An average day working in Punjab

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Before I began my internship with EduCARE I was pretty confused about how my daily working life would be structured. Although daily life here is structured loosely, in writing this, I hope any prospective interns will get a good idea of an average day working for EduCARE in Punjab.

Today, the 4th November 2014, the Punjab team woke up at about eight o’clock in the morning and took a two minute walk to the local village leader’s house. We go here once or twice a week to chat with the village leader (and quite often his friends and family), drink some chai, eat some biscuits and then have an amazing breakfast before we go back home a few pounds heavier.

After breakfast we then had a few hours spare to get on with some work for our projects. This can involve doing research, going to one of the Migrant camps early to implement something (today a few interns went early to build an EcoSan toilet), going to any meetings you have arranged, working on the office, or simply completing some paperwork. Then, around two o’clock, all the interns met at one of the camps we work with in a nearby village called Paro. Here we usually sit with the community for a while to build on our relationship with the camp. This can seem daunting and difficult at times, especially when there are no interns with Hindi skills, but just being there and sitting with some of the community members is an important aspect of working with the Migrant  camps.

After a bit of community engagement we ran the After School Programme where we taught the children some English and played some educational games. Once we finished with these activities (the whole time in the camp usually lasts between two and three hours) we got the bus home and We prepared, cooked and ate dinner together (as we do every day) and then did as we pleased. Some people use the evenings to do more work, exercise, browse the internet, watch films and so on. Once or twice a week we also get together to have a little party, listen to music, drink a few had the evening to ourselves. beers and play some games.This, I would say, is an average day working in Punjab.

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Moving to a new area can be confusing..

Moving to a new area half way around the world and then spending most of your time around people who live in a way vastly different from your own, is just a little shocking.

This was the situation I found myself in just a couple of days after arriving to the Punjab branch of my EduCARE internship. Mixed in with getting to know my new room-mates and our incredibly sweet landlady, learning how to not get lost on my way from the bus stop to my house, meeting after meeting after meeting on all topics, stumbling my way through Hindi phrases, and learning how to defend my home from monkeys, I was also meeting the members of the migrant camp I would be working with during my internship. Being trash pickers, I had some basic ideas of what to expect when we visited the camp. I knew that at one of the camps, they lived directly around a trash dump, and that the migrants at both camps did not have access to clean water. Even knowing this, on my first visit I was too overwhelmed by the large number of flies to focus on anything else, and left the camp wondering what I had gotten myself into. My next visit, however, completely changed my point of view.

Our group arrived at camp with me tagging along to help with the After School Program, since I still didn’t know which project I would focus on as my own. After rounding up the kids and going through the activities of the day, one of the kids brought out a football (a soccer ball, for all of my fellow Americans). While my Hindi is still at the level of a brain damaged two year old, I clearly understood what that meant, and we quickly broke into a multi-player game of monkey in the middle. All of us were running around, laughing and trying to get the ball before anyone else could, faking each other out, showing off tricks, and completely ignoring how hot the sun was when I realized something. This was exactly how my friends and I acted on the playground when we were kids. It didn’t matter that I had grown up in the suburban sprawl of Florida and these kids lived in tents next to a trash dump, on a basic level, we were the same. Focusing on the flies the last time I was at the camp had almost literally blinded me to the fact that these people were still very much like me – just like I think focusing on differences between people can blind others. The individuals who live at the migrant camp are not some unimaginably different “other,” but parents and children and extended family friends who have come over one too many times for dinner. People are people everywhere, with similar wants and desires. In this case, while trying to dodge a football past another kid’s legs, that desire was to play football.

Kayleigh Walters, USA

Organic Farming / SWASH Project Manager, Punjab

Changes in the migrant camp

Big changes have happened in the migrant camps in Rajol during this last month. For the first time ever, EduCARE has been planning to observe the birth of one of the women in the camp, Kijani. Thankfully we just had a new addition to our team, Sameera, a health intern who has been essential in the planning of this exciting project. With the help of Brittany, a health intern in Naddi and Rachael, EduCARE’s Operations Manager, we have been able to dive further into the lives of the migrants like never before. As it is the role of these EduCARE women to observe the birth, we’ve decided that it’d be beneficial for both EduCARE and the camp to spend upwards of seven hours at the camp each day before the birth! During this time, the interns and Rachael participate in the camp’s daily routine, help clean, and teach the kids about health and continue the standing ASP program of numbers and colors. Most importantly, however, is the strengthening of our relationships with the families during our time there. With these changes in the amount of time we are spending in the camps, we will be readdressing our weekly camp trips to incorporate more time and teambuilding within the camp. By shifting the Rajol Team’s focus more towards the camps, we will be able to work more effectively with the children, as they will respect and trust us more. Recently, Brittany and Sameera have been teaching the kids about brushing their teeth, bathing in the river, and maintaining a clean camp so no one gets hurt. We look forward to readdressing our schedule within the camps and aim to facilitate the migrants empowering themselves, rather than us empowering them.

Lauren Julin, USA

After School Program Project Manager, Rajhol (Himachal Pradesh)

2 worlds so similar

I have been working with migrants for 3 months and one of my constant questions is ‘What is the real difference between them and us?’ Do we consider them different because they live in a tent? Is it because they don’t have facilities such as electricity and current water? Or is it because they are ‘poor’? In fact we are pretty similar to them and at some point I think they are even richer than us.

In their development, the migrants are facing the same barriers than us – interns. If you consider for example the will, it is clear that both sides have a lot of ambition for themselves. We all want to do or have more and we all want to learn. At some point though, we are facing a wall due to the lack of resources. For example, I am not able to speak Hindi properly and they are not able to speak English either. Thus the language become an obstacle in the same way the money issue always gives a direction to my choices. However, how these obstacles affect us is different regarding the moral side.

Most of the time, we hear ‘oh poor them, they have such a miserable life in their poverty’. However, I think we judge too fast everything that is not like ‘us’. Of course the migrants with whom EduCARE works live below the poverty line; and according to the material aspects of life we are definitely wealthier. It may sounds as a cliché but on the cultural and humanity basis, India is one of the richest countries. The migrant camps are not an exception. Here we share, we help each other, we smile, we laugh and we don’t complain about what we don’t have. They did not experience another way of life but we did not either. So why are they laughing and smiling more than us? Is it because they learned to live in a more simple way? I don’t have the answer for all these questions, but I definitely know that we should enjoy more what we have and stop judging what is not like us. 

Raphaelle Lavigne, Canada

Marginalised Communities Empowerment Project Manager, Punjab

Chicken coop for the migrants

I started to feel my project finally going somewhere when 30 fuzzy balls of down arrived to the Dholbaha house.

They were installed in a Mac Gyver style brooder thus a polystyrene box plastered with wood and bamboo for it to be more resistant with a hanging bulb and a covering piece of cloth for warmth. May not finish in a museum but does the trick.

But let’s go back to the chicks. 30 little yellow, red and black adorable chicks tweeting and pecking. Among them, Mesrine, named after the famous French gangster, is the black and white chick that looks like a burglar. Mao is one of the biggest chicks, a red one of course. Smokey is the grey chick. Jean Val Jean is the bad-ass chick, the one that isn’t afraid to peck anyone next to him. Little one is the small black chick, a speed racer when it comes to defending the caught insect.

The chicks were bought from a farmer of the village of Dholbaha who started with 30 chickens and now owns more than 5000 heads. He became our beet-guy at the same time. In our community relation with the village, we quickly have our good plans and favorites, extending the list of “guys”; parantha guy, veg-guy, sim card guy, milk guy, biscuit guy…etc

But let’s go back to the chicks. They won’t be staying at the Dholbaha house, even if giving them names may not seem like the best option for a meant to be separation. Parmeshwari, the elder of Paro’s migrant camp, is getting, well, too old (even if she keeps a very surprising hipster look) for trash picking. The chicken coop should enable her to have a steady income with the sale of the eggs and lighter labour.

Each camp has its area for waste sorting. Hillocks grow between the tents and running kids. Shoes accumulate. Cardboard piles up. Glass bottles and light bulbs heap up. Plastic bottle mount up while soft plastic gathers up in a colourful desert of plastic bags. Selling those materials to recycling companies enables them to win around 100 rupees per kg depending on the material.

But let’s go back to the chicks. Parmeshwari and her husband already had chickens in the past so we are not worried about the future. But for now, keeping those chicks alive is a challenge. Internet enumerates curious diseases of all types. That mostly gets you paranoid and anxious about going through customs when coming back home [“Have you been in contact with poultry during your stay? No….”]. And seeking for personal experience of others isn’t better as each has its own solution or special recipe: adding some sugar, turmeric or wheat flower to the feed, checking their ear holes or tail. As for my personal observation: small chicks die, big ones triumph. Jungle rule even in the brooder.

Claire De Nale, France

Microfinance Project Manager, Punjab

First impressions on the work with migrants

Hello, everyone! I would like to take this opportunity to talk about my first month and a half working on After School Program (ASP) in the Migrant Camps in Banoi. Although teaching the children in the camps has been a continuously challenging experience it is also one that is exceptionally fulfilling. Working hand-in-hand with Lèa Valenti, the project manager of Young Women’s Association and ASP in Rajhol on both projects has contributed greatly to my knowledge of project management and community development; I enjoy working in both programs as the empowerment of women may be approached in a multitude of ways. By teaching in the camps two times a week, we provide not only valuable skills to the children, but we have created affectionate and positive relationships with the kids. As most of the children have never been to school, our lessons focus on the basics such as how to hold a pen and english numbers and letters; we do not use a structured curriculum as it is difficult to maintain the attention of the children for too long. However, the most substantial challenge we face is the language barrier; thankfully, this last week Monica, a fellow intern who so happens to speak Hindi, came to the camps with us and began to bridge the gap between the English speaking interns and the Hindi speaking migrants who welcomed her with open arms. With Monica’s help we were able to determine the status of a pregnancy, the organic garden in the camp, the possibility of building clay ovens, and other exciting news. We are very excited to have Monica return to the camps weekly to help translate.

Lauren Julin, USA

Young Women’s Association Project Manager, Rajhol

Political Empowerment

One of my project concerns the migrants’ social & political empowerment in Punjab. In India, there are several government schemes that are applicable to Below Poverty Line families that can considerably help their empowerment (ex: subsidies for education, healthand food). However, one of the main problems is that those schemes often require an ID proof. Generally, migrants don’t have this kind of card. That is why the Aadhar card is interesting. The Aadhar card is an individual identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on behalf of the Government of India. The number is only a guarantee of identity and address, anywhere in India. It will help the cardholder to have access to various services and benefits. According to the government, any individual, irrespective of age and gender, who is a resident in India and satisfies the verification process, can enroll for the Aadhar card. It therefore means that the migrant can also have access to this registration. The government expects that it will enable under-privileged people to access basic rights and social security benefits, which they have been deprived so far due to lack of identity. To be enrolling, the migrants have to provide demographic data as such as address, name, and age. However, in order to increase the level of unique authentication, the authority can also require biometric data. The problem, however, is that migrant have any document to prove the demographic requirements. It is therefore primordial to find an alternative way for the data proof that migrants can’t provide. With this card, the migrants will also be visible under the government eyes, and thus be more considered in the political decision.

Raphaelle Lavigne, Canada

Women and Migrant Empowerment Project Manager, Punjab

Women’s Handicraft Activity

With quarterly meetings, a week spent on holiday, and a horrible stomach virus, time really flew by this month. Time management is a natural problem that every intern faces when working for an NGO abroad; finding a balance between work and travel, the professional and the personal, can be quite challenging. Unfortunately it means that interns can’t always accomplish what they have set out to do in the time frame that they have given themselves. This is especially true in a country like India, where things tend to move slowly and people like to take their time with everything, “shanti shanti.” But life here is rewarding in so many different ways that wasting time actually seems, for me, to be quite difficult.

Although I spent most of the month worrying about not getting enough done, I was so pleased to see that the wonderful women of the WHA did not let my absence affect their work. The stock of knit handicrafts has nearly quadrupled this month and, with the arrival of the tourist season and good weather, sales have increased too. The younger girls have continued to make “up-cycled” jewelry and the quality of the items now makes them ready to be sold. During the month of April, we will continue our efforts to turn waste into usable or wearable items.

Michele-Anne Vennat, Canada

ReStore and Self Help Group Project Manager

Learning to Teach

One of the most educational and valuable parts of being here in Naddi for the past month has actually come in an unexpected form: fun club. While I came to EduCARE to work in microfinance I was asked if I could also help out with the after-school programme once a week in the community we call JDM. Initially I was quite unsure as to what my role would be or how to entertain children who were a wide range of ages while also educating them. 

The first few classes were challenging. One week, only a few girls showed up and the class regressed into a hair-braiding session before long. The next week the class was full but completely out of control with many of the kids uninterested in the activities I had planned. So I decided that I had to try something new. They learn English at school and while the older kids get bored by many of the games I had been leading, the youngest ones aren’t really given a chance to partake. After a few discussions about what this after-school programme was meant to accomplish I came to realise that it’s aimed at offering alternative education from school, so introducing the children to wider issues and concepts such as environmental awareness and gender equality. While these can be difficult subjects to broach with children, it’s also incredibly important that they are given this forum. Taking more of a creative and varied approach would also hold everyone’s attention better, and so while dealing with serious issues some weeks, others would be devoted to crafts or sports – the “fun” side.

In recent weeks, I’ve led one class where we drew family trees and then presented them, and a particularly eye-opening lesson on geography. When I showed iconic images from around the world – the Eiffel tower, Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty, etc. – and asked everyone to point to where they thought the place depicted was on a map, every time the guess was the same: “Delhi?”. And when the correct answer was revealed, they had no idea where on the map to look for these countries. Everyone was eager, however, and seemed to enjoy the game of “word search” that the class turned into.

Overall, I see real potential for the after-school programme here and I love watching as the kids engage more and more every week. It’s a great feeling to be able to give them a space to be creative and I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us interns from a variety of interest areas to interact with the next generation in this community.

Lucy Di Santo, USA

Microfinance and Fun Club Project Manager

A Step Forward in the Chicken Coop Project

While the weather may not always feel like it, spring has arrived and so have the baby goats. Six or seven came running up to us earlier this week when I went to meet Lila, the woman who wants to start up a chicken coop here in Naddi. They spent the entire interview jumping up on my legs and chewing on my shoelaces and it was perfect.

This chicken coop is my primary focus during my time at EduCARE India. It’s been two years since the first chicken coop was started as a microfinance opportunity for one of the families here, and its success has inspired the desire to build more. Lila has been raising goats with her husband for years and reached out to EduCARE recently looking for the chance to create an additional source of income. She saw how much we have been doing for younger women in the community and questioned why we couldn’t expand to help the older generation as well. She and her husband have had to sell many of their goats and quite a bit of land over the years to provide for their 5 children, including several dowries for their daughters, and Lila explained that she is in need of less energy-intensive work for the future.

While she speaks no English and therefore communication is extremely limited, her pro-activity in seeking out this project matched the energetic and determined spirit I saw in her when we met a few days ago. It was an exciting step in this project. Until now, my efforts have been focused on laying ground work for the long term, but now that the weather is finally improving and construction can take place soon, hopefully it won’t be long until we get to see the coop physically standing and the chickens purchased. 

Lucy Di Santo, USA

Microfinance Project Manager, Naddi