the trek to Triund (one of the most popular treks of the area). During this first stage of the journey, we went in the direction of the waterfall instead of Triund. When we reached the river (amazing area by the way) we decided to go further, and followed the big pipe. It was pretty tough but funny at the same time, especially when my friend Nigel had to slide down to the wall. It was very easy to slip in that area, I could see the fear on his face. Finally we reached the source of the pipe, the water was very clear, pure, and fresh, but there is one thing you never know in Himalaya Mountains,what is above this river? There will always be something else, so you better be even more aware if you are not Indian. So, at the end we decided to sit on a huge rock staring down at the valley and relaxed our minds for a while.

On the second trek, we went to Guna Temple, surprisingly more people than I expected came. It was really motivating to gather a big part of the Educare team and people from Sheini together. Everything was fine until we arrived to the steps which were pretty steep. You could see the faces of the team slightly change. On this trek we could see the international school on the top of the hill, it looked pretty isolated. After one hour and thirty minutes we arrived at Guna Temple, one of the most traditional treks from Naddi. I tried to organize this trek since I arrived, but something would always show up and mess up my plans. You never know what the weather’s like in the Himalayan Mountains, but finally we had good weather and enjoyed this special day.

The last trek was one of the most looked forward to by the team. For the past two months, the weather and the snow have been a big issue, especially in Triund. Triund is 2900 meters high and the level of the snow on the top is most likely going to be twice as much as in Naddi. The day was perfect; no cloud was going to disturb our view from the top. After three hours, we arrived at Triund. We were excited to reach this place and to enjoy the beauty of the area with these specials landscapes. Meanwhile, we started to take all kind of pictures, jumping, meditating, team picture, etc. It was one of the best feelings that you don’t want to forget. Breathing fresh air and being away from the pollution of the cities was so nice. And that moment is when I reflected on my point of view about India. Was it how I thought? Definitely not! In spite of overcrowding of people in India, there are still places where you can relax, lose yourself in this incredible environment, and feel free for a while.

Oscar Carrat, Spain
Eco Volunteer Travel Project Manager, Naddi