Cultivating our Garden: Jeevika’s India Strategy Day

Today, our funding strategy officer, Mark Roberts, gives an update on our very productive India Strategy Day held a few weeks back:

On an exceptionally sunny day, all too welcome after the wet and windy summer that has prevailed so far here in the UK, the lovely garden where we held part of our strategy meeting provided the perfect backdrop to cultivating Jeevika’s plans for the next three years.

Everyone from the UK team was there along with Jenny Rogers, our new volunteer who was very ably facilitating the day, and Priya Anand (who manages and supports our work in India) who joined us by Skype from Bangalore, India.

English country garden

Apart from enjoying the birds, bees, rabbits and nesting wood pigeon along with the trees and flowers in full summer blossom, what did we achieve? During the day everyone worked hard labouring over flip-chart paper and overheads, both in small group discussions and open meetings in true planning day style.

The main themes from the meeting were about developing our livelihood model and conditions for livelihood such as water and sanitation set alongside human rights, equality for women, those with disabilities and with HIV/AIDS. We celebrated good relationships and the commitment that we have from all our partners and agreed that the stakeholder workshops help to bond our partnerships and they should be developed further.

Some of the challenges we faced were gaps in funding particularly for smaller partners, which then has an impact on their ability to implement their plans consistently. We realised we need to invest more in capacity building with greater support from JT in order to strengthen management systems that better demonstrate our impact in India to our funders.

Jeevika Trust Indian Partners

Opportunities for the future included developing a stronger business and enterprise model (transition from production to enterprise) for our livelihood work, and being more ambitious in our partnerships, i.e. creating a stronger ‘Jeevika Umbrella’ to link and unite them.

  • We need to diversify and pursue “R & D,” seeking to apply a wider range of ‘appropriate technologies’, including the use of new technology which we feel Schumacher himself would have embraced.
  • We need to grow and develop our portfolio of livelihood opportunities.
  • We also need to disseminate knowledge more widely by looking for new allies, particularly through a stronger tri-sector (business, government, third sector) approach.

It was an excellent day which gave us new inspiration for our work and it will be followed up with a second strategy day to look at our UK operations and how we move forward with expanding our capacity, resources and plans for the future.

Further details of our new strategic plan will be available soon but if you have any questions, thoughts or comments, please get in touch!

First image used courtesy of Simon Funk.

Stories from India: Celebrating Independence Day, part 2

In honour of India’s recent 65th Independence Day, this week our Communities Consultant, Becky, continues sharing about some of her experiences in India, this time from the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

After celebrating Independence Day in Jaisalmer in 2009, I was immensely excited to do so again at the opposite end of the country in Tiruchirappalli the following year. Again I went to get a new sari, which was a completely different experience this time: from a shop in a niche on a crowded cobbled alley in the huge department store of Sarada’s (roughly equivalent to Marks & Spencer).

Plump women elbowed me out of the way, shouting at the shop boys to unfold saris of ever-increasing decoration whilst their husbands stood behind, ready to pay at the appropriate moment.

Again I needed help to get dressed and I learnt that there are actually 80 different ways to drape a sari. It was easier this time though as I was living with the Narikuravar gypsies with whom I was working. My friend Nitya also did my hair, oiling and plaiting it up so tightly I had a ‘Croydon facelift’.

We were joined by my co-volunteers who were living off-site to have luxurious lengths of fresh jasmine tied in our hair, before heading to the school where we were introduced to five different men all claiming to be head man of the village.

India Independence Day

The children did a fantastic synchronised ‘Kolattam’ dance with sticks. They tried to teach me the night before but I was pretty hopeless at it and as it began to turn into yet another occasion to laugh at my lack of skills, I decided it was best to let them get on with their practise.

In the village that afternoon there was more communal freestyle dancing and comedy performances with mimics that had me laughing despite the language barrier. In this village the women were more integrated, with just the older ones under the tree for shade.

India Independence Day

This massive secular festival (interestingly the day after Pakistan’s celebration of the same event) for freedom and democracy with all of its nationalist fervour is necessary to unite a country so diverse it has upwards of 415 different languages.

This ‘Hymn to the Mother’ by the well-respected writer, Bankim Chandra Chatterji, describes some of the devotion the people feel, particularly these lines:

Loveliest of all earthly lands,
Showering wealth from well-stored hands!
Mother, mother mine!
Mother sweet, I bow to thee,
Mother great and free!

At 65 years young this year, India shows no sign of quietly retiring on her GDP expansion of 6.5% in 2011. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the increase of skills and investment as a matter of national security in his Independence Day speech. However according to the World Bank, unsustainable development results in an estimated $9.7 billion worth of damage to the environment each year – that is 4.5% of GDP.

Since 59% of that damage is due to the health impact of water pollution, the water and sanitation projects of Jeevika Trust are even more vital for the people of today and the livelihood of tomorrow.

Stay tuned for more news of our Walk the Water event where you can get involved!

Stories from India: Celebrating Independence Day, part 1

In honour of India’s recent 65th Independence Day, this week our Communities Consultant, Becky, shares a humourous story from a time she celebrated the holiday at a school outside Jaisalmer.

Independence Day is the birthday of the nation for the citizens of India – it’s bigger than our Christmas; it’s bigger than Diwali, which is a Hindu holiday, and for the past two years, I was welcomed into mother India’s bosom to join the celebrations of ‘their freedom from us.’

The occasion is marked differently around the incredibly diverse country, but I gather it is fairly typical for a ‘function’ to be held at the local school for the community, and it was to one such event we were invited.  Here the children perform some well-drilled patriotic songs and the flag is hoisted with as many speeches, pomp and circumstance as the Olympics in a sandy playground with little or no shade.

India Independence Day

Close to the shimmering heat waves of the sandcastle city of Jaisalmer, I was part of a group of 44 British teaching and construction volunteers living in a remote desert encampment.  My new mate Alice and I had spent the weekend off-duty in the city where after some long haggling we successfully purchased our first saris, with matching accessories.

In a rush to get ready at the hotel we realised our enthusiastic sampling of local beer had washed away the memory of how to fold the many metres of sari fabric into a glamorous Bollywood style garment, that our cheapskate decision to not buy lahenga (petticoats) was woefully misguided, and that we needed far more safety pins than planned.

But what we lacked in dressing skills we made up for in eyeliner and bindis and were quite pleased with our efforts until we arrived at the school.  The women of the village were crowded under the only tree, their vivid, multi-coloured saris abloom against the scorched landscape whilst a smaller group of men stood separately beside the wall.

The teachers had to prop each other up as they pointed and laughed at us.  I guess our wrapping attempts were the equivalent of seeing someone wearing a suit back to front.  It would appear to be far worse than socks and sandals anyway, as they dragged us off into an empty classroom to refold and repin our outfits, only to be further entertained by our belly button piercings.

What followed was prize day-meets-sports day in temperatures of 40 degrees plus wrapped in layers of polyester, and whilst some parents claim the annual nativity requires patience, this called for endurance.  We had activities too, including races whilst balancing pots of water on our heads – look out for this at our Walk for Water on 30th September!

I was happy when the kids won a tug of war against us volunteers; although we did try, it was symbolic of the victory of the Indian spirit in the push for freedom. 

India Independence Day

Check back in a few days for the next part of Becky’s story, as she celebrates her second Independence Day in southern India!

Happy birthday, India!

On August 15th this year, India celebrated its sixty-fifth birthday – its Independence Day – with a holiday to commemorate its freedom from foreign rule and its birth as a sovereign nation in 1947.

People in cities and large towns celebrated with flag-hoisting ceremonies, displays of India’s military skills by its armed forces, cultural and entertainment programmes, and competitions based on the Independence Day motif.

Independence Day in India

But what about the 22% of India’s 1.21 billion people who live below the poverty line, surviving on less than 75 pence per day in any one of the 638,596 villages of India? (2011 Census)

What does Independence Day really mean to those impoverished villagers when they live without access to clean water, electricity, lack of health services, education and income with which to buy food?

It is with this group of people – the most impoverished and marginalised villagers from Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and particularly the women from these social groups – that Jeevika and its partner organisations work.

By working with women in Self-Help Groups, providing them with skills, equipment, local resources and access to a revolving fund so they can save and make loans, Jeevika and its partner organisations support women villagers to produce, for example, honey, peanuts, fish, crabs, compost, vegetables, candles, all of which enable them to generate income from sales in local, regional or export markets.

Village women in India

It is in this way that Jeevika supports some of India’s most disadvantaged women villagers, helping them find independence from poverty which, in turn, empowers them to improve the quality of family life.

The independence women acquire in this process also empowers them to contribute to village decision-making, providing role models for their daughters so that they, too, may know what it means to be personally self-reliant and independent.

If you would like to help Jeevika help some of India’s most impoverished and marginalised women villagers, do please visit our website.

First photo is courtesy of the Bangor Daily News.