Sunday, 19 April 2015

Quarterlies: Cleaning the Streets of Rait!

This February 2015, quarterlies took place combined in Naddi & Rait. Quarterlies is a coming together of all 4 centres of EduCARE India: Naddi, Punjab, Bikaner and Rait. During such a week project managers are able to discuss achievements and challenges with managers of the same projects from different centres. Furthermore, a week like this is filled with workshops, discussions, brainstorming, sports, good food and fun, much. fun. A combined quarterlies was possible since both the centres Naddi & Rait are situated near Dharamsala. Naddi in the Himalayas, Rait 30 kilometres towards Kangra. The week started off in Naddi with presentations of centres regarding their centres, the communities they work in, and implemented projects. It ended in Rait with a big clean-up.

Rait is a relatively new centre, and its projects are very young or even not yet existing. This quarterlies was an enormous opportunity for EduCARE India to make its presence known in the village. A good connection has already been established with the closely by situated ‘South-East’ community, yet we still are the unknown ‘outsiders’ for many people in this +/- 2000 heads counting village. For me, Bruno; manager of SWASH in Rait, this quarterlies brought the opportunity to turn this around, and to create a positive change regarding waste awareness in Rait.

In the afternoon of Sunday the 5th of March 2015, two formed groups left the Rait intern house. 30 people armed with empty bags planning to make the Indians mind dazzle. As waste is defined to be filthy and gross, people cleaning it are associated with the lowest of society, and ‘people from the West’ often is being looked up to as ‘wealthy’, western people picking waste would surely create one huge contradiction.

We split up in 2 groups: one going into the ‘South-East’ community, the second heading for the main street and shopping area. The mission was not necessarily to pick-up as much waste as possible. The core-idea of this clean-up was to smile, laugh, and namaste our way through Rait: People had to see us, people had to start gossip about us!

As I was in group number one I was walking through the South-East community. This community is the one that our intern-house is situated in, and the one which we for example celebrated Holi with, a couple of weeks ago. A similar path was chosen to the one that we walked together with the community during this event. While separating waste in ‘soft plastics’, ‘recyclables’, ‘paper & cardboard’ and ‘general waste’, we encountered a lot of people. Striking was: most of these were smiling and greeting us. However with a questioning face -what in the universe name these crazies were doing -. As far as I could understand people did not directly disapprove. They still might have disapproved anyway. They might have started the rumor: “have you seen them doing that?”: perfect

Now the question might have occurred by you: reader of this blog-post, if this is the approach that EduCARE India is striving for: 30 people walking through a village picking up waste yet there much more is to be cleaned and picked up. The answer is no. This walk was a perfect opportunity to create awareness amongst them who questioned what we are doing here. SWASH: waste management in Rait aims for creating a sustainable, community-owned household/shopkeeper level system for reduce, re-use and recycle of waste. This in close cooperation with people themselves. EduCARE India tries to create responsibility under people, hoping to one day leave a Rait which has the ability to maintain a waste disposal system itself.

Has this community clean-up been effective? Yes. Whether I extremely badly want to see this, or this is actually happening; I have the feeling more shopkeepers have put bins outside their shops. A shopkeeper showed me a sign on his bin saying: ‘waste disposal’ in English and Hindi. He mentioned he put it there after he saw us performing the clean-up. Another shopkeeper actually grabbed a bit of plastic and put it in a bag during the clean-up. Best for last: one day after this event an interviewer came to the Rait intern house asking whether he could write an article about EduCARE India and its activities in Rait.

See you in a cleaner Rait!

Bruno Lauteslager - The Nethelands
SWASH Project Manager, Rait

Saturday, 11 April 2015

This Is India

This is India

I've been here for about 3 weeks now.

And we had a big 5 day conference where the whole organization gets together and we discuss the different projects we are working on in our clusters (area). I didn't know what to expect but it's mandatory so I was down for it.

Day 1 and 2 we received the other clusters in Naddi and it was fun. I got to meet everyone and realized we were an eclectic bunch. We presented our current and future projects to our colleagues. But on day 3 we all moved to Rait to finish up the quarterlies.

We woke up super early and travelled by bus which was super late but off course this is india and time is infinite here.

"It happens, it will happen again, it's complex, sit". back and enjoy, this is india"

You just sit back and enjoy cause nothing ever goes as planned and you are wired to always be ready for that.

We decided that the whole organization should sleep under one roof because we hardly get to be together so why split up now. No tvs or radios just us having to entertain one another, 30 different personalities in one house, life bound to get interesting.We spent our nights playing games and getting to know one another. We spent our days playing with the kids from the community, cleaning the community and gaining new perspectives on the different projects we are working on. Maybe 8 people are from the same country.

We are literally an eclectic group of young adults after the same thing. Living a life where you follow your bliss and not societies way of living.

Just by being in the house I feel like I visited the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, France, Scotland, Belgium, Vietnam Brazil, Australia, Sweden, Canada, California, Colorado and India. Here we are from different backgrounds, different cultures, languages and favorite foods. But yet we discovered that we are ALL CONNECTED.

In the words of my favorite french Hippie "We are all Care Bears trying to spread joy and love". What I'm loving the most about this experience is the fact that I am learning things I would've never learned if I stayed home and listen to fears and discouraging voices in the background telling me I can't do it.

All I did was listen to my heart and follow my curiosity. I didn't sit in a classroom. But I managed to learn more in one week than I ever did in school. Nothing great comes from your comfort zone.

I'm eating food whose name I can't pronounce, meeting people who's home language I do not understand

Yet we all know one language. The language of the Soul of the World.

Since I started working here I haven't used my alarm clock once but yet I catch the sunrise over the beautiful horizon every morning either while sharing it with someone from back home or with one of my many new friends while having a parantha.

I am excited about going to work despite some of hurdles I've encountered while here.

The best thing I've learned so far is;
When you're truly doing something out of passion hurdles become challenges you look forward to overcome and complaining about the little things become a thing of the past.

If you all don't learn nothing from me I beg of you to learn this...

Follow your bliss.
Lose it all if you have to I promise it's worth it.

"When you want something the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it " Paulo Cohelo

Til Next Time

Whitney - USA and Haiti
EVT Coordinator, Naddi

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The “Quarterlies”

The “Quarterlies” is a weeklong meeting where the EduCARE interns come together to share ideas, discuss projects, troubleshoot and enjoy each other’s company. This March it ran for five productive, but tiring, days - two in Naddi, three in Rait. Consequently, I decided that today (the day after) would be spent in unwind mode: espresso drinking, momo eating, Orwell reading, blog writing.

I have taken the first sip of my second coffee when a woman sharing my table asks me “if I saw the Dalai Lama this morning?”

She’s got medium length sunny-blonde hair that flicks at the end and a pale white complexion that I’m sure appreciates Himachal’s mostly temperate climate.She’s Austrian, a teacher by trade, who’s broken from tradition to immerse herself in Tibetan culture and pursue her love of learning here in McLeod Ganj.

She tells me that the Dalai Lama’s currently in residence and has just delivered a speech at the temple down the main road from this cafe. He leaves tomorrow for Japan, then onto my native Australia in June. As it was, I hadn’t heard he was in town. So, I hadn’t seen him.

The conversation changes course, from Buddhism to EduCARE, when my Austrian pal asks what I’m doing here in India - travelling, learning, teaching, working?

The answer is all of the above.

And it was at this point that I did my deepest reflection on my EduCARE experience.

I tell her that I live in a rural village 45 minutes from Bikaner, Rajasthan. It’s a place called Gajner where the locals treat us just like the sun: with unswerving attention and relentless warmth. Hardly a day passes without a shopkeeper offering free chai or locals inviting our group for lunch or dinner. Sometimes both.

Our boss is Mr. B, I tell her, when she asks who ‘runs’ the NGO. But I’m quickly critical of my comment. “He’s not a boss at all”, I clarify, “more of a mentor or guide.”

In fact, he’s a former Air Force pilot. He traded in his wings for a position as ‘Director’ of EduCARE about 15 years ago.

He’s got an imposing physical presence, sports a rough dark beard and invariably wears a baseball cap. He often talks in long, winding, philosophical and metaphorical sentences.

Mr B’s a lateral thinker. He exudes enthusiasm at every breath, urges us to self-challenge, and encourages us to unlock our potential.

Occasionally, like all good leaders, he leaves us scratching our heads, uncertain and sometimes confused. We question how – or if - we can operationalise his ideas. How - or if – do we turn his exuberance into results.
Learning and innovation, he maintains, is the answer.

The Austrian and I spend the next thirty minutes talking about how the acronym NGO has gathered some negative connotations, especially in India. Once in Jaipur, I had excitedly told the owner of my guesthouse that I was planning to volunteer for an NGO. He explained that the NGOs of Jaipur were only interested in making money and not developing the welfare of those they purported to help.

What’s more is that NGOs are forced to be results-based. The term is a bit of a buzzword in the Development space. It was created, I think, to satisfy the West’s thirst for a more scientific approach to aid policy. The implication is that if an NGO doesn’t produce ‘results’ that can be measured and evaluated and then used to inform new policies, the NGO is inefficient.

I contend to my Austrian friend that EduCARE challenges this paradigm.

It is still results-based, but not hamstrung by the short-termism of the NGO industry or restricted by government demands for detailed reports on scientific methods and linear expectations of poverty reduction.

Instead the word ‘result’ in Mr’s B’s dictionary probably reads: an impact that challenges societal traditions by empowering women to alter the status quo. An impact might be felt in 20 or 30 year's time but will be at least economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

Though if he reads this post, I’ve no doubt he’ll challenge me. For that’s his nature, and that’s what he wants to nurture in all of us.

Thus, EduCARE tries to redefine what an NGO is. The organisation demands patience, ideas and determination.

At some point, our Austrian friend and Mr. B share a value. She’s rejected the expectation of staying in the safe and strong Austrian state and chosen topursue her interests in Tibetan culture and language. Similarly, Mr. B challenges what’s conventionally expected of an NGO chief.

One of my colleagues, a fellow intern, summed its virtues up pretty well last week at the Quarterlies. He told me: “This internship will probably be the only time of my career where I get so much freedom to put into practice the ideals that I think are important for the world’s future. To implement the things I actually care about.”

So, this is the defining mark of EduCARE and should be the defining mark of the NGO sector as a whole - one predicated on innovation and societal challenge and freedom to reject the dominant paradigms.

In 3 month's time, the interns will again converge on an EduCARE ‘cluster’ for the Quarterlies. We’ll discuss and debate the merits of our NGO, of our work and its ‘results’. We’ll recount stories about our respective clusters, the intensity of the locals’ glares, our projects’ problems and successes. And we’ll argue about Mr B’s philosophy.

And some of us – like myself – won’t be there. I’ll either be at university, in the workforce (hopefully) or perhaps with my friends or family. Either way I’ll be attempting to instil Mr B’s values into my interactions and conversations, seeking to recreate the progressive environment that EduCARE lent me while interning.

Lachlan Alexander - Australia
Community Research Manager 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Building relationships

Living in a small rural area in the middle of Punjab is not an easy task. Everyday we feel watched and often people come to ask us what are we doing here and why, or just to say “Namaste!” Up until this time our work in EduCARE has focused on improvin the conditions,  and empowering the migrant people who are living in tents with no power, safe water or access to health. Many times the community does not understand why we are working with the migrants nor do they have an interest in the problems they confront everyday. Since we have noticed that the community is not interested in our work, we have decided to build more relationships with them and start projects where they too can have social and personal benefits. A week ago we visited one community in Dholbaha, is a small community with 3 villages (mohallas) within the community area- Mansa Devi, Ganesh Nagar, and Chand Mohalla. There are about 25 families living in total in this area. Each mohalla has about 8-10 families. Each household has about 6-8 family members. Most of the children in this community go to school.

Dholbaha Community

No one said it would be easy build relationships with local people, even moreso if they do not speak English. It is really helpful have an Indian working with us but we cannot relay on him everytime. Dholbaha Community

Visiting the families consists of sitting down in a circle and trying to speak as much hindi as we can with them. Family men used to welcome us while their wives or mother prepare chai, sweets or if we are lucky, pakora.  Even after four months of living in India, visiting families and in my case, living with one, I still feel uncomfortable when I see that is only women working in the house and men are sitting outside resting. 

We have visited some families, all of them live with the parents, the older, married couples are generally retired, and their sons and daughters if they are not married yet. In India once a couple gets married the woman moves to the husband's house and start living with his family. So, no matter what were her plans or what she wanted for herself she is now relocated to a new place sharing her life with a family that is not her own. This is why these wives do not feel confidence many times when they have guests in the house to start a conversation and also, as I said before, they have to cook and work indoors so are otherwise busy. 

In one of the houses we met a man and wife who live with his parents and his brother who is married also, and none of them have children yet. Both wives were smiling and they brought us chai and sweets during the time we stayed there. One of the women invited us to sit down in her bedroom while we ate and tried to speak Hindi with all the family.  She showed us her wedding album, they got married three years ago. It seemed that it is only the man who knows a little bit of English but not the women. They did not speak during the visit, so we could only talk with him and a little bit with the mother who was laughing while we tried to speak with her. Elder people, mainly the women, are very kind and nice when they receive guests, they like to show their family and they  laugh with us. Men in this case are more in the backgrounds, not engaged so much in the conversations. This is why we did not meet the family's father. 

Visiting this family and the others was really interesting for me, one because I could notice how women live in this area, despite the fact that I have been here for four months.  I am still not used to seeing women just working at home and being so shy that they refer to their husbands. In the next months I would like to have meetings with women in the community, make workshops and English lessons with them. Empowering women is the only way to achieve equality

Adriana Martinez - Spain 
Women's Empowerment Project Manager

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Happy Holi!

A handful of rotating interns have been manning the Rait centre for a few months now and as far as engaging with the community, progress has been steady but slow. We’ve manage to develop trust and good relationships with a few key individuals, who we hope will eventually act as catalysts for the rest of the community. Our landlords, affectionately nic-named Uncle and Auntie by all the interns, have been gracious hosts and are always willing to offer directions in adjusting to the Indian way of life. They have introduced us to their widowed daughter-in-law, Sarita, who we’ve agreed to give personal informal English lessons to in exchange for her help in meeting and (hopefully) befriending some of the other women in the community. Sarita is warm and always greets us with a smile. Her children have also warmed to us and drop what they’re doing whenever we walk by to say hello, chat or play.

While we’ve made good in-roads with this family, and a few other women Sarita has introduced to us, engaging the rest of the community has been challenging. With our strange clothes, funny ways of talking, and general ignorance of how best to navigate the thin village pathways, we foreigners stand out as stranger in the truest sense of the word. In a community where everyone has known each other from birth and where private and public lives are so closely blended together, a group of strangers whose purpose is not quite clear and that suddenly show up claiming to be “working for an NGO”, naturally raises some suspicion. 

Our tactic so far has been regular walks through the village, offering smiles and polite Nameste-s, as a means to familiarise the community with our presence and put them at ease regarding the strange group of foreigners who have moved in down the road. Most of the time these efforts are met with suspicious stares and occasionally an accepting nod. Some of the women will return our Nameste, but only if we speak first.

This dynamic changed dramatically the day of Holi.

Holi, the ancient Hindu festival of colour and love, is an opportunity for a community to come together and celebrate in a free-for-all carnival of coloured powder and water. And we were invited! 

On a gloriously sunny March morning, men, women and children alike gather together and walk from house-to-house in a procession of singing, dancing and percussions instruments. At each house coloured dry powder – pink, yellow, green, blue, red, and purple- is exuberantly clapped onto the faces of the inhabitants and thrown into the air to shower down on the celebrants dancing and cheering below. Then the procession moves on to the next house, gradually gathering more villagers along the way. Some houses offer sweets, chai and soft drinks as refreshments. 

As this joyous clamour of colour, movement and song snaked its way throughout the village, some of the Rait interns were given the opportunity to party and play with community members who had so far only offered a slight nod or a reluctant Nameste as we passed by. Now we were singing and dancing together. As something of a novelty we made popular targets, particularly with the children; those expert in the sneak attack. By around lunch time we probably had more coloured powder on our faces, in our hair and all over our clothes, than anyone else in the community. My cheeks were sore from smiling and laughing so much.

After lunch and a well-deserved shower, we walked back through the now more subdued village to the market to buy vegetables for dinner. This time, instead of nervous stares and reluctant replies to our greetings, women called out “Nameste!” from their rooftops, or stopped us on the road to laugh, rub their cheeks and exclaimed “Happy Holi!” as if to remind us of how absolutely covered we had been a few hours earlier. Children, who had until now usually giggled nervously from a far, walked with us and attempted to make conversation with their mix of our limited Hindi, and their English. “Happy Holi!” was offered at every turn. We felt welcomed and part of this unique and tight-knit community.

Whether this familiarity lasts after the festive season is yet to be seen, but for now the Rait interns are hopeful that the relationships seeded this Holi last longer than the stains on our clothes.

Alanah Grant - USA and Katherine Woolnough - Australia
Women Empowerment Project Managers, Rait

Friday, 23 January 2015

Building a Sustainable Office in Punjab

Educare has been in Punjab a very long time (approximately 5 years to my knowledge).  I believe throughout this time we have seen a lot of ups and downs in terms of progress, but little by little we are making change happen.  We have had centers and Vikas centers in various areas in Punjab- Adampur, Dosarka, Janauri and now in Paro.  Last year we finally renewed our contract in the office space and although it has been a slow 6 months, we are happy to finally be using this office space now. 

Now our challenge as interns?  Furnishing this space in preparation of more projects and interns.  Myself and Nana (Adriana Martinez) have been brainstorming solutions, because one of Educare’s aims is to use recycled materials as much as possible.  What I love about Educare is the same thing that is getting put into practice here.  How can we create a comfortable space for interns and community members, while using the fewest amount of materials in a sustainable way?
While we did buy plastic chairs to sit on- an extremely cumbersome and entertaining bus ride, I may add- we are now thinking of more creative ways to furnish the office. 

interns in the office with a Women’s Empowerment Poster we received from an artist in Delhi.

One of our ingenious ideas is to collect an old door or large piece of unused wood and stack bricks underneath or attach smaller pieces of wood to make a table.  We also have thought about using a low wooden Indian bed frame for the same purpose.  Instead of chairs, we will make cushions out of fabric and sit on the floor.  Not only is this more economical and better than purchasing a brand new table and chairs, it is more culturally appropriate.  The idea for this table will be to set up a sewing space for the girls in the community to sew blankets and curtains for our future ReStore.  They themselves always work on a bed or floor, and a table would perhaps be unfamiliar to them.

I love the opportunity to get creative and use the materials around me to transform unwanted things and breathe new life into them.  I learn a lot from the migrant workers in that regard.  They collect and re-sell trash, but some they keep for their own use.  While some items are unwanted by some, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used in another fashion, and makes me get creative with my own unwanted things. 

I laugh at the thought that in my own country, I would just head to the nearest IKEA and charge up a storm for this new office.  But what we are creating in Punjab is genuine, creative but above all unique.  Everything we will create will have been put together with the minds and hands of the interns and help from the community.  It will come from reused or inexpensive materials and will demonstrate the true ideals of Educare that teach me about sustainability every day.  I know it will take a while before this office is fully functioning to the best of its ability, but I’m proud of the small progresses we have made, and look forward to what we will accomplish in the coming months!

Margaret Arzon - USA
Operations Coordinator