The Dalai Lama & why we should all practise compassion

By Lucy Ferrier – Marketing & Communications Manager at Jeevika Trust

Though I am not a practising Buddhist, I have found inspiration in the Dalai Lama’s continual support and promotion of human rights, human compassion, and secular ethics, so it was an honour to visit London’s O2 arena recently to listen to his address entitled “Compassion: The Foundation of Wellbeing”.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet - Buddhist Spiritual Leader

I was instantly captivated by His Holiness’ two hour address. Composed, serene and humorous (he jokingly asked his translator at the beginning what the topic of his address was meant to be), the Dalai Lama gave a rousing speech on the importance of compassion, both to the individual and to society as whole.

“Compassion is a marvel of human nature. It is a precious inner resource and the foundation of our wellbeing and the harmony of our societies”

The overriding message of His Holiness’ address was that – regardless of race, religion, gender or any other factor – we are all ultimately the same. We all have the same needs, the same rights to a happy life and the same responsibilities to ensure the well-being of not only our fellow humanity, but also the planet.

The Dalai Lama at the O2Despite being “just one of 7 billion people on the planet”, the Dalai Lama made me feel empowered to make a difference (I’m sure others who attended the event would say the same) and made me assess my own responsibility to create a better, fairer and more harmonious world. Making positive change in the world starts with the individual – “through inner peace, world peace”. It is not just the responsibility of governments and institutions, but lies with all of us.

I have only recently joined Jeevika Trust, but part of the attraction of this fantastic organisation was the focus on compassion, service and co-operation, affectionately known as the “head, heart and hands” approach. Jeevika Trust prides itself on working to E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful model – through investing in small-scale, locally-appropriate projects, we not only make a difference to the direct project beneficiaries (mainly dalit and tribal women in India), but also their families and their wider communities. This is very much in keeping with the Dalai Lama’s address – many of the people we work with face routine discrimination and inequality but they have the same right to a happy, secure life as anyone else and we’re working to make that happen. Though we work on a small scale, we have touched hundreds of thousands of lives in village India over the last 40 years, proof that even small changes can add up to make a big difference.

We hope to have touched 1 million lives by 2020, an ambitious goal, but achievable with your help. You, as an individual, have the power and the responsibility to create a better tomorrow. Start by practising compassion, because if all 7 billion of us do the same, we truly can change the world.

As the Dalai Lama said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”.

If you’d like to get involved with Jeevika’s work, please pop us an email on contact@jeevika.org.uk.

To make a donation to support our life-changing projects, click on the link below:

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What’s in store for Village India?

by Andrew Redpath, Director of Jeevika Trust.

Narendra Modi India Prime Minister BJPNarendra Modi’s BJP party, leading India’s present NDA coalition government, has completed its first year in power – so is it too soon to turn the spotlight on what if anything is changing for Village India? After successive governments over 60 years have failed to address the challenge of rural vs urban India – what might fairly be called the world’s biggest ‘elephant in the room’, – what signs are there of a fundamental advance in official or political thinking and direction?

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A recent McKinsey Global Institute study is in little doubt: “The speed of urbanisation poses an unprecedented managerial and policy challenge – yet India has barely engaged in a national discussion about how to handle the seismic shift in the makeup of the nation.” That is not entirely fair: a ‘national discussion’ on rural India has been taking place at top political level over the past decade – but it has produced no cross-party consensus or shared vision and momentum.

In fact there has existed since before the Millennium a ‘Vision 2020’ whose first principle, as articulated by former President Abdul Kalam, was ‘a nation where the rural-urban divide has been reduced to a thin line’. Abdul Kalam launched in 2003 the mission for Providing Rural Amenities to Rural Areas, known as PURA, aimed at providing urban infrastructure and connectivity in rural hubs to create economic opportunities outside of cities, but by 2012 this was branded a failure by the government itself. Likewise, Congress’s later ambitious NREGA scheme for a ‘national rural employment guarantee’ of 100 days p.a. of public work for a set daily wage, has also run into the sand with inevitable charges of corruption, and a marked drop in the number of days worked from 2.5 to 1.5 billion p.a.

Governments have failed to develop a clear strategy on the massive scale of ‘urban drift’ from rural India into exploding slum cities: current projections are that today’s urban population in India will double to over 600 million by 2030, effectively reversing the present 70/30% rural/urban balance today, while India’s total population forges ahead to overtake that of China by 2022. And there has been no discernible ‘national discussion’ – let alone a clear central direction as we are seeing in China – about how the cities are to absorb this huge flow of people. To quote McKinsey again *: “The starkest contrast between the two countries is that China has embraced and shaped urbanization, while India is still waking up to its urban reality and the opportunities that its cities offer for economic and social transformation.”

Rural women India agricultureSo what if any evidence of a change of heart, direction or priority can we detect from the BJP’s first year in office? It made an energetic start, with a more active legislative programme than its Congress predecessor: a decisive shift in public finances away from central welfare subsidies – including child nutrition and clean village water – in favour of infrastructure – roads, bridges, etc.; a one-third increase in the share of tax revenue passed on to the states for them to administer; broad social initiatives on house-building, health-care, expansion of personal banking and digital availability of information on government services; and a ‘clean India’ campaign – of which only the last was angled specifically at rural areas.

Much publicised among Modi’s social initiatives has been the ‘100 smart cities’ programme: no clear definition of a ‘smart city’ has been offered beyond the fact that, in the government’s words, it will “attract investments, experts and professionals – and good quality infrastructure” and other features of a “citizen-centric and investor-friendly smart city”.

But the financial viability of this Mission is very far from clear: the central funds allocated in the 2015 Budget to the Smart Cities Mission is only 1/1000th of the $1 trillion estimated by accountants KPMG as the cost of the programme, – it being evidently assumed that the ‘smart’ process will draw in private investment to complete the task.

There then came a matching ‘smart villages’ initiative under which rural villages would be given Internet access, clean water, sanitation, and low-carbon energy, with the goal of at least 2,500 smart villages by 2019. Not only is this a drop in the ocean of India’s 600,000 villages, but again the credibility of funding remains to be demonstrated. The progress of this idea will still be worth watching.

Meanwhile, on the ground in rural areas, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, there are “increasing signs of rural distress (which make) Modi’s cuts politically risky”, while discontent over his anti-inflation policies and particularly his bill to open up farmers’ small-holdings to acquisition by businesses is ‘turning to anger’. These are trends he can ill afford to ignore if he is to hold on to power in key agricultural states like Uttar Pradesh – a state which alone contains a population about the size of Brazil – and Bihar. The Bihar state elections this November will be an acid test of the BJP’s standing in rural India.

In conclusion, it may be said at this stage that the new government is failing to maintain the momentum of earlier macro-initiatives to address the rural-India challenge and drive a cross-party strategic vision for what McKinsey calls the ‘make-up of the nation’.

Rural worker India Indian village

 

 

TO USE SNAPS or TO NOT USE SNAPS, that is the question!

THE WORD SNAPS is Jeevika’s working acronym for sanitary napkins. We currently support our Indian partner, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (www.jrpsai.org) to work with Tribal women in the Chandaka Forest Area of Odisha, to produce cotton, machinery-made, eco-disposable SNAPS. Formed into
Self-Help Groups, these women will make and sell the SNAPS to local women and make them available in schools for pubescent girls, while helping the women generate income to improve family life.
Adolescent girls in India, teenage girls in India, menstruation, sanitary healthWe already know that 73% of the women JRP surveyed use – and re-use – cloth during menstruation. Nearly 50% of these women were from impoverished village families. The survey also revealed that 66.7% of adolescent girls who use cloth develop Reproductive Tract Infections from the use of unhygienic recycled cloth. Almost 100% of girls surveyed, learned about menarche (onset of menstruation) only after it occurred. It is well-documented that girls who have access to SNAPS are less likely to drop-out from school or contract Reproductive Tract Infections.

JRP and the Jeevika Team – and Monsoon Trust who are funding this 1-year pilot project – believe this is an excellent opportunity to improve the understanding of health & hygiene issues and to trial safe modes of eco-friendly/discreet disposal of SNAPS within five high schools using either incinerators, burial or burning located within a target area of 25 villages.

THERE IS a counter argument in circulation: In July 2015, Sinu Joseph of Mythri Speaks Trust (www.mythrispeaks.org) posted a provocative blog on Swarajya titled ‘Why India doesn’t need the sanitary napkin revolution’.

While this article does raise a number of important issues related to the way menstruation is being addressed in India, it over-simplifies the matter of SNAPS and their use v.s. non-use. What is true is that outside India we do tend to judge menstrual practices in India as being poor or unsanitary because they don’t conform to a sanitized western ideal; just as it is true that we must allow women to decide for themselves.

Joseph criticises the media on the subject of menstruation: ‘you will find horror stories of how only 12% of Indian women are using sanitary napkins and that the others are almost dying from lack of access to such products…of the poor Indian girl in a village who is dropping out of school because she suddenly started her period…how India is full of superstitions and menstrual taboos that are coming in the way of us breaking free and embracing our body…and sanitary napkins.’ In reality, we think these ‘stories’ are not too far from the truth.

Joseph makes other criticisms: of the statistics and claims made by major NGOs and international organisations who ‘look down upon indigenous women who for generations have bled naturally without using any product’ – a comment of extraordinary complacency given women’s rights in a fast changing world.

To establish what the women we work with want, we at Jeevika working with JRP, will continue to give women – and particularly school-girls – the opportunity to freely trial hygienic, eco-friendly SNAPS and choose for themselves whether they do or do not use SNAPS! Once the pilot project is complete, we will share this information with you.

Menstrual Health India

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Project SNAPS
by donating now

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Project Narikuravar, our Indian Gypsies

Did you know that the gypsies of the world originated in Northern India? After a presence in India for some 1,000 years they dispersed to arrive in Mid-West Asia, then Europe, sometime between the sixth and eleventh centuries.

The gypsy community in Tamil Nadu with which Jeevika and its partner, Annai Mary Foundation work are known as the Narikuravar. The name Narikuravar is a combination of the Tamil words Nari and Kurava meaning jackal people, a name bestowed on them due to their highly honed hunting skills, with meat being the primary food on which they have traditionally survived.

During British rule the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 prohibited the Narikuravar from hunting and treated them with mistrust and suspicion. It was not until 2008 that India’s Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment recommended equal reservations for gypsy communities similar to those for Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

The stigma surrounding gypsies continues to exist: they still remain banned from entry into forests to hunt; they remain living on the fringe of villages subject to poverty, illiteracy and discrimination; and they suffer from poor nutritional health.

Narikuravar family, Indian gypsy family

Our Project Narikuravar in Tamil Nadu is designed to provide the Narikuravar villagers with a Govt. Health Card which gives them access to health services; to raise the awareness of the issues surrounding nutritional health, hygiene, STDs and HIV/AIDS.

Annai Mary Foundation will also work directly with the 250 Narikuravar villagers to form 100 women into Self-Help Groups to grow vegetables, cultivate mushrooms and poultry to supplement their diet as well as to become self-sustainable. There will also be cooking classes for adolescent girls and women to prepare nutritious food from their own resources, including soups and pickles.

Narikuravar family, Indian gypsy family

Help Jeevika Trust to support, sustain and expand Project Narikuravar by donating now

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