It is now almost two weeks that I returned from India. I had planned to keep a regular blog while I was there, but the workload was so high and the days so long and busy that I simply didn’t find the time. I did my best to cover the most important points on our Facebook page and I hope that you will forgive that I now try to cover the entire crazy, moving, magical, inspiring, frustrating project trip in one blog entry.
In the first week, I travelled to Chandigarh then to Hissar (both in Haryana) and onwards to Lucknow (Utter Pradesh). In Hissar, I met with a retired professor, Rishi, for sustainable agriculture and visited the college where he currently is a board member. We signed an MoU for a working partnership and some press members attended. It generated some articles in the newspapers the next day. I visited a couple of local government secondary schools and described our project to them and talked to them about the importance of contributing in their own communities.
I was joined in Lucknow by Sonia where we spent 2 days with the husband and wife team of our partner Create.
It was good to discuss their part of the project (awareness work) as well as some general issues around rural development. During the two days we were attended by Shubra who took us to see their urban projects as well as a conference organised by Wateraid (unfortunately much of it in Hindi). The days were valuable and gave us insight into the workings of a Partner NGO (working for many donor organisations) and the scope of NGO work in India. Then we left for the village, absolutely loaded with luggage, to spend 12 days.
Week 2 & 3
The weather was unusually cold for the time of year in the first week. Circa 16-18c during the day and single digits at night. Houses have no heating and a lot of draughts so we suffered a lot with a constant feeling of cold. The weather warmed up in the second week.
Awareness work (via our partner Create)
The awareness work had already started with a canopy and games. The same two people (one man, one woman) were also doing the village profiling work. This consists of interviewing 100 households to get a fuller profile of the village across health, education, living conditions, caste, etc. This report is due in about 1 month.
I accompanied them most days to the 5 hamlets of the village as well as door to door work and a session at the local government primary school. Interest was high. This awareness work is accompanied by the hanging of posters and 15 wall paintings. I learned a lot about the low level of information that the villagers have (not knowing the water is polluted for example). Awareness will have to be an ongoing activity. Behaviour change is key to sustainability.
Toilets (via our partner Sulabh)
We had booked 25 toilets via Sulabh .We chose Sulabh because they are a big, well-established NGO and we hoped for efficient and experienced work. We however had the misfortune of having a rather non-committal project manager. This situation was further weakened by a death in his family around the time that everything was supposed to be in full flow. It’s a longer story but basically the Project Manager didn’t deliver on any of the arranged work or deadlines. After daily escalation from Vikas and I, it finally reached the Sulabh management who reacted immediately and sent a team of 22 workers to do the job in record time. They completed all the ground work for 14 toilets in my remaining 2 days.
As I write all toilets are completed and the feedback of the villagers is very good. Our new PM is very good and because of him plus our connection to the management we would definitely consider using Sulabh again despite the early stress.
As part of the 3 month follow up, our Create team will ensure the correct use of the toilets and inspect for proper cleanliness etc.
As the building work began we saw a huge surge in interest in those who hadn’t initially signed up. Now we have a long waiting list for the next phases. Around 70 families. My wish is to become a zero open defecation village in the near future.
Water Testing ( via our partner Sulabh)
A scientist arrived from Delhi during our visit and took 10 water samples. We hope for a report in the next week or two.
Street Solar lighting (Sulabh and then self-initiated)
We had originally contracted Sulabh to do this work but when they didn’t deliver, we cancelled it and sourced it locally ourselves…also saving some money in the process. Within 1.5 days the local agreement was reached and the lights erected. The houses closest to the lamps will ensure that they are not abused and the local village leadership (Panchayat) will replace the bulbs when needed (every 18 months circa). The villagers are very happy with the street lights.
There are two local schools. One is a privately owned (it is run by a Muslim family but with a range of subjects taught and open to all children..there are also no fees for attending) and the second is a government school.
Government school: Here we repaired the long broken toilet. We also bought and distributed supplies and learning resources
Private school: Here we paid for the cementing, plastering and whitewashing of 4 classrooms. They already have a toilet in good condition. The school problems are many and complex. As part of phase two, we will explore how we can support them long term. We are looking at the possibility of creating a teacher training course.
Donated clothes were distributed to poor children. Some blankets were bought for the poorest families
There are many details and stories behind all of these activities but it would take all day to write. We are happy with the results of our first project. The village is cooperative and excited. Daria, our young filmmaker, captured some great images and interviews and we are excited to share them soon.
We had our first meetings with the village leadership and we are perusing a cooperation with them and in the follow up period will try to extract some exact commitments for the village development.
We attracted the attention of the press on our second last day. What started out as a trickle of newspaper journalists turned into a swarm of notebooking men who followed us all over the village. Later the TV arrived, interviewing the village ladies who froze when put in front of a camera. On that particular day everything was in motion, constructing toilets, painting murals, installing lights, awareness work and a meeting with the village leadership as well as the daily photography and filming from Daria. It was probably one of the craziest most packed and surreal days of my life but it was simply fabulous.
We got extensive coverage on local and regional newspapers and they made a 30 minute program around our work which ran across four national television networks. This press coverage is a great resource for our fundraising efforts in India.
I was very sad to leave, not only to say goodbye to my wonderful hosts, Pinkie, Om Prakesh and Deepu but to leave the village and the villagers who had now become so familiar to me. I feel strongly that we made an excellent start and feel even more determined than before to become the voice of this voiceless village. They feel like my family and I want to help them and protect them.
Back in Germany
Now that we are back, the list of tasks has grown very long. The team are working hard to make our way through a mountain of various tasks all of which are essential to the start-up nature of our organization. The highest priority is fundraising. The funds from our first project have now been spent and we need to plan for the future. We hope that you can support our efforts and we have set up a donation site for this purpose. Please consider donating, whatever the amount. You can find the link here.
United in Hope, Tara