Monday, 27 July 2015

Organic Farming Field Trip

Cow dung and organic waste. Not usually on your list of favorite things, but they are considered hot commodities in the organic farming world. They are treasures for composting as I learned on my visit to Palumpur University’s Department of Agriculture. Together with the newly formed Educare organic farming team and Mr.B, we took a field trip for some organic learning and some inspiration.

Palumpur, located two hours by bus from Dharamsala is beautifully located between tea plantations. The organic farming section of the agriculture department is spread out over 38 acres. When I first arrived, the professor was explaining the various types of vermicompost we can try starting as part of our organic farming/kitchen garden projects. The speedy process takes around 6 months, with the average length of time taking 12 months, composting, I realized, is a commitment. We learned about 10 different ways to compost as well as ways to create organic and nutrient filled pesticides. A main ingredient in creating a great compost or organic pesticide is cow dung, and luckily, I don’t see India running out of it anytime soon.

Visit to Palumpur University’s Department of Agriculture
Visit to the Palumpur University's Department of Agriculture

We walked around the campus admiring the greenhouses filled with ceiling high beanstalks and tomatoes, the lush rice paddies and vegetable plantations. Awed by the vibrant color of green beanstalks, I decided then and there I wanted to plant beans in my garden in Maiti! Fortunately, we purchased two types of hybrid beans from the university that day.

Bamboo fences, benches and shelving were also another source of natural inspiration I took in at the university. There was an entire house made of bamboo complete with tables and chairs inside that the department uses occasionally for trainings. The bamboo creations were beautiful as well as sturdy. I carefully took pictures of how the bamboo fence and bench were built, so I can hopefully mimic the construction after the monsoon.

Maybe I am being overly optimistic in my venture into organic farming (as it is my second side project), but the Palumpur visit was inspiring and motivating nonetheless. And now to start planting my seeds!

Michelle Fujisaki - USA
HR Coordinator

Thursday, 16 July 2015

New Microfinance projects are on a roll in Paro, Punjab

The Punjab Microfinance project is undergoing an overhaul! The cluster went from zero microfinance interns to three, and thus the weeks since Educare’s quarterlies have been spent coming up with a shared vision for the microfinance initiatives we would like to see here. Assessing some of the past microfinance projects here we decided we wanted to go ahead and open a ReStore, and the best way to do this would be to start with a juice stand run out of the Paro office.

We believe this juice stand will be a good way to increase Educare’s visibility in Paro, and we can gradually encourage some of the girls in the Paro migrant camp to come help work the juice stand. We’re hoping this will teach the girls financial literacy skills (such as bookkeeping, addition, and subtraction), independence, and a desire to expand on new projects!
Rachel hopes to engage the women in Paro in a sewing project to make and sell re-usable bags either out of the ReStore or out of the local shops, Aurélien plans to expand on an organic farming project to sell fresh produce, and Madeline hopes to re-engage the chicken coop project out of the Paro camp to sell eggs in the ReStore.

We have a lot going on for Microfinance here in Punjab, stay tuned for some big changes!

Madeline Zdeblick - USA
Cluster Coordinator, Punjab

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Updates from Gajner Cluster

Gajner cluster opened in October 2014 and remains as of now the youngest of EduCARE. But so much has happened since and the people who have been living and working here with me and the wonderful community who has welcomed us with their open-heart are the reason why.

View of Gajner from our roof top

Until I arrived, previous interns worked on getting familiar and building relationship with the community, mapping the village and establishing basic cluster programs such as the Girls’ Club, After-School Program and Young Women’s Association.

When arriving in February in Gajner, a small village located 40 minutes away from Bikaner, we were only 3 interns: Jazzmine from Canada, Lachlan from Australia and myself.

We each took on responsibilities to develop and assist each other in projects. Jazzmine started the solid waste management system with Manoj a local shopkeeper who has become since a great resource for the interns and a role model for his community. Lachlan conducted a poverty research in the migrant camp of Gajner called Indra colony and started a Boys’ Club. As for me, I became the project manager for the Girls’ Club. Jazzmine was holding multiple responsibilities at that time: cluster coordinator, YWA and ASP project manager while I was also assisting her in those last two and helping Lachlan in implementing the poverty research.

From left to right: Lachlan, myself, Jazzmine and Léa. Having dinner at Sushma and Pradeep house

In the month of March 2015, we welcomed Léa who took over the waste management project. She bought bins to separate trash in Manoj’s shop and created displays to explain the importance of not throwing garbage in the streets. She also engaged a local trash picker from Indra colony, Mool Chand to come and collect trash from our home, from Manoj shop, and other shopkeepers in the main street. Mool Chand collects it each week and sells it in Bikaner now.

Bikaner Garbage dump, Manoj
The Multi poverty assessment tool (MPAT) survey implemented by Lachlan was a great resource for the cluster. We involved two locals to conduct the survey in the migrant camp : Pradeep Badgujar, a young man who is preparing his Master Degree in Accounting/Finance, and Anjuman Ali a female leader who runs 7 different Self-help Group (SHG )in Gajner. By involving locals in the planning and implementing of the survey, it provided us a platform for community engagement and it made them feel engaged and committed in improving the life of their community. The survey itself also provided new ideas to consider to establishing new projects and enhancing existing ones in Indra Colony.
Pradeep and Anjuman conducting the MPAT survey in Indra colony
The YWA managed by Jazzmine led to a microfinance sewing project that successfully engaged six women in Indra colony where they sewed and decorated pillowcases. The women were given money each for their work. The pillowcases are now located in our house for future sale in our ReStore. Anjuman has also recently attended one of the YWA meetings to introduce the idea of a self-help group to the women. Anjuman’s regular participation to the YWA meeting will be very beneficial to the development of an SHG in Indra colony.

Until the month of April, the ASP project was running once a week in Indra Colony. Since then, thanks to Jazzmine and Léa who created strong bonds with a family, we have successfully expanded ASP to Chandasar (a village located 2 km away from Gajner), which takes place on Mondays afternoon, while on Wednesdays it takes place in Indra Colony in Gajner.
ASP Indra
ASP Chandasa
Girls’ Club in Ward 1 from left to right: Nandini, Bharti, Puri, Sushma, Ria and Shalu
Until May, the Girls Club was running in one location: Jessa colony. The cluster has also expanded the Girls Club to another community in Gajner called Ward One (where the intern’s house is located). As I regularly engaged a local 20 years-old girl named Sushma Badgujar (Pradeep’s sister) and her family since my arrival, she was really curious about the Girls’ Club and she decided to come with me at Jessa colony to help out in facilitating the session. She really enjoyed it and we both decided to create one in her community. Beyond the fact that Sushma is one of the potential future leaders of the VIKAS Center, she has become my little sister and our relationship has grown so much.

Same month, we started to go once a week in Modiya and Mansar, a very poor community located above the highway (9 km away from Gajner). Most kids never went to school, and those who have the chance to go attend until the age of 13-14 years old. There is no shops, no markets, and most families do not earn a regular sufficient income to feed their family properly. So, after meeting regularly a family and assessing their needs, the potential for a microfinance and ASP project is huge and really needed.

First meeting in Modiya Mansar
The cluster has also grown in numbers since! We were only 4 interns for 3 months and we are now 10 people living in the house! It is a very exciting time for us and for the community we work with as we are expanding our projects to Chandasar and Modia Mansar.

Laure arrived in May and she became the project coordinator for ASP as well as the project manager for ASP in Gajner and she will develop general knowledge classes for the kids. Camilla from Italy arrived at the end of June and she will be leading ASP hand-in-hands with Laure. Mercedes and Lucia from Spain arrived in June and will be responsible for YWA and Water Conservation respectively. Johann and Vijay are managing an alternative energy project to have drinkable water, hot water for the winter and enough to cook without using too much gas. Mariko and Arindam arrived in Gajner recently and are working on an alternative energy project to provide our house electricity.

Laure, riding a camel on the way to Manoj’s farm
Boy’s club: from left to right: Lucia, Jazzmine (on top), myself and Mercedes

Enrique and Arnaud will arrive very soon to work on Eco-building in our house and in Chandasar for the Eco-Homestay project. Harmonie, our health project coordinator will also arrive very soon to conduct health research in Gajner.

I am also working on opening very soon our first ECRC and Restore and finding a new intern house in Chandasar.

I have been very lucky so far to be working with talented, energized and dynamic people who share the same values as me and EduCARE India. As I became the cluster coordinator when Jazzmine left, I am optimistic and very happy to be staying here to see Gajner, Chandasar and Modiya Mansar growing into villages full of opportunities for these communities.

Mathilde Buchet - France
Girls’ Club Project Manager and Cluster Coordinator, Bikaner

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Water or not water?

Water may seem secure and reliable for most of us back in our home countries. In here, it is much less of a given resource : we are surrounded by streams, it is raining almost everyday ; yet our taps remain empty for more than half of the week. As often in India, it is all about contrasts. The Naddi hotels show off with impressive number of tanks of water and the number of leaking pipes is ever increasing. On the other hand, families in Naddi don’t necessarily have running water in their houses.

Living with short supplies of water is challenging for sure and has actually led to lot of skills learning. For the first fews days without water, we were lucky enough to find water at the office, just 3 floors up. It was just a matter of carrying the buckets back down, under the intense scrutiny of the construction workers working next to our house. It’s when this back up option stopped that things became a lot more interesting.

How to do the dishes, flush, shower, or simply wash hands ? Luckily enough, there is a public tap nearby. By public tap, I mean a broken pipe that dispenses some water. This lead us to get to know Deepu, whose chai stalls is right next to the tap. Also, needless to say that foreigners waiting by a broken pipes with buckets at their feet is attracting much attention and we have offered entertainment to more than one person.

However this arrangement could not last forever and the ‘public tap’ – to our despair – got fixed… But in India there is always back up plans to the back up plan. Indeed, couple of meters after Deepu’s shop there is a temple. And the temple conveniently has a tank full of water. We need to share it with people who come in here to pray. At first they are surprised to find us there, but - after some starring - they are rather amused by our situation.

In addition to finding new supplies of water, we had to learn how to use our water as efficiently as possible. Baby wipes and 2 liters showers are part of our routine. Flushing is done only when necessary. Plate sharing and cup mingling has been adopted in the Dal Lake flat. And whenever water is back, we turn hysterical and run around filling our buckets and completing our collection of bottles, graphically lined up on our kitchen and bathrooms floors.

 Bottle Collection

As a result, even though water shortage is not fun everyday, we have learnt how to appreciate simple things. The sound of water running down our tap has become music to our ears and a bucket shower (or better: through the shower head) is assimilated to happiness. Simple things…

Harmonie Bucher - France
Women's Health Project Manager and Health Coordinator, Naddi

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Water: a major concern in Punjab

To describe life in Punjab some subjects are inevitable. The heat, the Punjabi music in the buses, the food … And so is the water.

Indeed water shortages in households are common and so are diseases or health problems that can be easily related to water (stomach pain, diarrhea, etc). Since March, the two of us work on water sanitation in rural Punjab in the Hoshiarpur district. We focused on the water supply and the drinking water quality as well as on a rain-water harvesting system for the Janauri intern house. Our project was divided in several parts, online researches, on the field research, a survey in our work communities, and an educational part. We wanted here to share our experiment regarding the survey. Indeed, we had to find ways to communicate and do our survey in Hindi/Punjabi because only a small number of the 23 participants spoke English. As many of you know, Hindi is a very different language than French or English. With internet we were able to translate the main words we needed to be understood. We believe that the success of our survey lies in the fact that we had a real connection, a very good relationship with the people we were interviewing (as many kids as adults, as many women men). They were happy to help us and very excited to participate which was motivating and comforting when the language barrier started being an issue. What we learned during this survey is that there is a strong link between the type of water you get access to (tap water, boiled water or filtered water) and the health symptoms you can present (stomach pain, diarrhea). We are also conscious about the limitations of our work. Indeed it would have been statistically better if we could have had more participants. Besides, we learnt that none of the men we interviewed showed health symptoms while 70% of the women admitted having at least one of the symptoms. This result would certainly have been different if one of us as been a man as well… But you know, TII (this is India).

filling in the survey with Manon in the Mansa Devi Community.
The Janauri Dam, the irrigation water system would be an interesting thing to investigate in the future.

To conclude, we strongly believe that Water Sanitation is a major concern in every cluster of EduCARE and in Punjab we hope that next interns (maybe you) would be interested in focusing on testing the drinking water, filtering the grey waters, etc.

Claire Rais Assa & Manon Egnell - France
Water Sanitation Project Manager, Janauri, Punjab

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Cleanaholic in India

Being a person who loves it clean, very clean, clean in a way that you should be basically be able to eat from the ground it seemed to be an absurd idea to travel India or even choose it for the personal summer internship destination. Month ahead I only heard “And do you really think that it is the country you want to go to? You sure?”; not only from parents also from the rest of the family and friends. But my personal answer was clear “Yes I wanted to and yes I knew it will be a totally different world”. Regarding culture, gender equality, weather, landscapes, but also in terms of hygiene and cleanliness.

Typical documentaries show India as a place where waste just flies around. No one cares. No one thinks it is of his or her business. But was like that in reality? I wanted to find out.I came to research the environmental impact of the garment industry. Not too far from my idea of cleanliness and very high standards of hygiene. I am very disappointed about the garment industry and big companies negatively impacting the environment of thousands of people and consequently impacting their health. So I wanted to observe and find out more about the management of these businesses and how they treat their waste. 

But for now let us get back to me and my obsession of being clean and living in a clean environment; leaving the airport doors at the 31st of May and stepping in the real Indian world was a big step for me. To see and finally smell the huge amount of waste being more or less everywhere definitely feels different than just watching it in TV. It smells. In some areas it smells a lot.  My first destination was Naddi, a small place at the food of the Himalayas, a place for higher casted Indians to go on holidays and at the same time EduCARE’s headquarter. Since it is a touristic place it supposed to be clean and beautiful. The latter is surely the case but with the cleanliness… I don’t know... Definitely not my standards and quick I realized in what troubles I put myself in - This place being called clean? I didn’t even want to know how the rest of the country looks like if this supposed to be clean. Welcome to the mind of a cleanaholic.

When I arrived in Paro, a small village in Punjab, which is my final destination for my internship, I started to clean up the intern house and to prepare “my corner” - I cleaned, cleaned and cleaned and bought a small shelf and hangers for my cosmetics before I actually found some rest from the travel. Eight hours from North to a little bit more South. Eight hours of seeing more of eye-catching India and also eighthours of seeing more waste; on the streets, in the lakes and rivers, on the fields, next to the houses. The next day a carpet to put my luggage on followed so that it is doesn’t get dusty; my suitcase spent the first night on the collection of mattresses. A proper mosquito net was the cherry on the cake. As a cleanaholic you always find something to do or improve, you are never bored.

Other interns mostly make fun of me. Finally, it all comes back to the question “Why did you choose India if you hate dirt?” I only have to say it isn’t impossible to enjoy India and my time here just because there is this one thing (even though it is a bigger thing) I don’t really like. People need to be more open-minded and tolerant with other people’s lifestyles. Judging someone just because he/she came here even though not liking dirt is unfortunate. I do love cleanliness and so do I accept India and it’s uniqueness. 

So now you might see the reason why I later on decided to be also part of a colleagues project trying to develop and implement a waste system for a smaller community. Doesn’t everyone say you should make your passion to your job? So will I and I am curious of what the next month brings. Not only cleaning, that’s for sure. There are many things to do and to explore - With toilet paper and wet towels or without.

Awa Sall - Germany
SWASH Project Manager - Punjab

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Sweet Dreams in Girls’ Club

As I look back to our first Girls’ Club meeting in March, career pathways other than teacher and doctor and the word “aspiration” appeared to be intangible concepts, too big for our girls group to grasp. Every week, we begin Girls’ Club with an icebreaker activity to get to know one another better. We also use these activities to assess their understanding of the abstract concepts that we try to present. Our first ever icebreaker activity involved sitting in a circle and asking each girl what they like about themselves. The range of 12 to 14 year olds struggled to understand the question, as their responses focused on the people and things they like instead. After noticing the difficulty the girls had with the activity, we tried to gauge which physical attributes they liked about themselves, thus, shifting the focus back onto them. When planning this activity, I anticipated responses, such as, “I like my creativity”, and “I like that I’m different.” This first Girls’ Club discussion, however, was met with “I like my hair”, “I like my eyes”, and “I like my cheeks.”

Since then, we have used crafts and games to encourage self-expression and to foster a sense of self and individuality among the group. Although on some Sundays, they can be quite restless, our attempts at building the girls’ confidence and showcasing women’s potential and achievements seldom fall short of meeting the objective.

Throughout May, the women’s empowerment interns experimented with introducing the girls to various female role models. We began this series with Savitribai Jyotirao Phule, who opened the first school for girls in India in 1848. The girls read the summarized biography of Phule, held onto every detail of her life, but they could not explain why she should be important to us all. They missed the fact that she is the reason they can get an education today. Evaluating this first role model discussion, we observed that not all of the girls were engaged, sidebar conversations took over, and in all, the interest was not there. Preparing to try again the following week, we thought, “maybe we should introduce someone more recent”, “maybe we should make the summary more concise”, “maybe this activity is too much like school”, “maybe we should highlight the points we want them to remember, by acknowledging one key detail each week.”

We began again with Mary Kom, a famous professional Indian boxer, who won a bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics, and a gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games. Upon introducing Mary Kom, some girls were familiar with her story. Each week, we presented a new detail about her life: from being bullied as a child because she came from a poor family, to her father saying that boxing isn’t something a girl should do. The aim of this revised weekly conversation was to introduce the girls to influential Indian women, who faced challenges on heir path to making a difference. Unfortunately, emphasis on these different points didn’t generate the kind of conversation we hoped for. The girls were aware that Mary Kom was a successful boxer, but they were still missing why she was someone we could look up to. And when asked to elaborate on their thoughts of the way Mary’s father felt about girls boxing, not much was stated.

The next few weeks involved taking a break from the role model discussions. We facilitated more hands on activities: we talked about the environment, made bracelets, drew pictures, and we played games to practice our English. Our final Girls’ Club meeting for the month of May combined an abstract concept to a tangible activity. After our opening icebreaker, we asked the girls about their dreams. Two girls immediately expressed their dream of having long hair. Another girl said her dream is to be an IPS officer. After hearing this, the rest of the girls chimed in with more hopes and aspirations: doctor, teacher, and pilot were of those mentioned. In talking about our dreams, we introduced a brief cultural context on the dream catcher. We explained that according to Native American custom, when you hang a dream catcher above your bed, it catches your bad dreams in its net, and filters the good thoughts and dreams, which trickle down the feathers, onto you as you sleep. We shared pictures so that they could see what a dream catcher looked like. The girls greeted each photograph with a soft “wow!” We then pulled out some bangles and thread, and began making our own. Weaving the web was a challenge for some of the girls. As others caught the hang of it, they helped one another make their dream catchers. Because we couldn’t find feathers in any of the local shops, we embellished our dream catchers with beads instead. A photo session was soon in tow, as the girls showed off what they made.

Besides a cool ornament to hang in their rooms, I can’t really say how much was taken from the activity. But to see the progress these girls have shown from March to now is a reward in itself. The first time we ever talked about careers, their most immediate thoughts were teacher and doctor, but now, these girls are expressing dreams to fly, hopes to help others and make a difference.

Alanah Grant, USA
Women's Empowerment Project Manager - Rait