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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Blending in.

Harmony. This is the term I would use to describe what I feel about India.

It has been only 3 weeks since I’ve arrived, but I’ve already been conquered by this country which has the power to take your hand and lead you through the magic of its culture and at the same time slap your face with the striking poverty affecting the majority of the population.

Harmony, when my mind gets anaesthetised by the cars around me and leaves me the space to enjoy the moment, or as Eckhardt Tolle would say, the power of now.

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Harmony, because I can easily blend in and get mistaken for an Indian. I have to say that India has reconfirmed my theory that I look halfway normal wherever I go (at least in Southern countries) – in Northern Africa I was suddenly Moroccan, in Spain people would speak to me in Spanish and in India I can easily pass for Nepali or from the Assam region. Now that I know a couple of sentences in Hindi, I always take the chance to pretend I’m Indian till I run out off words and people notice.

Harmony, because I can find many similarities with the Philippines, my mother’s home country, to which I feel very close. I remember having a big shock visiting the Philippines, but this prepared me for India and gave me the chance to enjoy the Indian adventure right from the first moment.

After a couple of days spent in the Delhi, a 14h train trip brought me far away from the city chaos to Tirmasahun, United for Hope’s adopted village. I deeply enjoy the life in the village. Days are controlled by the sun, they start at 6am at sunrise and end around 6pm with sunset. Electricity is quite unreliable and with no light the only thing we can do is go to bed early. Something impossible in Europe, where TV, light and other electronic devices keep us busy till late night.

On the contrary to what the majority of you would expect from a remote rural village in Uttar Pradesh, days are quite packed and I’m always amazed by the many thing you can get done without all the facilities we are used in Europe. The part of the day which I enjoy the most is the evening when I lay on my bed. I feel as if the air could move through me like a colourful sari fluttering on the clothes line. A mixture of peace, accomplishment and freedom.

I think that all of us, here at the community centre share the same feeling, and that’s the reason why we started the evening tradition to share, over dinner, what made us happy during the day.

I will now share the top two activities that for some reason or  other reward me every day and make my heart sing.

Being a Teacher

Together with Alex and Payal, I’m responsible for our education programme. We teach 5 days a week both at the local government school and at the community centre.

At the school there are many children of different ages, also toddlers among them who just go to school to get a warm meal. At the beginning I found it quite challenging to find a way to involve all the children in the same way. Day by day, we found a good system which is a combination of classroom teaching, music, songs and games. Children love singing songs, I have to admit I also enjoy as I can sing freely too even if I’m not really in tune!

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The best part is when they try to teach me Hindi during the classes. It’s a mutual learning experience. After two weeks I’ve learned how to count till ten, how to say sit down, water, milk…

In the afternoon we have our community centre classes. We teach 10 children, 5 girls and five boys.

I find it fascinating to discover  their personalities and characters. Each and every one has something special. Mintu is the talkative one and the leader, Bandana is the gentle one, Sarbaj is the rebellious adolescent, Anshu the entertainer, Guddi is the extrovert one, Pinkie the introvert, Deepak the one who always asks questions, Salander the charming one, Pooja the vocal one and finally Chinky who always has a radiant smile.

We provide an innovative educational programme. Our goal is to endeavour to come away from the traditional rote learning and encourage children to express their opinions, ask questions and present ideas and concepts. Children are making progress very fast.

Being the Water Lady 

The past week I started joining our water delivery team in the mornings. Our goal is to extend our customer base and raise awareness about drinking clean water.

Normally Payal and I walk after the water van and distribute flyers. Some of the villagers started calling us the water ladies. It’s quite unusual for people to see two young women (of marriage age) walking freely around the village. I have to say that we are quite successful. The water walk gives me the chance to get in direct contact with many different people from different castes, being invited for a chat. I especially enjoy the chats with the women. They all wonder why I’m wearing Indian clothes, and they tell me how girls are getting modern in Goa and wear bras, short pants and so on. Especially the old women ask me if they can join me to Europe. Men are mostly interested to know on how Italy looks like and my family and so on.

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Awareness work together with the close contact to people also brings a number of challenges. You always have to be open to all kind of questions. For example, last week, one of our new customers was comparing the mineral water we are selling to RO water by the weight. He was arguing that our water weighs less than the other water. The discussion lasted for a while and was a mixture of Hindi, English and Bhojpuri (the local dialect). We made him understand that weight is not the ideal parameter to assess the quality of water. Two days after he purchased other 20l of our water!

Mission accomplished!

Some people say, that you will recognise your own path when you come upon it. Because you will suddenly have all the energy and imagination you will ever need. That’s what’s happening to me right now…

Evelyn for United for Hope