Planet 5050? Not in India…

by Lucy Ferrier, Marketing & Communications Manager at Jeevika Trust

Tuesday was International Women’s Day – a day dedicated not just to celebrating “the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women”  but also to promoting the need for accelerated change if women are to enjoy gender parity by 2030 – goal 6 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Group-of-women---optimised

Levels of gender equality vary drastically around the globe. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2015 report, Scandinavian countries like Iceland and Sweden are the clear winners, while countries in the Middle East, in particular, have much further to go – Yemen scores a measly 0.484 for gender equality, compared to Iceland’s 0.881.

In the last 5 years, India has struggled up 4 places on the Forum’s report from a lowly 114 out of 145 countries, to an unimpressive 108. When you consider that India is home to approximately 17% of the world’s women – around 600 million – the country’s score on the Index is alarming. Perhaps more alarmingly, India is conspicuously absent from the list of countries which made national commitments at a UN Conference last September to close the gender gap by 2030.

Discrimination against women in India is endemic. The practices of female foeticide and infanticide, though illegal, have resulted in a skewed population with only 943 women for every 1000 men – a telling statistic that shows the status of women in India. According to this article, more than 93k cases of violations of women’s rights have been made since 2012. Rape, sexual assault and domestic violence are sadly not uncommon. Women have to fight for the right to public spaces, to toilet facilities, to education, to paid work, to technology, to freedom, to respect – and in some case – to life.

An Indian woman

For women in rural areas – particularly those from lower castes and tribal communities – the fight is twice as hard. Jeevika’s priorities lie in the 600,000 villages where 7 out of 10 women lead their lives. Their challenges are radically different from those of women living in urban slums where rudimentary access to public services is greater; in the vast rural areas exposure to the elements, poor access to water and sanitation, poor food security, poor access to basic health services and education – just to name a few factors – combined with a low social standing means day-to-day life for millions of women is grinding.

We at Jeevika believe that women’s empowerment and equality is vital – not only for women, but for the development and progress of humankind. Our projects prove that, when women are empowered, the results are dramatic. By improving access to clean water, we stop women having to walk for hours each day to collect water for their families. By improving sanitation – helping communities to build toilets near their homes as well as gender-segregated toilet blocks in schools – we reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases, help girls to stay in school and stop women from having to defecate in the open, where – particularly at night – they are vulnerable to violence and sexual assault. By educating women and adolescent girls about sanitary and reproductive health, as well as improving access to sanitary napkins, we not only help to reduce the number of reproductive or urinary tract infections, but also help women to stay in work and girls to stay in school so that they can realise their full potential. By empowering women and providing them with income generation opportunities – from producing and marketing honey or sanitary napkins to growing and selling produce – we not only help women to increase their household income, but also to grow in self-confidence and to gain greater freedoms and greater respect within their communities.

Tribal women dancing

Help women in rural India realise their full potential by donating to Jeevika today:

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A Mother’s Motivation? Her Children.

by Judith Crosland, Programmes Manager at Jeevika Trust

When I visited Jeevika projects in Tamil Nadu & Odisha in November last year, it occurred to me that we, at Jeevika, regularly talk about women being ‘at the heart’ of our village livelihood programmes, but perhaps do not talk often enough about how children in turn are at the heart of the women’s own motivation. Before I say more about this, I want to provide a little background information, so that you know why I, and other members of our Team, regularly visit India.

A girl with goats

If you are one of our regular blog readers, then you’ll be aware that Jeevika’s priority is to always address the issues that face India’s most impoverished women villagers.  This means that many of our blogs talk of the issues that these women face but not necessarily what motivates them to engage in our projects.  They can do much given a little but this still requires outside help.

This is where Jeevika steps in.  We help our 6 partner organisations – one in Odisha, four in Tamil Nadu and one based in New Delhi – to identify where the women are who have the greatest needs.  Once partners have designed a suitable project to meet those needs and we have approved its suitability and fundability, we and the partner concerned sign a Collaboration Agreement to meet our mutual needs for appropriate delivery, monitoring and evaluation so that we can report with full accountability to the funders.  This is where my visits come in.

Children learning to read English

Every time I visit India I work closely with Priya Anand, our Bangalore-based India Co-ordinator.   In between my visits, Priya regularly visits the projects and liaises with our partners and, when I visit, we travel together.  In fact, we do everything together:  we meet with the directors and staff of our partner organisations; we meet with the women beneficiaries and assess their many activities:  cleaning ponds and wells so there is safe water available for drinking and cooking; constructing – along with their menfolk – toilets and water tanks so there is no longer need to waste daylight hours carrying water, or to defecate in the fields at night;  building food security by cultivating organic compost, vegetables, millet, crabs, prawns, fish and rearing goats so there are sustainable sources of food and enough to sell to generate income.  Priya and I always find these visits – particularly the women we meet and their achievements – inspiring.

But let me return to what really needs to be said:  the primary motivator for these women, and almost everything they do is their children. Of course, everyone in their family benefits from the activities in which these women engage but the prime mover for everything they do as part of their project involvement, is their need to improve the lives of their children.  They know so well that providing their children, including their adolescent daughters, with access to safe water and sanitation facilities, improved nutrition, security from domestic violence, regular in-school and after-school learning, a better understanding of reproductive health and hygiene with access to sanitary napkins, all combine to assure them of a better quality of life & a brighter future.

…which is why Jeevika works hard to support the needs of the most impoverished women villagers.

Children attending after-school learning

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#HappyToBleed – breaking menstrual taboos in India

By Lucy Ferrier, Marketing & Communications Manager at Jeevika Trust

Towards the end of 2015, a comment made by the head of the famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala  - which has a blanket entry ban for women aged between 10 and 50 – sparked a heavy backlash from hundreds of young Indian women. Discussing whether the ban (which is in place to ensure that no menstruating women enter the temple) would ever be lifted, Prayar Gopalakrishnan said: “There will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the ‘right time’ for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside”. A teenage girl from Odisha

Menstruation remains a taboo in India, but a new generation of young women refuses to accept these entrenched views; in response to Gopalakrishnan’s comment, hundreds of women took to social media after the launch of the #HappyToBleed campaign. On its Facebook page, the movement describes itself as a “counter campaign launched against menstrual taboos, and sexism that women are subject to through it. It acknowledges menstruation as a natural activity which doesn’t need curtains to hide behind”. #HappyToBleed’s founder, Nikita Azad said: “Shaming menstruation is a sign of patriarchy.”

Though #HappyToBleed was launched in response to the Sabarimala temple’s ban on menstruating women, it is a reaction to a much wider issue. Traditionally, menstruating women are considered “unclean” and are often banned from praying or cooking ; in some rural communities, women are sent to gaokors – huts outside the village – while they are menstruating. A reproductive health & hygiene sessionThis historic and deeply-ingrained taboo has an enormous impact on women – over 20% of girls drop out of school permanently at puberty and Reproductive Tract Infections (RTIs) are rife, particularly in rural areas, due to the lack of availability of proper sanitary products. There is even an indication that unsanitary practices during menstruation, for example re-using cloth and using ashes or sand to aid absorption, increases the risk of cervical cancer – according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) India accounts for 27% of the world’s cervical cancer deaths and the incidence rate there is almost twice the global average “with poor menstrual hygiene partly to blame”.

A nationwide survey of women indicated that 70% can’t afford sanitary napkins, with only 2% of the rural population using them despite the fact that three quarters of Indians still live in rural areas. Jeevika Trust is proud to support the improvement of menstrual health of women and adolescent girls from tribal communities in Odisha; through our Project SNAPS, delivered by our partner organisation Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), we support Self-Help Groups of women to produce and market low-cost, eco-disposable sanitary napkins (SNAPS) which not only addresses their personal sanitary needs, but allows them to generate a small income from their activities. A SHG member producing SNAPSThese napkins are also made available to adolescent girls to help keep them in school, and women and girls receive reproductive health education. Overall, the project is helping over 5,000 women and girls. Unfortunately, lack of access to sanitary napkins is only half the problem – poor access to proper sanitation facilities and gender-segregated toilets is also a huge issue, but we’re tackling this through our Project PANI.

Through better education on reproductive health and hygiene, we hope to help break the taboos surrounding menstruation, and through providing women with SNAPS (sanitary napkins)  and improving access to toilet facilities we hope to improve levels of health, reduce RTIs and allow girls to remain in education. As Muruganantham, the man who famously pioneered machinery to produce low-cost sanitary napkins in Tamil Nadu and who this week received the prestigious Padma Shri award for his work, said, “Why buy sanitary napkins from multinationals when we can make them at home and generate employment?”.

To support the expansion of Project SNAPS, please click on the link below to donate:

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HDR: Progress made but a long way to go

by Andrew Redpath, Executive Director at Jeevika Trust

The UN’s latest Human Development Report was published just before Christmas, and has hit not only Indian but international headlines – with a corresponding level of explanation and, it must be said, defensiveness from Indian sources – because it has again confirmed that India’s positioning at a dismal 130 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) contradicts the ‘shining’ image that India cultivates as a global country with its own nuclear, space and foreign aid programs.

 

Reactions of the India press to the country’s positioning so far down the HDI are partly sober and partly determined to show the upside and how fast the picture has been changing in the past 15 years.

As the planet’s soon-to-be biggest single nation, set to overtake China in population within 20 years or so, India is weighed down by awesome facts and statistics. These include, for example, the sheer scale of ‘below-the-poverty-line’ (BPL) poverty – the 8 poorest states in India containing more BPL poor than all 28 developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, – and child malnutrition – India has one-third of global undernourished children. More importantly, India has failed in one Five-Year Plan after another to apply clear and radical urbanisation or village development strategies to address the urban/rural balance and the challenge of stagnant rural poverty and unplanned ‘urban drift’: 70% of the population or about 830 million people are still classed as rural, and of these more than 300 million – compare that with the entire population of the US or Europe – are BPL.

 

As The Hindu newspaper emphasises in its report of 16 December 2015, “There is now no doubt that the last 10 years were a time of extraordinary human development in India”.   It goes on to record that between 2009 and 2011 India had witnessed the fastest-ever decrease in the percentage of its ‘below-the-poverty-line population’, that between 2000 and 2014 India’s Gross National Income more than doubled  and its Human Development Index value went from 0.462 to 0.609 , a far higher increase than in the previous 15-years.  “This was driven by improved economic growth and increase in life expectancy as a result of improved health care, and less so from improvements in educational outcomes, which have been harder to achieve, especially for women” – an important admission given the critical role of nationwide education in any definition of human development.

In terms of the oft-quoted measure that India hosts one-third of global child malnutrition, the India Health Report: Nutrition 2015 just released by the Public Health Foundation of India points out that “Child undernutrition, …. has begun to fall at historically high rates; between 2006 and 2014, stunting rates for children under five declined from 48 per cent to 39 per cent, translating into 14 million fewer stunted children”.

 

Let me conclude with the article’s up-beat summary:  “ These are extraordinary achievements …. but India must build on its human development successes with better redistributive justice”- namely between rural and urban, between states, and between gender, caste and class.

 

 

The buzz about beekeeping

by Lucy Ferrier, Marketing & Communications Manager at Jeevika Trust

A female beekeeper in Odisha India

It’s fair to say that village beekeeping and honey production has become one of Jeevika Trust’s best-proven projects, and it’s easy to see why. It’s low-cost, environmentally friendly, locally-appropriate and allows the women who take part to build sustainable livelihoods which not only benefit them, but their families and villages too. There’s lots of evidence to show that empowering women and giving them ownership over income generation helps to lift entire communities out of poverty, and the women themselves gain greater respect within society.

Aside from income generation, beekeeping has other, much wider benefits (you may be interested to read our Executive Director’s two-part blog “Bees in the big picture”). It is widely noted that bees are vital to life on earth, pollinating 70 of the 100 crop species which give us 90% of our food worldwide and making enormous contributions to the health of the eco-system.

Beekeeping 5 JRP.pngThrough our largest beekeeping project, the Madhu Network Project, village crop yields were doubled, providing additional nutrition for the community and allowing women to generate extra income through selling surplus produce. Though the majority of honey produced through the project is sold, some is consumed by the family, providing another highly-nutritious supplement (did you know that honey is the only food in the world that contains all of the nutrients vital to sustaining life?).

Between markedly increasing household income, improving crop yields, contributing to nutritional health and more widely to the health of the environment, the benefits of this kind of project are clear. We work to the ethos that “Small is Beautiful”, and beekeeping couldn’t be a better example of this – tiny honeybees and small-scale beekeeping can make a big difference to impoverished communities.

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in IndiaWe’ve been supporting village beekeeping projects in rural India for ten years, directly benefiting hundreds of women and, as a result, thousands of family and community members (and let’s not forget the environment!). The UK government supported the Madhu Network Project, but our hopes of their support in expanding the initiative were impacted by DfID’s decision to remove India from its main aid programme. We have been fortunate to receive three smaller grants to help with the expansion of this project to villages and women we’ve already identified, but we are always seeking new funding to support this tried-and-tested, infinitely replicable project. To strengthen the project further, we also want to take honey marketing “to the next level” to help the women access larger markets and generate a better return.

That’s why we’ve recently launched our “Sweetest Gift” appeal to raise funds towards the expansion of the project, benefitting more women (and, as a result, family members and the wider community), and giving them a helping hand out of a life of poverty and dependency. To find out more about the appeal and to donate, please click on the image below.

Campaign logo - final - transparent smaller

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Eliminating open defecation: More to it than meets the eye

by Priya Anand, India Co-ordinator at Jeevika Trust

November the 19th was World Toilet Day, an international day used to highlight vast global inequality when it comes to sanitation. Of the 2.3 billion people in the world who lack access to adequate sanitation, approximately a third (over 770 million) are in India, where open defecation (OD) is still widely practised. Over 50% of people in India either don’t use, or don’t have access to, a toilet.

 

The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), launched last year, aims to catalyse a nationwide commitment towards hygiene and sanitation and help generate lasting behaviour change among the people. Its goal is to eliminate OD from India by October 2019. While it is too early to say if it has been successful, the mission has not addressed several serious issues.

For one, the assumption that behaviour of rural populace will change once toilets are provided is an erroneous one. Can poor sanitation among the rural populace be equated to just open defecation or is there more to the problem?

Yes, there is a widespread resistance to using toilets among rural communities. Many people prefer defecating in the open, because of the erroneous belief that it is healthier. Deeply-engrained social and spiritual beliefs dictate toilet practices and many people believe that it is religiously pure, and socially acceptable, to put faeces far from one’s own house.

 

Several subsidy schemes identical to SBM have been introduced since 1999; over 9.5 crore (95 million) rural toilets have been constructed under the Total Sanitation Campaign and Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. Yet, the Census shows only an 11% reduction in rural OD between 2001 and 2011. Studies show that in 20-49% of even those households which have toilets within the house, at least one member defecates in the open. The same studies also show that, apart from sheer non-availability of toilets, other reasons for OD are the poor quality, inadequate numbers and poor maintenance of toilets or lack of water supply.

The status of faecal treatment and disposal is also abysmal. Just about 34% of the population’s latrines are connected either to septic tanks or underground sewerage; the rest have pit latrines where the waste decomposes, usually in unhealthy conditions. Local bodies provide little or no services for septic tank cleaning. An informal industry flourishes to fill this gap and private septic tank emptiers dump this polluting waste on any available empty lot or water body. Therefore despite usage of toilets, land and drinking water sources remain contaminated. Over 3 lakh (300,000) children die due to diarrhoea each year.

IMG_0877Jeevika Trust in its mission to build toilets and change people’s behaviour in Odisha and Tamil Nadu provides end-to-end solutions. This has been done through rigorous community outreach and education, innovative toilets designs (bio toilets using bacterial digesters that decompose faecal matter in a swift and efficient manner), commitment to quality construction materials, repairing of bore wells and water pumps, provision of piped water supply – where possible from rainwater harvested on school roof-tops - and, most importantly, providing a sustainable solution that community members both value and use. In addition, Jeevika Trust plans to evaluate the impact they have on increasing toilet usage and, by extension, reducing instances of open-defecation.

Support Jeevika in its work to reduce open defecation and help rural communities understand the importance of healthy sanitation habits.

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[1] http://thewire.in/2015/09/27/only-a-change-in-government-behaviour-can-clean-up-india-11318/

[2] http://www.communityledtotalsanitation.org/sites/communityledtotalsanitation.org/files/media/Challenges_of_behavior_change_%20in_rural_north_India.pdf

Delivering the Sustainable Development Goals in India

by Mark Hoda, Jeevika Trustee

In the culmination of a three year process, at the end of September this year, the UN’s 193 member states met at a summit to agree 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 associated targets

Sustainable development can be defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

The goals are to be achieved by 2030 and include ‘ending poverty in all its forms everywhere’.

The agreement also commits signatory countries to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, and inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

India’s mixed record

The SDGs build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were adopted in 2000 and were supposed to be delivered this year.

As a UN report looking back on MDG delivery notes, ‘India has made notable progress in achieving poverty reduction and other MDGs since their adoption at the turn of the century but this progress has been uneven and millions continue to remain trapped in extreme poverty’.

The report highlights the scale of this challenge in the world’s biggest poverty trap – ‘India remains home to one quarter of the world’s undernourished population, over a third of the world’s underweight children, and nearly a third of the world’s food-insecure people’.

Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas

The new Indian government elected last year is committed to a policy of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (‘Together with all, Development for all’) to achieve inclusive development.

As the UN report on India’s MDG record notes, looking forward to its SDG delivery prospects under a new government, ‘There seems to be a remarkable convergence of vision underlying the sustainable development goals and those of the Government, although it remains to be seen how effectively it implements its new strategic direction to provide a life of dignity to all’.

A framework of indicators against which to monitor progress in delivering the SDGs is being developed at UN level and according to press reports, there is scepticism amongst Indian NGOs that the goals will be achieved, especially in the absence of clearly defined monitoring processes and resource mobilisation.

Trade versus aid?

This week, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who coined the phrase ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’, visits the UK.

While aid may not feature on the agenda during Mr Modi’s visit (especially given that the UK Government has now stopped supporting development projects in India) trade very much will be. British multinationals are hoping to unveil $15 billion worth of trade and investment deals during the trip.

However, as discussed at Jeevika’s previous policy and corporate events, trade and aid must go hand in hand. India will not be able to transform itself into the economic powerhouse that its Government, people and key trading partners, such as the UK, so badly need unless it can lift hundreds of millions of its people out of abject poverty.

It is therefore vital that aid as well as trade is on the table in Modi’s discussions with political and corporate leaders in the UK this week.

Jeevika Trust is developing it’s ‘tri sector’ approach on how governments, businesses and NGOs can work together to eradicate poverty in India.

Notwithstanding the UK’s decision to stop aid to India, the British Government still provides important technical assistance to India which should be used to support the delivery of the SDGs in India.A newly-installed water pump in village India Likewise, Jeevika very much wants to see UK businesses with a relationship with India devote some of their considerable resources  and expertise to rural development projects, as a key part of their trade agreements. Doing so will not only fulfill an important moral duty, but will also help create massive new markets for their goods and services.

We will therefore be watching Mr Modi’s UK visit closely in the hope that such tri sector poverty eradication agreements will be very high on the agenda. Without such partnership working, India will surely struggle to meet the SDGs by 2030 and Mr Modi’s ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ commitment.

 

Nutrition is a core pillar of human development (UNICEF)

By Judith Crosland, Programmes Manager

On 12 October 2015, Angus Deaton – a British & American economist – was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his ‘analysis of consumption, poverty and welfare’. Of particular note is his work undertaken with Jean Drèze, a Belgium-born Indian development economist. Together they studied the nutrition and calorie intake of Indians. The authors found that the study of human body measurement in India – ie. the anthropometric indicators of nutrition – were among the worst in the world.

UNICEF supports this finding with some alarming facts -

  •  70% of children aged 6-59 months are anaemic. Children of mothers who are severely anaemic are seven times as likely to be severely anaemic than children of non-anaemic mothers
  • Only half (51%) of households use adequately iodized salt
  • The percentage of children who are severely underweight is almost five times higher among children whose mothers have no education
  • Undernutrition is substantially higher in rural than in urban areas.

Indian toddlerJeevika’s partner, WORD works with Tribal women to help mitigate their lack of nutrition. They do this by training women to grow a range of four millet crops which are known to have a much higher level of nutrition than other grains, particularly rice.

 

The millet seeds they sow are organic and the seeds are collected and exchanged with women farmers within the project as well as with male farmers outside the project activities in order to spread the production of millet.

Woman and child in fieldThis project has only just begun but we hope to be able to prove by the end of its three-year support by www.innocentfoundation.org that women and their children – indeed, all family members – involved in growing millet will be much healthier as a result.

Help Jeevika Trust to support, sustain and expand these activities by donating here.

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Old question, new debate – Aid to India

When India has a space programme, more billionaires than the UK and an aid budget of its own, should the UK still be sending money there?

This was a question raised by the BBC’s South Asia reporter Justin Rowlatt on Radio 4’s Today Programme, and skilfully debated by Oxfam India CEO, Nisha Agrawal earlier today. Despite being one of the world’s fastest growing economies, India suffers from vast poverty; over a third of the world’s poor live there and, according to Agrawal, between 30-40% of Indians live on less than $1.25 a day.

Livelihood projectJeevika Trust has been working in villages in India for over 45 years in an effort to revitalise rural communities, empower marginalised women and help some of the world’s poorest people help themselves out of poverty through building sustainable livelihoods. The projects we support in partnership with grassroots Indian NGOs have touched one hundred thousand lives in village India since 1970 and have brought improved sanitation, better health and nutrition, empowerment and increased financial stability to hundreds of villages in Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Tamil Nadu.

Village IndiaWith India, particularly rural India, having been supported by the UK Government for many years, we are suffering after DfID’s decision to close its main aid programme to India by the end of 2015. One of our flagship projects, the Madhu Network Project, was funded for two years by the department and helped hundreds of isolated women from dalit and tribal communities in Odisha become self-sustaining village entrepreneurs by training them in bee keeping and the production and marketing of honey. Through participating in this project, some women were able to increase their household income by over 20 per cent after just one harvest, improving conditions for their whole families. Honey productionAfter the success of the pilot phase of this project, we hoped to extend the initiative to multiple other villages to benefit hundreds more marginalised women and their families; however, with the cuts in aid from DfID and from other funding sources following suit, this extension has not yet been possible.

Our Executive Director, Andrew Redpath said: “It is frustrating that there is a perception that India no longer needs aid. It is a country of 1.2 billion people and the world’s biggest poverty trap with over 280 million people living in poverty in rural areas and villages alone.

“We have seen immense success in our projects and, with our Indian NGO partners, we have been able to make a positive impact on a hundred thousand people over the last 45 years. There is still a huge amount of work to be done and millions of people who need the support of NGOs like Jeevika Trust.

Crab cultivation“We’re not about handouts – we’re about village livelihoods. We recognise that there is far greater success in helping marginalised communities stand on their own two feet through building sustainable livelihoods and enterprises than there is in simply delivering food or utilities.

“We’re calling on the world to recognise that millions of people in rural India still need help, and that aid cuts will have a long term negative impact on so many people living in desperate poverty.”

To make a donation to support our livelihood projects, please click on the link below:

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Living with the Narikuravar

By Jeevika Trust’s former Communities Consultant, Becky Buchanan

Before I started working with Jeevika in 2012, I had spent the hot dusty summer of 2011 living with the gypsies on the temple-strewn plains of Tamil Nadu, India. Together we worked, danced and celebrated festivals, and we even got tattooed together. The recent blog documenting the work of Jeevika Trust and the Annai Mary Foundation with a different branch of this tribe brought back many memories as romantic as an Enid Blyton story.

Becky Buchanan with a Narikuravar babyI was a volunteer at the Narikuravar Education and Welfare Society. As team leader I strategised the approach to capacity building for the NGO, mainly in the fields of English grammar and social media, livelihood development for women and holistic education for the school children.

The Narikuravar gypsies are happy to capitalise on their mystical image, and travel to sell home-crafted cures for everything from baldness to impotence, as well as religious necklaces known as mala. These can signify a variety of blessings, from marriage to talismans with nine colours symbolising the 9 planets in harmony.

A Narikuravar Girl - Indian Gypsy childThis industrious self-employment is not without its problems. Locally, school children have to achieve 85% attendance to graduate to the next year, but with family welfare an immediate priority children commonly repeat 1st grade five times, then leave.

Discrimination remains rife from the local community who have been settled for longer. The stigma means it is hard to find other work and contributes to a continuing cycle of alcoholism, domestic violence and early marriage.

I had the joy of living beside a hostel for children to attend school whilst their parents worked. After work, I played games with the kids, applied basic first aid and gave them what they really needed – love and attention.

Narikuravar education teaching childrenThe Narikuravar culture persists through years of persecution. As the men pay dowry to marry (the opposite of wider Indian culture) women are more respected – they even had a lady shaman priest at one Kali sacrifice festival I went to! Dreams and symbolism are vital to daily life. The vagriboli language has no written dictionary yet shares roots with the Roma language.

The work of Jeevika Trust respects the Narikuravar’s traditional way of life whilst equipping people with skills and options for self-improvement and health. By donating today, you can help Narikuravar women and their families access health care, improve their nutritional health and enjoy a better, more sustainable future.

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