Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The monster in my stomach

First of all, I’m not pregnant. Gajner is not one of those places where young people go and parents are scared their girls will come back with a baby in the belly. No sex, drugs and rock n’ roll around, trust me.

Still, somehow a monster came to live in my stomach when I arrived to India, and it’s always hungry. I used to eat a lot back in Spain, but I never reached the levels of the monster. NEVER.

Food in India is delicious and it’s everywhere. I think what attracts the monster the most are the spices. I walk in the streets and the monster is always alert, smelling around, looking for the best samosa. Even when it fails and the samosa was not that good, it doesn’t surrender, and makes me purchase (yes, purchase. In India no one ”buys” stuff, you “PURCHASE” it) another one.

The monster gets very excited when families in Gajner invite us to eat. I personally don’t really like the way of having people invited to eat here. You sit with the other guests, all alone in the floor of some room, and the hosts bring food, nonstop, but they don’t eat with you. My way of understanding the point of having people home to eat is to share the food and the time with them, and talk…but that is not how it works here. The monster does not think much about that, though. Every time there is almost no more dahl in the bowl, or veggies, or there are only two chapatis left, or rice is starting to disappear, more food comes. The plates are never empty; food is infinite, which is like a theme park for the monster.

When all the normal guests are done with the food, the monster keeps on asking for it. It sees though my eyes and it really struggles to stop eating if there is still food on the plates. So after everyone else stops eating, the monster and I have a long discussion while still feeding it. My shame of eating alone against its hunger. I win after a while, as even the monster realizes how people stare at us, trying to understand how is it possible, and it feels ashamed too.

The other interns in the house are frightened about the monster. When they cook, there is always this fear, “will it be enough”? When they serve the food, they look at the monster through my eyes, asking for its approval. When the food is over and the monster makes me wipe clean the few leftovers in all plates, there is always a moment of tension.

But the monster is cool, it’s peaceful. It would never hurt anyone, and it’s very easy to make it happy. If you want it to like you, you know what to do.

Cheers from the monster and me!

Lucía cooking Dahl for the house 

Lucía Villamayor - Spain
Bikaner Cluster Coordinator, Gajner (Rajasthan)

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Why an EduCARE India internship won’t be what you expect; and why that’s ok

I find myself at the end of a six-month internship with EduCARE India. As I was saying my final goodbyes, finishing up the last monthly report and making travel arrangement, the Project Director, Mr B, asked me if this internship met my expectations. And I had to say no. Not at all.

Any undergrad, recent graduate or anyone at the “entry-level” of their career knows the importance of experience and how hard it can be to get that experience on your CV. Most of us know that to get that elusive first job, you need to put in a lot of unpaid hours. I had volunteered and interned with many organisations before EduCARE India, both international and domestic. So I’m used to that kind of role. I’m used to coming into the office one day a week and being given some simple tasks to complete. Or sitting in on team meetings to listen and learn. I’m used to being given a little responsibility, even whole projects to oversee, under the watchful guidance of a supervisor.

EduCARE appealed to me because they had a diverse portfolio of projects, offered on the ground experience and focused their efforts at the grassroots level. As I tried to get an idea of what my six months in India would look like, I eagerly read blog posts about successful women’s empowerment projects in a remote hill village called Naddi. I was excited to meet the project managers and pick their brains about what challenging things they debated in their Young Women’s Associations meetings. I search Pinterest and Google for feminist movements and personalities, specific to India, so that I could contribute and prove a useful team member in their operational projects.

I was prepared to watch, listen and learn, as I always had, from those who had done it all before. I wanted to find out what worked and what didn’t, from those who has tried it all before. I arrive in Naddi, with a blank notebook and an eagerness to learn as much as I could from those around me. To gain experience from the experienced.

I spent less than one week in Naddi then was sent 35 km downhill, to a little village clinging to a busy highway, called Rait. Venture beyond the main road and its shoe-box shops and you’ll find quaint clusters of mud rendered homes disperse amongst small wheat or rice fields. For EduCARE India, it was a new centre, which had only been operational for about a month, and whose most senior team member had been living there for little more than three months. A team of seven novice interns from different backgrounds were sent to live and work in a little house in the south of this village. Our goal was to establish the centre, engage the local community and begin projects. It dawned on me that this wasn’t going to be the usual internship.

I’ve spent the last six months learning by doing. I have gained experience, not from observing and copying those who are more experienced, but by experimenting, trying and - at times - failing. I have had the opportunity to develop plans, implement those plans and watch as completely unplanned and unplannable things have happened. There have been challenges and frustrations and obstacles and triumphs. I made mistakes, and witnessed first-hand the consequences of those mistakes. I also found ways to overcome those mistakes and get things back on track. No other internship or volunteer experience has ever given me so much freedom and autonomy over my own projects. With this flexibility comes responsibility, and an overwhelming motivation to make things happen.

Early in my internship, in a project management training workshop, the incredibly knowledgeable Ben Flemming told me “everything you planned to do here, you won’t do. And that’s ok.” At the time I thought that was nonsense.

“Ok” I thought, “so I might not be able to do everything, but surely I’ll achieve some of my goals”.

But as I’ve undertaken this internship, I have seen my plans constantly evolve and adapt. What I thought I could do, couldn’t be done, and other things that I never even considered possible, proved achievable. I have learnt so much professionally. And personally. Just not in the way I thought I would.

It’s true; this internship didn’t meet my expectations. At all. Instead, it presented me with something completely different but equally useful.

If you’re considering an internship with EduCARE India, a word of warning. Expectations can be dangerous. They can let you down or mislead you. Better to go in with an open mind, and a blank notebook, and learn as much as you can – yourself.

Katherine with Suman in the migrant camp in Rajhol

Katherine Woolnough - Australia
Young Women's Association project manager, Rait

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Drinking Water Production in Gajner, Rajasthan

Considering that all interns in the house have had stomach issues at least once during our internship, I started a research about the drinking water treatment possibilities and needs we might have.

At the beginning of July I went to see Jeetendra, a doctor in Gajner’s hospital. He told me there were many patients showing different sicknesses related to the drinking water in Gajner, such as typhoid fever or diarrhea and pain caused by bacteria such as E. Coli. This fact suggested that the water we were consuming was not safe. We have a filter in the house but it was clearly not enough.

Considering the weather in Gajner, disinfection of the water through Ultra Violet (UV) radiation seemed to be a good way to proceed, followed by adsorption onto activated carbon (AC). So, at the beginning of August, when my water conservation project was more or less running without too much supervision, I started with the construction of the drinking water system.

UV radiation is present in the energy of the sun, and is capable of interfering in the DNA chains of bacteria and viruses, causing their death. Moreover, UV radiation also reacts with the oxygen present in the water generating free radicals and hydrogen peroxide, both of them able to destroy pathogens and contributing to disinfection.

Furthermore, high temperatures are a limiting factor for the survival and development of pathogens in the water. The temperatures reached making use of this method are not high enough to exceed the limits for all pathogens to die (reached for instance when we boil water), but both factors together are responsible for the ability to get a water with high quality.

As for the AC, I consider myself a big fan. Its huge surface area allows the accumulation of a large number of contaminant molecules and ions. As an example, one gram of a typical commercial AC has a surface area equivalent to 1,000 square meters. So once we couple both processes together, the quality of the drinking water should be very high.

I had a glass box constructed, with a capability of 25 L. The height of the box is 7 cm (it must be less than 10 cm in order to ensure that the radiation reaches the lower layers). The glass needed to be very thick, so for the cover I used a thinner glass which allowed better for the solar radiation to pass through. The glass box was connected to the water tank (see figure A) and situated above an aluminum sheet so as to reach higher temperatures. The outlet of the box is connected to two activated carbon filters (see B and C).

Figure A: The water tank connected
 to the glass tank
Figure B: Glass tank connected to
carbon filters 
Figure C: Front view of the drinking
 water production system 

The cleaning method consists on filling the glass box through the tap connected to the water tank. After, the water must be left in the glass box under the sun for a period of time of six hours. Then, we can open the outlets of the glass box and collect the water when it comes out of the carbon filters.

The carpenter of Gajner, who helped me with the installation, wants to set up the same system in his house, which makes me feel very proud; but first I would like to make sure that the water is safe. For this matter, I contacted a Professor of the faculty of Environmental Science of the University of Bikaner in order to ask him if I could carry on some lab analyses to measure the degree of disinfection and other parameters for my water conservation project. He does not seem to be very interested in my story though. Still, I will go this week with some water samples to the university and let’s see if someone allows me to play in the lab.

Lucía Villamayor - Spain 
Bikaner Cluster Coordinator, Gajner

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

EduCARE India is Kicking-off Stitching Project in Rait

Sewing is traditional craft in probably every region of the world. In India stitching activities play important role for national economy as well as on local level. In rural Himachal Pradesh, most of the women wear typical for India slawar kameez aka Punjabi suit, which they either tailor themselves or have it tailored.

We knew that a few women in the village are interested in stitching activities. We also knew that many women here already know how to operate sewing machine and have some basic understanding of stitching. We’ve figured that stitching activities could be a good way of earning money for local women as they know basics of stitching and are interested in doing it. This is how the stitching project began.

Cecile and Mila with some women from the community

The initial stage of the project is mainly about providing the interested women the opportunity to practice their stitching skills. For that we’ve organized a training facility in EduCARE office in Rait where we put two sewing machines as well as threads, fabric, as well as old clothes that are subject for recycling. We also agreed with a local tailor Kopina to pick up scrap fabric from her. That will be a chance for the women who don’t have a sewing machine to practice stitching and for us to see who is genuinely interested in starting stitching business. Apart from that, weekly meetings in our office could be a platform for the women to exchange skills and generally socialize. From our side, we will try to provide tutorials and design ideas for stitching products that are simple, marketable and, of course, eco-friendly.

There are a number of challenges that we faced at the initial stage of the project. First of all, we needed to disseminate information about the new opportunity. For that we employed several outreach technics from flyers and posters in Hindi to the word of mouth. Secondly, we do realize that tailoring market in the village and its surroundings is pretty saturated. Our solution to that is focus on the stitching products other than clothes, like bags, blankets, bed sheets, and others.

After talking to about ten women of different age several of them agreed to come to practice and share their skills. Eventually, on our first “stitching Tuesday” we met Joity and Radha who came to our office on Tuesday 4 pm – the day and time we’ve allocated for stitching self-practice. They actively participated in the discussion and seem to be very motivated to try new things in stitching. We showed different possible designs for patchwork and other simple yet marketable things they could produce, and both women agreed they are able not only make it but sell it in Rait and beyond. Let’s hope it will happen this way.
Sample of a possible design

Mila Pestun - Belarus
Microfinance project manager, Rait

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Juices, hot chocolate and scarves

When I first arrived in Naddi in February, I thought B didn’t want to open Restore. I was focused on making it look nice. No, think about the concept B said. What do we want Restore to be? Five months later and I feel at last the concept has been defined.

The journey started with the idea of a juice stall. We wanted to promote healthy living, and after seeing a juice press in action in Dharamsala, we realised that fresh juice was missing from Naddi Main Square. B liked the idea so much that the juice press was purchased in record time. It only took a few days from proposing the idea to B to a juice press and mixer arriving at the square.

The main aim of the juice stand is to help young girls from the community earn additional income and gain confidence in themselves by serving customers and interacting with new people. We decided the girls should work on a commission basis - they receive five rupees a drink for every drink sold. However, even with this financial incentive finding staff was not easy. Finding motivated and available staff has remained our main challenge for the last three months.

EduCARE Team preparing juices in Restore 
Sisters, Nisha and Bindu, now come consistently every Sunday. However, both go to college and school every day, apart from Sunday, as do many girls in the village. So at the moment Restore is only open every Sunday, with a big remaining challenge being finding staff for other days of the week.

The actual juice business has been surprisingly successful: daily sales have gradually increased since the opening of the stall, despite the worsening weather. The resulting profits have been reinvested into the shop. We have put down a new gravel floor, painted the shop and invested in a small gas stove. We plan to start offering coffee, hot chocolate and herbal teas, again drinks that are missing from what is offered on the square at the moment. The purchase of tables and chairs have also given the shop more of a cafe feel.

Elliot, SWASH manager, helping in Restore
The profits have also been invested in other microfinance projects. Many local women are very good knitters, and we have developed some scarf designs with them that we feel would appeal to the tourists from Punjab and Delhi. Some of these scarves are already being sold in the shop. We have also started initial investigations into pickle making which could also be sold in the store.

If the shop is a respected, successful business, the girls who work there will feel a pride in themselves and their work, and hopefully want to take on more of a leadership role in the running of the shop. This is the long-term goal and will probably take several years to fully implement. But at the moment, small steps continue to be made, profits are being reinvested into the shop and other microfinance projects, and the girls are smiling and taking home money and hopefully increased confidence each day that they work.

Eileen McDougall - UK 
Micro-finance project manager, Naddi 

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Girls' club in Gajner

I have been in India for almost 6 months now and I have been running ever since the Girls’ Club project in Gajner, a small village in Rajasthan.

When I first arrived, the Girls Club was running since October 2014 twice a week every Sunday and Tuesday from 4:00pm – 5:00pm in Jessa colony (a community located a bit outside of Gajner center). Previous to my arrival, the girls club was very informal. Activities included sports, dance and coloring with little structure involved. In a couple of months, I managed to set up another Girls’Club in the Badjugar community, to involve a local 20-year-old young girl named Sushma Badjugar in facilitating the sessions as well as to structure the activities with each week a specific educational theme to discuss about.

Now, the Girls’ Club based in two different locations in Gajner and runs every Tuesdays. The first one takes place in the Badgujar Community from 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm which currently consists of 7 girls aged from 8 to 12 years old and the second one takes place in the Jessa Community from 4:00pm – 5:00pm.

It was not easy and I faced many challenges. One of them remains the age gap and the different interests between the girls in Jessa colony specifically. Indeed, the youngest are 8 years old while the oldest are 17 years old. Some subjects are too complex for the little ones to be interested and when I go too deep into fun activities to involve the youngest, the oldest are not interested anymore. The other challenge related to it is the participation. Even though, all the sessions in Badjugar community have always had a 100% rate of participation, it is quite different in Jessa colony. Indeed, I always felt a lack of commitment from the girls in Jessa as the participation has been highly variable. Some girls come and go or disrupt the activities, especially the teenagers.

It is much better now that Sushma has joined the Girls’ Club team as she creates an interesting and more joyful dynamic. She knows very well the girls in Jessa colony as they all went to the same school so it helps us in establishing our credibility and legitimacy.
Sushma and me 
Above the fact that she helps in translating, engaging Sushma as a leader in facilitating the activities, means the Girls’ Club has the potential to continue in our absence in the future. Indeed, local participation in the planning and implementing of projects is crucial for development workers as it guarantees the ownership of beneficiaries and durability and efficiency of projects.

The girl’s club in Badgujar community with Sushma’s cousins and neighbors has been going really well. The girls are always very happy to see us and are waiting for us at the corner of the street at 1:45 p.m every Tuesday. Part of why it is going so well is definitely the strong relationship I was able to build with Sushma and her family before creating a formal GC. This is what might have been missed out in Jessa.

I also found that involving the mothers in the Girls Club in Badjugar has been beneficial in maintaining the girls’ interests and focus. Plus, it is also a good platform to engage with the mothers and the families overall and increase EduCARE’s visibility and comprehension of our presence.

Until now, we have discussed topics on health and hygiene habits, environment, gender roles in job opportunities, and female leaders. I realized that utilizing different types of media especially visuals such as videos and powerpoint really help the team to keep the girls focused.

Girls Club in Badjugar. From top left and then bottom left: Nandini, Bharti, Muskan, Rhadika, Ria, Puri and Shalu. 
The next step is to open the first ECRC (Education Career Ressource Center) to hold the Girls’ Club session there and create a safer and neutral space for the girls. I have talked to the mothers of Sushma’s cousins and they very well welcomed the idea.

I have been really happy in taking over this project and I can see how my relationship with the girls grew. I will continue to engage them in educational topics and create opportunity for them to come together to enjoy new experiences, become more self-confident, and develop skills that will help them throughout their life.

Mathilde Buchet - France
Girls' Club project manager, Gajner

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The real price of the windmill blades

Hi dear reader, I’m gonna tell you an incredible story of this incredible India.

I went there, arrived the 1st of April in Dharamsala, 22 years old young French engineer called Rémi, totally unexperimented about developing countries and strong of three years of managing in a famous brand French company. In my mind, I would have been easy.

Huh yeah, actually, no.

The first night, I was really wondering what the hell I’m doing here? I was supposed to manage a renewable energy project there, but there were no hierarchical structure, no boss, no managers and I didn’t have a clue about the opportunities of renewable energy.

And now, dear reader, three months passed away so fast, like a lightning.

It has been the strongest professional experience of my young carrier. After a short period of induction, I totally dove in Indian culture. I was really like a fish in the sea, grow a moustache, bring a Shiva’s necklace all the time and transform to a real Indian guy –Namasté Namasté ! -.

I’ve decided to build a small wind mill for household. The goal was to provide electricity to a standard house. I designed it, calculated all the stuffs (wind resource, wind strength, rotation speed, blades shape, alternator rewinding, etc.), planning and budget. All was perfect.

Huh yeah, actually, no.

In India, dear reader, nothing comes as you planned. When it came to the building steps, I had to travel thousands of kilometers. I went to Gaggal, Horshiapur, Chandigarh, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Delhi, Rajkot, Amehdabad, and so on. I met people, professionals of small wind mill, professionals of huge wind mill, mechanics, electricians, ”Jugaad” (handymen), CEO's and technicians. My design wasn’t perfect at all dude!

One thing you have to keep in mind, dear reader, is that working in India needs flexibility.

To get the blades, I went to Rajkot. 24 hours of travel to meet a guy, who was supposed to help me (maybe? First we go, and then we will see! – Indian style). Hopefully it was successful, I learned a lot and got blades, perfect blades, and WAHOU I was so glad!! So then, 24 hours of travel to go back to Bikaner by train, no seat, a night train incredibly crowded, 6 hours of standing in the corridor facing the smelly toilets. Man, this is the real price of the wind mill blades.

This is just an example, but managing a project in India looks like that. T.I.I: This Is India, and it’s wonderful.

Now, the wind mill is fully assembled, with electric parts, mechanic parts, pole, blades, transmission chain, etc. It will be installed in Khuri Village, near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan (an incredibly beautiful city in the middle of the desert, 50°C during summer, easy).

To conclude, I would just say that it was such a rich experience! To manage a renewable energy project in India, dear reader, you don’t need to be an engineer, a manager or whatever, you need to be you, trust yourself and persevere, and everything will be alright.

I’m lucky to had this opportunity to challenge my skills, I’m lucky that EduCARE trust me like that, and I think I wouldn’t have this opportunity in western companies.

Reading this blog will not give you a full description, neither a real picture of this experience; so go there, dear reader, and you will understand, you will learn or unlearn, but you will grow up.

Maja aa gaya !

Rémi Matray - France
Alternative Energy project manager, Jaisalmer