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

Getting started – My first weeks in India

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The first days in India were simply overwhelming. The sounds, the smells and the people all combine to completely overpower your senses, at least they did with me. This happened to me in Delhi, where I was driven through the most insane traffic I have ever seen while driving past people yelling, the most colourful of buildings and a hand-full of cows standing in the middle of the road.

In contrast to all that, the village is a peaceful corner with happy people and playing children. In all honesty I didn’t know what to expect when I got here.

I arrived at the community centre, after a never ending train ride, feeling completely exhausted due to the lack of sleep and the humid and hot air.I got sorted, comfortable and started getting ready for the first classes with the kids.

I believe I can help teach the kids some english and some sense of music with my guitar and the songs we sing with them, each of which is thematically similar to the topic we are handling in class. So far the kids are responding astonishingly well to all the songs (and my singing, to my surprise), remembering the words of the songs and using them in the conversations we have with them.During the most classes I try to support Evelyn, who is doing just a fantastic job, in helping the kids with their pronunciation, checking their work books to see if they’re doing it right and if they’ve finished yet and answering any questions they have.

We have also come up with a weekly teaching plan together in which we set our goals for the children and ourselves, hoping to get the children speaking semi fluent english as soon as possible. All of this can be quite demanding but on the other side, can be so much more rewarding when I can hear them using the new words we just learned in a conversation with them. In any case the children have just so much energy and are so willing to learn that it’s barely believable but also makes our jobs a little bit easier.

We have also started to teach in the government school, just around the corner, in addition to the normal classes in our community centre. The classes are different because we have some more children in these classes of which a good part isn’t in the education programme. These classes can be a bit tougher, but in combination with some games and songs can also be very fruitful.

I have also started going on the morning water runs with our little van, during which I see so much of the village, its surroundings and of the people who make every run into a great experience. It also feels good to give the people access to clean mineral water, opposed to the close-to-poisonous hand pump water which they would be drinking otherwise.

fd96bbaf-1da5-4b31-b2e2-5f277dcef8b4All in all my first two weeks have been demanding, rewarding, colourful and full of wonderful people.

At this part i want to thank Tara, Evelyn, Sonia, Pyle and Bijender, Krishna and Vischal who are all part of the team here in Tirmasahun, for making these two months here in India so pleasurable for me.

Alex for United for Hope

“I am mainly expecting to come back older and wiser”

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Alexander is a 19 year old German-US student from Munich heading to India for the first time for 2 months to volunteer for United for Hope.

How did you get involved into United for Hope ?

I met Tara thanks to my mother, who already knew her. Indeed, she was already helping Tara with the website and was also working as a treasurer for the organisation.

At that time, I was still going to school and I was wondering what to do in the future. The only thing I knew is that I wanted to travel and broaden my life experiences. When my mother introduced me to Tara, I realized that volunteering with United for Hope could be a great opportunity for me to visit India and see something of the country beyond being a tourist.

When will you start working with United for Hope ?

I am about to start now. I am leaving to India in the next days, and I will stay for 2 months.

What motivate you in working for United for Hope ?

I am especially interested in the education aspect. I already did some tutoring within my school. It is something I like. If the kids in India are willing to learn, then it will be the best part. Thus, this is a personal experience for me as well.

What makes you happy in general?

I am happy when I spend a good day. I am happy when I can feel fulfilled about what I am doing. I am happy when I am learning something new, when I am challenging myself, when I am playing guitar, when I meet my friends or my girlfriend.

What are your expectations about your experience in India?

Some people tell me to not expect anything, because it will be different from everything. But I am mainly expecting to come back older and wiser… and thinner !

Where do you see yourself in the future ?

I am still a student, so for now I am still planning on studying next year. I am quite influenced by my grandfa who was an engineer.

What’s your motto ?

« Take it easy »

How would you describe yourself ?

Above all, I am happy. I am a person who generally gets along well with people. But I have to say that sometimes, I can be shy, especially when I am outside of my comfort zone. I am as well kind of clumsy. And I am honest !