The heartbeat of Tirmasahun

IMG_1442.JPG

On arrival in Tirmasahun, two things became clear very quickly. It was very hot, and it wasn’t changing any time soon. And in the middle of nowhere, there is a big white building, with United for Hope written on the gates, that gives life to a village.

On arrival at the community centre, you can immediately see the strong bonds between staff, volunteers and visitors. Everyone is greeted with a chai or water. Volunteers speak with each other about their travels and share gifts they’ve brought from home. Jelly beans are distributed like currency. Everyone has something new to share with the group. I quickly started trying to learn names and remember who does what job. And with that, everyone is settled in and back in the routine of community centre life.

I was lucky enough to take part in all the community centre activities during my visit. Waking up at 5am isn’t exactly my idea of a good start to the day, unless you’re doing it in Tirmasahun to go on the water run. Jumping on the back of Krishna’s motorbike with Federica, we take off behind the van. Watching the villagers come out of their houses with the clean water bottles, ready to be filled is an educational experience. I take my water for granted so often, and here I am watching these people line up for a reliable water source. Some villagers want to learn more about the filtration process, Federica and Krishna oblige them with a description of our UV method against other water sources. They deliver water, and knowledge!

We are soon back at the community centre where we are meet by Sudha. Her warm welcome consists of a traditional Indian dance and a wide smile. She brings such positive energy to the building, its palpable. Through giggling and laughing, she gives each of us a traditional bindi and then she’s off to get on with her work. Boglarka and Sukai are outside working on the community centre make over before the sun gets too strong. Most of life here is dictated by the heat and the cooler hours. Payal, our translator and resident fashion queen, is making last preparations for classes that will begin soon.

IMG_3079

When 4pm rolls around, the community centre takes on another role, class room. The community centre is transformed by the energy of 16 excited children, ready to play some games, learn some English, and most importantly, see what sweets Miss Bogi has brought from her travels. I join the class and quickly see these are not the quiet children I presumed. There is sharing of stories and sweets before class officially begins. Once class is called to order you can soon see the United for Hope in action. I was surprised at the level of English some of these children were speaking. I was clearly able to communicate and partake in class with minimal assistance from Payal. Class in the community centre is very different from the government school. There is of course teaching grammar and syntax, but there is something else built into the classes. Self-confidence. Children are encouraged to take part, share their opinion and try their best. This has created 16 bright and self-assured children. After classes, there is a disco in the hall. Girls are dancing to Bollywood music, while the boys throw the cricket ball and teach me how to whistle. You can clearly tell they don’t want to leave. But by 6pm, they’ve packed up and wave goodbye (three times each) to everyone.

IMG_3135

It’s the evening and we are sitting on the step outside enjoying the breeze. With the main gate open, villagers walk by and look into the grounds, interested to see what’s going on inside. This building is a sign of energy and community. Locals want to see if classes are happening, if the water van is around, or if Federica is free for a chai. While the community centre is vastly different from the normal village life, it has quickly become part of the community, as has everyone inside. I felt lucky to witness the welcoming energy and sense of togetherness.

IMG_2898

The next day as I pulled away in my taxi, I was a little upset. I was happy to escape the heat and mosquitoes. But there was something that wasn’t so easy to leave behind in Tirmasahun. A community.

Shannon for United for Hope

Teaching in Tirmasahun: My First Weeks

My name is Boglarka Mezei, 25 years old, from Hungary. I arrived in India on the 5th of April, and I will stay until the middle of September. My job here is to teach the children at the community centre, from Monday till Friday and at the government school twice per week. We also have a new project with the ladies from the village. We teach them basic literacy, as well as general topics aimed to make their life easier. The final goal is to help them to empower themselves.

I wasn’t really prepared for India. I don’t think I ever could be. I was told to surrender all my personal space, get used to stares, and be more careful than ever. I was told that no matter how well you plan your time in India, it never goes according to plan (after two weeks I can say, that is true as hell).

So, all I did was breath in and let myself feel that new, interesting vibe of India. I’m a well traveled person, who`s seen a lot, and has been to many places. I thought nothing could surprise me! However, I’m not sure if anything could have prepared me for the emotional blow I’ve gone through on my first few days in India.

I arrived at the community centre with three others, who are working on a project to create cleaner, healthier and safer cooking stoves for the people in the village. After we arrived, Tara showed us around, and we were introduced to the staff, who I have to say, are the loveliest. Next that I met the children, and started my classes. Well the children, they are the sweetest. I’m looking forward to spending half a year with them. I’m getting closer to them every day. We are learning, and having fun at the same time. I’m not doing regular teaching, it`s more about playing games which help them to develop their personalities, to express their opinions, to trust each other, and of course to have fun while learning.

pic 2

But let´s talk about the hospitality in India, and the fact that you cannot plan your time here. Because I think these two fit together.

On one of the first days, we visited the families of the children from my class. Its just impossible to go, say what you want, and leave. They will offer you a chair, a cold drink or water, and some super delicious Indian sweets. And lets be honest, it is really hard to say no. Especially when those offering have literally nothing and they are still offering something. This is just the way they are.

And its always like this. If I am going shopping, I get to the shop, take a seat, chat a bit, get some cold drinks, eat something, and after that I can buy what I want. If I just walk around in the hamlet, or at the market, they keep coming. The locals want to take photos and always asking for selfies. If I stop by for two minutes, I have to be prepared for at least 10 curious pairs of eyes.

pic 3

Well, the second part of my story happens because I’m a westerner, but the hospitality is for everybody.

And this is why you cannot plan your time in India. I am never able to predict when I will be done, or I will be there at, etc. These are things that I have to get used to, just like the weather, the 24/7 sweating, the food, and the clothes that I have to wear because, as a woman, I have to cover myself.

I believe that the only thing I have to do is to step out of my comfort zone. Because after that my adventure in India will finally start, and that is the only way to enjoy my stay here, and to be a part of the community.

All the best from Tirmasahun,

Boglarka

Federica Surrenders to India’s Craziness

April2016BlogPostPic

India: lesson N. 1

It’s 3.30 am when I landed in Delhi, and India has overwhelmed me with a foolishness that there’s no way to tame.

It’s hell hot, the traffic is insane, the constant honking is giving me a headache, Dehi’s air is brownish and too many people, on the sides of the street, live in a way that can only be described as heartbreaking.

The only thing I can do is to swallow the sense of confusion I feel and try to adjust to a society that doesn’t belong to me in many ways, but somehow I can see its potential.

India is teaching me the hard way that if I want to find out its charm, I have to surrender to its craziness.

So I did it… and once I surrendered to India and allowed myself to go with the flow, I discovered a life which is poorer than the one I am used to, but much richer in love, generosity and humbleness.

And yes, my clothes, my hair and my entire self are soaked with sweat, I look horrible and I know I am going to stink by the end of the day.

And yes, rats and spiders feel free to run around my feet… it’s gross, but the only way I can fight them is to jump away.

But I have finally arrived to the Community Centre, I met the Indian dream team and the noise of our laugh while the three of us ride the same motorbike during the water round overcomes the one of the car horns around us.

Day by day I get to know all the pairs of curious eyes that appear here and there greeting me in the streets of Tirmasahun with cute big smiles.

I sit in people’s house, drink chai tea and have random conversations with the most uneducated people who with their mix of gesture, smiles and strange dialect, talk to me about life and philosophy. They don’t call it philosophy, because they don’t know what it is, and maybe just because of that they go straight to the point and astonish me with their simple humanity.

Federica for United for Hope

A Copywriter’s Journey to United for Hope

Lou Jan 2015 (1).jpg

Louise Rooney has known Tara since they attended school together and been a copywriter with United for Hope since its inception. She helps put together much of United for Hope’s communication materials.

My name is Louise Rooney, I am a copywriter from Northern Ireland. I’ve known Tara, founder of United for Hope, for quite a few years as we went to school together. I have been working in advertising for more than 20 years now, both for agencies and now as a freelance. The internet – and a wide network of colleagues established over time – enable me to work on all kinds of pro
jects across the UK with all kinds of businesses and brands, big and small.I have had the privilege to work with United for Hope since its inception, helping to put together all kinds of communications materials. It is an incredible and fascinating project that has given me a global view of how the world works and what needs to be done.

Tara and the team are an inspiration and their bravery in transforming the lives of Indian people – especially women and children with the strong focus on sanitation and education – is nothing short of incredible. These are the things we in the West take entirely for granted as a right not a privilege.

Tara roped me in as she knew what I did and I was always more than happy to help. I run a busy business but have always tried to make time for United for Hope. At the end of last year, Tara asked me to help out with creation of a new website for a project aimed at bringing farmers together in a co-operative model. I got to name it and now Grow Good Farms is really taking shape. It is such an exciting venture in an area (agriculture) that really lacks coordination and support and where people work really hard in blistering conditions for little reward. Grow Good Farms is set to change that by bringing support and innovation in practical ways. There is so much potential.

“It is important to see the linkages between different issues and to address them in a holistic way”

Julia_UfH.png

Our last Team Member Profile of the year is dedicated to one of United for Hope’s founding members,  Julia Hollaender.

My name is Julia and I currently live in Munich, Germany. I studied South Asian Studies and Human Rights with a focus on women’s rights and gender equality. For the past years I have been working in development projects in Germany and Asia and at the University of Munich. I love experiencing different cultures, nature, literature and yoga. I am one of the founding members of United for Hope so I have been there from the beginning. I have been working mainly on program planning, legal set-up, fund-raising and grant writing.

  1. What brought you to United for Hope?

I met the founder Tara while we were both volunteering for another organization. We shared our experiences from India, exchanged ideas about sustainable development and thought about future visions. Tara told me about her travels to the project village and how she would like to create a more lasting impact. Soon thereafter we started outlining the vision and registered the NGO as a legal entity in Germany.

  1. What is one thing about United for Hope that you feel the readers should know?

What I especially like about United for Hope is how we are working with the people on many different levels. It all started with sanitation, hygiene, education and solar power. Now we have an encompassing education program in our Community Center for children and adults and an empowering project for women. Additionally, the clean water and the solar power projects are providing a source of income for the local people as a social enterprise. I truly believe that it is important to see the linkages between different issues and to address them in a holistic way. We have great partnerships in India as well as in the US and Europe and I am confident that we will achieve great outcomes with the projects ahead of us. I am proud that we have come so far in such a short time and currently we have a wonderful new project called Seeds of Hope which won the 8 Billion Fellowship by the Impact Hub Munich and Munich RE. The project is designed to empower women farmers through confidence training and education in nutrition, literacy and business basics. I look forward to the next years which I hope will be filled with empowerment, success stories (which often include failures as well), surprises and happiness.

A life changing experience

IMG_7237.jpg

Hello my name is Payal. I am Indian and I hold a masters degree in commerce. I’ve newly joined the United for Hope team. My dream is to become a social worker and uplift the lives of the rural poor in India.

The joy of giving – It has been one month since I arrived in Tirmasahun and so far it has been a great experience. I particularly enjoy working for the water project. I am responsible for the awareness campaigns around the importance of drinking mineral water. Being the only female, bilingual speaker in the team along with my knowedge of Pujpuri (the local dialect), my main task is translating, mediating the conversions we have with the villagers and reaching out to the local women.

I can’t hide that being a translator is not an easy job. It is much more complex that one could ever think. Much more than simply translating words or sentences. It requires a lot of patience and the ability –which I am now developing – to find the right way to translate difficult concepts  in the simplest way possible.

At the beginning I found it difficult to translate comments and phrases (which I normally would not use). It made me feel uncomfortable but then I realized the villagers are like my brothers and sisters and I have to be cool and calm to them and act according to their expressed needs but on the other hand I often also get lots of love and regards from  the people residing in the village.


The joy of teaching – Being surrounded by kids, their charming faces and their excitement to learn, fills my heart with joy.

Teaching them and seeing their enthusiasm to learn takes me back to my school days and makes me wonder why I was not as enthusiastic as them. Maybe the main difference is that I was taking everything for granted and they truly value every single moment spent in the classroom.

Working with and for these kids made me realize that educating young minds is essential for achieving long lasting and sustainable change. And this is the path I want to follow in the future.

IMG_6748.jpg

Health camp – On 23rd of Oct we organised a health camp in our community centre, we provided free check-ups for the needy people. There I saw many sick people who were not in a position to consult proper doctors due to financial constrains. I personally felt very happy serving this patients.

IMG_7071.JPG

The time I am spending in the village regardless of the everyday challenges is an enormous source of peace and gratification for me. I have the opportunity to do something meaningful for my brothers & sisters living at the margins of society. To provide them with choices and alternatives for a better present and future.

If I had to sum up my experience so far in one phrase then I would say, ‘Life Changing’

Payal for United for Hope

 

As sand in an hourglass

IMG_7018 (1).jpg

I’ve started to visualize the time I’ve already spent and  I am going to spend here in Tirmasahun as sand in an hourglass.

While not the most original, it is by far the most fitting analogy for several reasons.

The moment I realized that I was going to be here for two months came crashing down on me as soon as I arrived here in the village. Just like the moment someone turns over the hourglass at the beginning of a round in the party game “Cranium”.

So the sand, the events, moments, and time have been trickling down. The glass was slowly emptying. But I was still comfortable with the time I’m spending here, just like the player who takes his time drawing the object the other must guess, enjoying every moment and savoring every detail.

My previous blog entry described the time I spent here with both Tara and Evelyn, but they travelled to another project several weeks ago, leaving me as the only westerner in this small part of India. Luckily they left me with a very capable young man, Krishna, our water-project manager. Although his English is somewhat limited, he’s always able to keep me in the loop during a conversation or helps me get around all the hamlets. I even get to ride his motorbike (for the cost of paying for the petrol). Without Krishna my stay would be a great deal harder.

IMG_4444.JPG

But being the only white boy in town means people will stare and take pictures, and stare and take selfies, and stare and group around me when I’m speaking to a shop keeper, school headmaster or someone else who is interested in knowing where I’m from or why I’m in such a rural region of India.

IMG_7103 (1).jpg

I do not have Evelyn’s ability to blend in with the crowd, no matter how much I try or wear local scarves or a very nice, tailored Kurta (long, Indian top).

But even those moments where all attention is focused on me have their positive sides. Several village headmen invited me to ringside seats in a wrestling tournament, for example, and I usually get a somewhat special treatment during visits or other social events. All of which I am still not accustomed to at all, and although I enjoy it very much, I am looking forward becoming another face in the crowd again.

But the sand, the events and time, are passing. By the beginning of November I realized I had been here for a whole month, and I started to look toward the day I leave, like the moment where the player in my analogy slowly gets nervous when his teammate still hasn’t figured out the drawing.

So I have started to pick up my efforts even more, for the water project, the classes or my interaction with the people here. Just to make sure I’m not missing anything. I’m even taking part in the daily cricket matches close to the center.

IMG_7324 (2).jpg

But more time has passed and I’ve tried to disprove my mother’s “You’ll be back before you know it”. I definitely was in India before I knew it; suddenly I was a stranger in a strange land. And I don’t want that feeling to overwhelm me again.

And yet I’ve already bought my tickets to Delhi over Agra. And my time here is now limited to a mere two weeks. And so the sand drops onto a steadily growing pile and our player has reached a point where he almost wants to scream the answer because time is so short and yet the answer so far.

About the moments I’ve experienced here, as there are always good and bad, let me say this:

The good ones will always stay in my heart.

And let me say this about the bad, I now know where the local “wine” shop is.

Alex for United for Hope