“I was immediately very excited about helping to educate women & children”

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As the calendar turns to August, our Team Member Profile series continues with a look at one of our local Indian volunteers, Manish Jhamb.

My name is Manish Jhamb and I live in New Delhi, India. I am a software engineer by profession. I have over 10 years of experience in software design and development. I am avid reader and consider myself both an ambitious and ethical person. I do my best to live my life by the motto: “Sharing is caring”.

I have been working with United for Hope since its inception when I was introduced to it by my childhood friend, Vikas Malik. I was immediately very excited about helping to educate women and children. I also like the model of adopting a village which is United for Hope’s strategy. I designed the website for United for Hope and currently handle all the tasks related to web site maintenance and updates. I also help with a variety of online campaigns and promotions.

I  am very excited by the work that United for Hope has done and is continuing to do. I am proud of how United for Hope is helping a small village in India to grow and live a better life, how United for Hope is working towards providing basic education to the village children, and how United for Hope is developing partnerships with different organizations to provide the village with things like clean drinking water and toilets.

 

“I was impressed by United for Hope’s Vision”

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This month our Team Member Profile series continues with a glimpse into the life and motivations of one of our copy writers, Kate Rodriguez.

I’m a copywriter, but I’ve had a long and varied career. Early on, I worked for the U.S. government in Washington, DC in foreign affairs and international trade. That’s where I met my husband, a German physicist. Then we decided to move to Chile where I worked as a writer and event coordinator for a volunteer organization while also taking care of our two young sons. We landed in Munich in 2007, and I first learned German before working in customer service and marketing for a start-up company here. I launched my freelance copywriting business last March.

Back in October 2014, Tara was invited to speak to a women’s professional group that I am a member of. She really impressed me with her vision and ideas for creating change at the village level in India. I liked United for Hope’s practical approach. Tara mentioned she was looking for volunteers, so I emailed her a few days later asking if she needed a writer. And she did! I started in November 2014 and do writing projects. I’ve helped with updating the text on the United for Hope website, drafting landing pages for the Christmas campaigns, and writing or editing brochures, reports and presentations.

I’m particularly enthusiastic about the Seeds of Hope project, which I really hope goes forward. It’s a program through which village women will undergo vocational training in sustainable gardening, health & nutrition, and literacy & basic business skills. By growing produce and selling it, they earn an income and improve their family’s and their own health. Plus, they gain some confidence and independence. I think these small, grassroots efforts can be game-changers over time.

Our Pilot Education Program

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In February, United for Hope launched our first Education Program in our Community  Education Centre in the village of Tirmasahun. The pilot project includes 10 local children, five boys and five girls, between the ages of 10 and 12 who meet for after school classes 5 days a week. The topics for the classes range from general school subjects to awareness topics, such as citizenship, hygiene, cleanliness, respectful behaviour, and responsibility.

Patrick was on site at the village and directly involved in the project. He shared his experience with Teresa, a Munich-based volunteer.

Arriving at the village of Tirmasahun 

In March I came to the village Tirmasahun to support United for Hope in their water-, solar- and education projects. A big part of that was to set up a pilot class of ten students and assist the local teacher and help them get to know more interactive and modern ways of teaching.. I also helped recruit an additional female teacher, a smart young graduate who is the local school principals daughter, and from that day on we were giving classes together. The idea was to give her knowledge and confidence that she can keep on teaching the children after I left. This worked out pretty well and I had a great month at the village.

First impressions 

The first day I attended the classes the children were looking at me like I was an alien from Mars.. There was also a big language barrier, as I could just ask for their names in Hindi and little else. For the first weekend I had the idea to do some sports classes, as they don’t have anything like that in their school. I introduced two games that I played in sports classes in elementary school. This changed a lot. It took a lot of time to explain the games, as I could only use the few words I knew and the rest had to be gestures. As soon as they understood the game, it was very hard to stop them because they were having so much fun. Another big thing was when I told them how to write my name in English and Hindi. After that I was only hearing “Patrick Sir, Patrick Sir…!!!” a thousand times each day. 

After the students warmed up to me, the classes were the highlight of each day in the village. The children showed up half an hour before the classes were supposed to start, they were motivated and participated very well. It was also amazing how fast they could learn. The problem is that local teachers don’t speak English well, so they can only teach them vocabulary without any context. When I played games or gave them little tasks they remembered everything much easier and even started practicing on their own. For example, they were walking around and saying “This is a tree, a house, an apple…”etc. 

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Extended learning 

As the English classes were going well, I started to do maths and awareness topics. In contrast to schools in Germany, they were even asking me to write more tests just to get a smiley on their paper after I had corrected it. For awareness topics it was very important to teach in small pieces and very slowly; but for an average age of eleven that’s natural. So from the second week we had a mix of English, maths and awareness classes during the week and sports or gardening work on the weekends. Two of the students were very supportive with some gardening work we had to do. So I decided to give them a little bit of Pepsi I had. I don’t know if they had it for the first time, but the reaction was overwhelming! Anyway, they didn’t want a second glass because this would be too much of that ‘crazy sparkling drink’. After some time my Hindi skills improved a lot, as I got tired of not understanding what people were saying. Due to this, teaching became much easier and even more fun for the children.

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Wishes for the future

In the end I didn’t expect that it would be so hard for me to say goodbye. I had given English classes in other countries before for a longer duration. But in this one month I spent much more time with the children than we actually had planned. So I had a really strong feeling of responsibility for those children and I really hope that they get the chance for a good education and a good future. Hopefully, other volunteers can also contribute to that. 

Teresa for United for Hope

An Indian-American Architect’s Journey to United for Hope

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Team Member Profile: Nutan Jäger

My name is Nutan Jäger and I currently live in Karlsfeld, Germany. I am an architect, an artist and a mom of 3 kids. I was born and raised in the U.S. by Indian immigrants (they are from the area south of Goa) and still have a ton of relatives there. We moved to Germany about 7 years ago (my husband is German) and we love it here.

After moving here, and finding it difficult to go back to work full-time with 3 little kids, with no family close by, in a foreign country in which I did not speak the language, and learning to drive stick-shift, I took some time to think about what kinds of projects I wanted to work on. It turned out I wanted less and less to go back full-time and sit behind a computer all day drawing yet another bathroom remodel for a family of 3 that already had two full bathrooms (with running water, nonetheless!) and more and more to use my skills to help people who had no access to design and current innovations in affordable technologies. So that’s where I’ve been putting my energy the last few years, researching and working on low-tech, eco-friendly buildings that help boost the local economy. A kind of cross over between architecture and development.

1. How long have you worked with United for Hope and what kind of work do you do?

I started working for United for Hope early in 2015, doing a number of things. It started with creating drawings for the community center, and then for the water building, and then it was graphics for a crowdfunding campaign, and then another fundraising campaign, then came the proposal for a women’s empowerment program, and now I’ve been elected Schatzmeister (Treasurer)!

2. What brought you to United for Hope?

Total fate! I was talking to some friends about a development project I wanted to start, and they mentioned having heard a woman give a talk about her NGO at the MWIC, a local international women’s organization, but they couldn’t remember her name. So I googled it, and found Tara and a site that showed that United for Hope was looking for volunteers to do some graphic design work for them. So I started thinking that the best way to gain more experience working development would be to work for a local NGO, and what better one than one based close to home where the founder was a native English speaker! So I responded to the ad, and Tara wrote me back almost immediately. Turns out she googled me and found out I’m an architect and was wondering if I could help out with some technical drawings. I remember, looking at the groups Facebook feed afterwards and literally seeing a post a day or two before, from Tara asking the group if anyone knew an architect who could help out on the designs for the Community Center Building! Perfect timing.

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

I’ve volunteered with other NGO’s before, but somehow United for Hope is different. It gets things done. Some of the larger, older organizations are so much slower in making change, or maybe they’ve been doing things the same way for so long, there’s no room for change any more. That’s what I like about United for Hope – you can see the change immediately. I am so proud of all the things the organization has accomplished since it’s been established – the toilets, the clean water, the hand washing program. Seeing pictures of the first bricks being laid on the community center and the clean water building was especially exciting. Nothing has been easy, and there have been many ups and downs on these projects, but seeing the first rooms getting built and knowing we will soon have a place to hold afterschool classes for the children, and empowerment training for the women of the village, and knowing I had something to do with making that happen, well, that’s just a great feeling.

Setting Sail for India

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Evelyn  interviewing Nancy, a female inmate of the Cebu Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), a maximum security prison facility in the Philippines.

I have just hopped on board the United for Hope vessel and I am definitely ready to sail to India in my next 3-month internship- though only with my mind and work, as my body will stay in beautiful Munich. Just like United for Hope’s most recent intern, Federica, I am also Italian – there must be something between United for Hope and Italy! I recently graduated from Vienna University with a M.A. degree in Human Rights. I am particularly interested in gender and development issues. These interests developed during my academic and work experiences; the most influential experience was the time I spent in the Philippines working as an intern at the Department of Labour and Employment. Besides the main focus on labour related issues, I was confronted with all the challenges that characterise a developing country. I saw how women are fighting for their sexual and reproductive health rights in a predominately Catholic country, how fishermen struggle to feed their families, how far children have to walk to get to school every morning, what does it mean for a mother to be in prison, and many more struggles.

My first two weeks at United for Hope have been an eye opener on cultural issues which challenged, in particular, my understanding of gender equality vis-à-vis my counterparts in India’s rural villages. Through enriching discussions with Tara and by going through the projects that United for Hope is carrying out, I learned about the gender dimension to the water and sanitation crisis. This aspect often remains in the shadows due to its complexity and related taboo topics. But it is important to note, women struggle the most from the lack of drinking water and adequate sanitation.

In 2010, the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council recognised the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. Together with this the global community committed to reach a series of targets including reducing by half the number of people without access to sanitation. Despite these goals, women’s battle for safe drinking water and sanitation is far from over.

For women, it’s personal

In rural India, people do not have access to safe and private toilets and, while this is an issue for everyone, it disproportionately affects women. Due to cultural practices it is not acceptable for a woman to relieve herself during the day. Therefore, they wait hours for nightfall just to have privacy. This, of course, impacts their health and puts their safety at risk. Women are vulnerable to urinary tract infections, injuries, and sexual assaults.

Women and girls do not need bathrooms only for urination and defecation. They also have a much greater need for privacy and dignity when menstruating. This aspect is rarely discussed and considered since menstruation is still a taboo subject and has negative connotations attached to traditional Indian beliefs. As a direct result, women’s dignity, self-esteem and ability to engage in a wide variety of activities – school, work, and even movement in general –is considerably restricted when they lack access to an appropriate sanitation facility.

Backbreaking and all-consuming

Moreover, women together with girls are mainly responsible for fetching the water for their families. They are the ones responsible for all of the water needed for drinking, washing, cooking, and cleaning. They usually walk long distances, carry heavy burdens, wait for hours and pay exorbitant prices. In Tirmasuhan, the village in which United for Hope is active at the moment, water is available but women have no say with regards to its management. Moreover, even though there is plenty of water it is contaminated and poses many risks to the health of the villagers. United for hope is addressing the issue by providing focused trainings for women empowerment and has launched a “clean drinking water project” which aims at delivering safe drinking water to the villagers.

It’s a Question of Dignity

One can easily derive that water and sanitation for Indian women mean more than we could ever imagine, in means dignity. However, a lack of political power together with the veil of silence that covers this topic gives women and girls little voice to obtain services that would reduce their vulnerability and considerably improve their living conditions. If the assurance of a human right to sanitation is to have any impact, then human dignity – on which the idea of human rights is based – must apply indiscriminately to men and women and cover all aspects of daily life, especially the ones that are considered taboo. It is with this concern, United for Hope, through its holistic approach aims at challenging this critical situation through many of its projects.

The wind is at my back and the sun upon my face. I am eagerly looking forward to contributing to United for Hope’s day-to-day work, and at the same time gain valuable experience that will surely help me in my future professional aspirations.

PS: What about you? Do you have any thought you want to share related to gender & sanitation issues? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

– Evelyn for United for Hope

Happily ever After: The end of an internship with United for Hope

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I have no idea how it happened, given that it seems to me I came to Munich three days ago, but my “international fairytale” with United for Hope is coming to an end. I postponed writing this article so many times because it sounds like a statement that my internship is almost done and I was trying to avoid admitting it. This already gives you an idea about my evaluation of these three months:). Anyway, I suppose this is the “all things considered” moment so, what I learned with United for Hope is that:

  • The United for Hope princesses do not move to wonderland, in compensation they fly to India to manage activities that a regular princess cannot even think about;
  • If you are a United for Hope superhero, you don’t have to face dragons or wicked witches, but grants applications, website structures and budget templates sometimes can be even more black-hearted;
  • The same team of superheroes can be stuck in a meeting until 11 at night, but never without fresh beer or chocolate cookies;
  • Your knight in shining armour may probably not arrive riding his white horse, to make up for it he will come driving a big yellow three-wheeler, ready to install water facilities in some fabulous Indian hamlets in the middle of nowhere;
  • One fine day, you’ll wake up thinking about ways to get people water pumps and drainage systems as if it is the most natural thing in the world;
  • No matter how foolish it looks: never ever doubt that you can change the world.

So between applications, press releases, articles, organization of events, Indian dinners and German beers, my last three months ran by and besides all the things I learned I feel I also earned new skills, new awareness about many social problems, a lot of German friends and an obsession for a trip to India. No doubt, I can go back to Italy happy, ever after. Thank you and good bye United-for-Hope-superheroes, I will miss you. Federica for United for Hope

International fairytale – aka my first month as an intern with United for Hope

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It’s mid-April 2015 when I set foot in Munich for the first time. I’m almost at the end of my Master Studies in International Relations at the University of Bologna in Italy and I’m doing my internship here, with United for Hope, under the Erasmus + program of my university.

I cannot even remember when I found out about United for Hope … It was probably last winter. I wanted to go to Germany so badly, partly because I’ve been studying German for a while, so I was looking for an organization or a company here that would offer me an internship.

United for Hope wasn’t actually looking for an intern, but I found a volunteer opportunity advertisement. I e-mailed Tara, proposing her to take me on as intern for three months. I had a very touching volunteering experience in Ghana a few months earlier, so I was looking forward to cooperate with an NGO in the field of development work. Tara and I arranged everything, had a couple of Skype calls and here I am.

It is the first time I work with an NGO, so I didn’t know what to expect from this experience. I read a lot about United for Hope before coming here, as I wanted to get an idea about what they do, how they work etc. But it was only during my first meeting with Tara, Sarah and Alex when I realized that what I had read was only the tip of the iceberg.

In my first weeks, I somehow felt being flooded with information: past projects, future projects, fund raising, tax receipts, events, presentations, partnerships, budgets, newsletters, and and and. All those things that when you think about them one per time you guess you can manage in 15 minutes, but when you have to deal with all of them, they keep you stuck in front of your computer for hours. For days.

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So here I am! Fighting with Excel and PowerPoint, writing emails, posting letters (as every intern worthy of her name, according to American movies!), doing a lot of mistakes but learning even more and having much more fun than I could expect from an internship.

It is a huge world I’m discovering with United for Hope. But this experience wouldn’t have been so exciting without the knowledge of what is beyond this bunch of  documents and technical details. I’ll try to be clearer.

When I read the story of United for Hope for the first time, I was impressed. Of course I was, because that story sounds like a fairytale. A young blond Irish woman who goes to India on vacation, sees people suffering and gave up her successful carreer and her „normal“ life and dedicates herself to the poorest people of India. But the magic happened when I came here, because I saw how true that fairytale is.

I met Tara, the main character of this incredible story, and all the German and international members, in person, with their smiling faces and their very active and crazy lives. I met the Indian members and I saw the Indian energy coming from their black eyes. And when I linked faces and voices to United for Hope’s projects, I began feeling tightly bounded to it.

So bounded that, for example, when we got the license to build 60 more toilets in Tirmasahun I was literally jumping off my chair in our office. I would never have thought I could get so excited for some toilet!

Right now, I’ve been living in Munich for around 40 days and what I’m really dying for is 60 families, in Tirmasahun, getting their sexy, amazing, new toilets. I’d say, for my first month, that could already be my happy ending in the fairy tale, but as my internship will continue until the end of July, there will be a couple of more chapters I gonna tell you about later.

Federica for United for Hope