Occasionally we’ll be hearing from people who have been involved with Jeevika over the years, whether as a supporter, volunteer, or sometimes both! Today journalist Michael Connellan shares about his experience of volunteering with Jeevika in India for a year.
My four-year relationship with Jeevika Trust has taken me from London to the length and breadth of India and back. The stories I most often tell to friends about my experiences with Jeevika in India are of course the ones which raise an eyebrow or raise a laugh.
These include watching a farmer from Uttar Pradesh allow his camel to take a puff on his cigarette, and learning from another farmer in Tamil Nadu about how to sell cow’s urine as a thirst-quenching drink.
But my most vivid memories are of witnessing the challenging grassroots work that Jeevika’s Indian partner organisations carry out in India’s remote villages.
With Schumacher Centre, Jeevika’s sister organisation based in Delhi, I visited two villages in the Badnoli district which is just two hours north of the capital. The residents were struggling to exist in extremely impoverished conditions. Local landowners and politicians limited their access to jobs and food supplies. They had no sewage system and no access to electricity.
The usual response for a Westerner visiting a remote corner of rural India is intense curiosity from the local children. But many of the children in these villages were listless and disinterested – a classic sign of chronic malnutrition which is very unsettling to witness. Their parents were living blighted lives too. Several of the men, struggling in casual and seasonal labour, had succumbed to alcoholism and their wives were paying the price.
Speaking to a group of mothers, one said to us: “Whatever the men earn, they spend on liquor. They come home and wreak havoc. They beat us.” (You can view the women talking on Youtube here.) The lack of a sewage system meant that their waste would sometimes run into nearby fields - resulting in threats from a local landowner.
The villagers explained that they craved electricity, because without much access to other fuels, work life, family life, and everything else was effectively ended for the day as soon as the sun went down in the evening. Night really meant night in this corner of the world without electric light.
Schumacher Centre staff pledged to work intensively with the village, and by 2010, after I had returned to the UK, I heard about the first substantial results - Schumacher Centre had successfully installed solar powered lights in the village. This required painstaking lobbying and diplomacy with local politicians. But now residents’ lives are being transformed.
A resident named Nisha said to Schumacher Centre: ‘Since solar powered lights have been installed, my son is doing well in studies as he can study late in the evenings… the solar fans keep the mosquitoes away from my kids… this is a source of happiness to our family.’
I continue to support Jeevika Trust as a volunteer because I have witnessed the strength of its Indian networks, so I can be sure that the time I donate is well spent. Jeevika’s partner organisations penetrate deep into rural India and ensure funds collected in the UK make a real difference.
We would love to hear about your own personal journey with Jeevika! Leave us a comment below, or if you’d like to share it as a blog post like Michael’s, get in touch with Candace at firstname.lastname@example.org.