A Tribal Adventure

Jeevika’s Seventh Stakeholder Workshop – with thanks to the UK Department for International Development – has been a great success.

Nilgiri Mountains
Packed into an ancient rattle-trap of a tiny bus,
our five Indian partners, India Co-ordinator Priya Anand and UK Programme Officer Judith Crosland – 10 of us in all – travelled what felt the length and breadth of the Nilgiri Hills.  A range in the westernmost part of Southern India, the Nilgiris come together to form the Western Ghats mountain chain where Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala meet.

Jeevika & Partners

Why the Nilgiris, you ask? Because it is here that Keystone Foundation has been working in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve since 1995 with indigenous communities on eco-development initiatives.

Keystone introduced us to members of the five Kurumba Tribes, and to the tribal women who process the wild honey which is collected by their menfolk as it hangs from the ancient Nilgiri cliffs.  From these women we learnt how to squeeze every last drop of precious honey from the beeswax and how to maximise much of what honey and beeswax have to offer.

We tried our hand at processing the honey into its purest form;  we learned how to make organic lip balms, soaps, jams and candles; and how to package honey and beeswax products to successfully compete in the open market.  And, of course, to monitor quality control.

We also made paper bags in which these beautiful products are sold in Green Shops fully managed and owned by the tribal co-operatives.  We even tried our hand at silk screen printing Green Shop on the bags.  It was fun and we learned much from these generous, creative, capable women.

silk screen printing

To help Jeevika provide new opportunities for Jeevan Rekha Parishad in Odisha; Mithra Foundation, Annai Mary Foundation, Women’s Organisation for Development, and Social Change & Development to bring their new skills to some of India’s most impoverished Tribal & Scheduled Caste women villagers, please hit the DONATE button

just giving donate button

Wishing our bees in Orissa a happy 1st birthday!

Jeevika’s Madhu Honey Network project celebrated its first birthday with a Honey Fair on 24th March this year in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. For the first time ever, 30 Tribal women beekeepers left their villages to travel to Bhubaneswar to represent their Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and to sell the honey their bees have produced over the last year.

Traditionally, these women collected wild honey from the forest and sold it however they could in whatever bottles they could gather for minimal profit. As members of the Madhu Honey Network – Madhu meaning honey in the Oriya language – they now produce honey in hives, then filter, pool, bottle, and label it. This has enabled them to sell their honey for competitive prices to their neighbours as well as in the local marketplace.

Honey in India

Honey in India

Indeed, at their first Honey Fair stall, they sold not only honey but other produce such as mustard and sunflower seeds, lentils and incense sticks and, through the process of fertilisation, their bees helped them.

One excellent outcome of the Honey Fair was that Jeevika’s partner organisation, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP) – which is responsible for the beekeeping project and organisation of the Honey Fair – was that the State Ministers for Horticulture and Tribal People, and the Directors of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and of the Khadi Village Investment Board, all agreed that they are keen to work collaboratively with JRP to expand the Madhu Honey Network into a viable beekeeping/honey production industry within Orissa.

Honey in India

Honey in India

When funding from the British Department for International Development (DfID) for the project ends in November 2013, JRP is ready to become a lead NGO for beekeeping in Orissa: it trains villagers to become beekeepers; it trains youths to make bee hives for the project as well as to sell to other beekeepers; it has published a Trainer’s Manual in the Oriya language; and in the coming months, it will form some beekeepers into a separate SHG to make protective clothing for beekeepers.

The honey that the Tribal women produce – like all honey – is highly valued for being nutritious as well as having medicinal properties; and by the time of its second birthday, the project will be providing a sustainable income for some 300 beekeepers while the bees will also help their farmer husbands by fertilising village crops.

Bees are to be celebrated as, indeed, are the Tribal women beekeepers of Orissa!

Honey in India

If you would like to help continue Jeevika’s work with the women beekeepers of Orissa, please consider making a secure donation through our JustGiving page. Thank you!

Jeevika Trust Just Giving

Voices from India: Basanti in Bebari

It’s a balmy Tuesday morning in Orissa as we make our way to the village of Bebari, nearly a three-hour drive from the state capital of Bhubaneswar. For the last few miles, the road is nothing but thick red clay, and several times we pause to give way to cows, the cowherds clucking their tongues to clear up the jam.

A year has gone by since I’ve been to Orissa, and I’m delighted to find myself here once again with Jeevika’s programmes officer, Judith, our in-country coordinator, Priya, and Manu and Madhu, directors of our partner NGO in Orissa, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP).

Today is our first day heading back into the field to visit our projects.

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

Come and learn from bees reads a poster on one of the first buildings we see in Bebari. But today we have come to not only learn from bees, but from the women who keep them. After receiving a two-year extension from DFID, Jeevika and JRP have continued the Madhu Network Project, which supports 300 traditional women beekeepers in 10 villages across Orissa.

The first woman I sit down with is named Basanti. With Manu kindly offering to translate, I learn that she is 40 years old and has four children – a son and three daughters, ranging in age from 8 to 20 years old. While her children are all studying, Basanti herself has no education.

“There was no school at the time,” she explains. “There was only jungle when I was a child. My parents taught me some letters. That is all.

Originally from the Ganjam district, Basanti has lived in Bebari for 25 years, and was married at the age of 15. “Earlier, there was nothing. We were just housewives. Now we have started beekeeping.”

Basanti even tells us she had the first beehive box in the village. And since two Self-Help Groups (SHGs) were formed in Bebari six months ago, she has become president of hers.

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

There are typically three kilograms of honey in a harvest, with each kilogram earning 200 rupees in local markets. Basanti uses the extra income to buy household items, for the treatment of her son when he was suffering from fever, and “also for the study of my children.”

“Earlier no one was giving us a single rupee for our activities. Now we have our group and our savings. We are very happy to be working together in a team for economic activities. It is increasing day by day, so we will not stop.

“Now you all have come. We need to assess our other needs and other programmes. That is our future plan. We are very happy many people are coming to our village now.”

In addition to meeting household needs and expenses, each member of the SHG also currently saves 20 rupees a month in their collective savings account. Hearing this is a necessary reminder of the hundreds of millions of rural people living at the ‘base of the pyramid’ that is today’s modern India.

While those at the top now earn and spend at European rates, women like Basanti still find tiny amounts of money to be a worthwhile return on time and effort. Indeed, I think back to what she had said earlier in our conversation:

We are increasing day by day.

I already look forward to the updates – and to seeing Basanti again – when we’re back in Orissa this time next month.

Please consider supporting Jeevika with a small donation as we work to support Basanti and other women beekeepers like her in the communities of village India:

Donate to Jeevika Trust

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

“That collective female power”: Understanding the Delhi rape case

You’ll have read about the case of Jyoti Singh Pandey, a college student returning home in a bus with a male friend, who was raped and brutalised by a gang of young men, subsequently dying of her wounds. This was a symptom of degraded urban humanity, going far beyond animal instinct and assertion of power, into insatiable rage, and the objectification and destruction of a female stranger.

The case was not isolated, so why it led to an extraordinary explosion of publicity, extensive press treatment and mass public protests by women and men alike, in India and abroad, puzzles observers. But it did, and it has led to calls for world leaders, when they consider the ‘post Millennium Development Goals agenda’ in 2015, to enshrine ‘zero tolerance on violence against women’ in the future.

Protests over Delhi rape case

But reversal of sexual attitudes in deeply set male power structures – the courts, the police, the military, higher-caste village men, and even politicians, all of whom are associated with systematic rape and molestation – will take more than even this storm to accomplish.

What is known as ‘eve-teasing’ is no longer a joke when 78% of women in a Hindustan Times survey late last year reported sexual harassment during 2012, of whom 69% reported groping and forcible assault; increasingly explicit rape scenes have become common features in Indian cinema; in 2012 only a single rape case out of 635 brought in Delhi led to a conviction, and the culture of reproaching women victims and excusing male parties is common even at high political levels.

In this case the young men concerned had reportedly all been brought up in villages, and their life in urban slums had fostered social resentment and anger against people like the victim; whether, had they stayed in their villages, the anger would have been less is speculative.

But the dislocation of village people finding their feet in city slums starkly illustrates what happens when rural livelihoods fail; when young people, especially males, are tempted to migrate to the cities and then become disillusioned with the limitations and stresses they face, and the realisation that they have no part in the ‘shining’ modern India – dream or reality.

The typical anonymity of urban rape does not apply in typical villages where ‘everyone knows’ what is happening in the community, but where patriarchal male attitudes and power enable domestic violence to go unchallenged. The redoubtable goddess Kali, with her many arms, her red tongue and her garland of little skulls is the mascot of rural women all over India.

More real, however, is the confidence and empowerment which women derive from building a Self-Help Group of 10 or 15 women to receive training, share profitable work and generate income and respect as providers for their families.

Self-Help Group in India

That collective female power can match the power of the men – and both we at Jeevika and you as our supporters can take credit for enabling it to happen.

Please consider supporting Jeevika with a small donation as we work to build this collective female power in the communities of village India:

Jeevika Trust

First photo used courtesy of the Indian Fusion.

Giving Thanks: What harvest festivals and Jeevika have in common

This week on the blog, our programmes officer Judith asks, what do harvest festivals and Jeevika have in common?

The harvest festival of Pongal is celebrated by hundreds of thousands of people during the third week of January in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu where Jeevika and its partners undertake village livelihood activities.

This four-day festival of thanksgiving to nature takes its name from the Tamil word meaning ‘to boil’ and is held during the season when rice and other cereals, sugar-cane, and turmeric (an essential ingredient in Tamil cooking) are harvested. For as long as people have been planting and gathering food, there has been some form of harvest festival and Pongal is one of the most important popular Hindu festivals of the year.

Pongal Festival, Tamil Nadu

Tamilians say ‘Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum’, and believe that knotty family problems will be solved with the advent of Pongal Day. This is traditionally the month of weddings. This is not a surprise in a largely agricultural community – the riches gained from a good harvest form the economic basis for expensive family occasions like weddings.

Jeevika’s work with the most impoverished villagers in the districts of Namakkal, Madurai and Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu ensure that crops and other agricultural activities such as beekeeping and goat-rearing can be carried out during times when employment, rains and other resources are low.

Some of these activities include organic composting, organic seed collection, the harvesting of water and support for revolving funds which enable women in Self Help Groups to borrow funds to support their income-generation activities which they can repay when they have a surplus and are able to make sales. This support from Jeevika and its partners keeps the cycle of village life turning.

Beekeeping projects in India

Similarly, here in the UK, many people join in a harvest celebration on the Sunday nearest the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox. Celebrations usually include people bringing in produce from the garden, allotment or farm and decorating their church. The food is then distributed among the poor and senior citizens of the local community. This is just another way of sharing what the Earth has to offer and what we are prepared to give.

With your help, Jeevika can give more to our partners to enable them to help some of the poorest people on Earth. If you want to know more of what we do, please look explore our website and if you want to help, click on http://www.justgiving.com/jeevikatrust/donate.

Meanwhile, let’s all thank the Earth for providing what it does and send the best of Pongal celebrations to our 1,038 women beneficiaries and their 12,110 family members:  may it be a good harvest in 2013 both in India and the UK!

First photograph used courtesy of Family Tour Packages India.

All that water and not a drop to drink…

Have we, here in the UK, been experiencing a monsoon? For people in some parts of the country there have been torrential downpours and uncontrollable depths of water – none of which is possible to trap or to drink.

Flooding in the UK

How would we feel if it happened every year of our lives?  Ruining our homes, spoiling our food, and making eating, sleeping and washing to keep clean impossible?

And, unlike the UK, all of this happening in unbearable steamy heat.

Millions of villagers in India experience the monsoon every year of their lives: mud houses and thatched roofs are damaged, children unable to go to school, livestock marooned or drowned, all tracks or roads out of the village under water and food difficult to access. There are no rescue teams here, no boats to help people to safety.

These are the people Jeevika works with: the poorest of the poor. 

Our water development projects with our partner organisations in Orissa and Tamil Nadu work with the villagers to dig large water catchments to help collect the water from the monsoon. This can then be used to water crops when the rain has stopped and to provide water for livestock.

Water development projects in India

To these ponds they sometimes add fish seedlings which grow into large fish that support their family’s nutrition and help generate a little income from the surplus of fish sold in the local market.

Fishing projects in India

We also provide water catchment tanks on the roofs of schools so that there is clean water for drinking and for the sanitation facilities we provide. The children use the harvested water on their vegetable gardens and trees which we sponsor in the school grounds so that they may learn to become self-sufficient and environmentally-aware.

Rainwater harvesting in India

It doesn’t solve all the problems that these villagers live with during and after the monsoon, but it does help.

Have you experienced any of the recent flooding in the UK? 

Flood image courtesy of Mango World Magazine.

A weekend journey with Jeevika in Tamil Nadu, part one

We apologize for the gap in posts as our team has been travelling everywhere from Belgrade to Marrakech. We’re back this week with director Andrew Redpath sharing a story from a recent trip to India…read on for the first part of his journey!

Travelling between cities in India reminds one of the country’s vastness – 3-hour flights, endless rail journeys and hectic bus journeys are often the norm. Meeting up with our Indian NGO partners in Delhi, Orissa (Odisha) and Tamil Nadu, to keep in touch with them and understand the village communities we aim to help, needs planning and logistics. And weekends come in very handy.

One weekend last November, we covered a lot of ground physically and metaphorically. My colleague and fellow-trustee Mark Hoda had not travelled in rural India for several years and joined me on a trip to Tamil Nadu. He brought great energy to the whole trip, and has constantly referred back to the value he obtained from seeing some of our projects in the field.

We first flew into Delhi where we met up with our sister organization, the Schumacher Centre (SCD), founded by us in 2001 under the leadership of Dr Dusmanta Giri. SCD and Giri are going strong with substantial projects in Orissa and Haryana, which this trip did not allow us to see. But that’s another story…

Chidambaram Shiva templeOn a Friday evening we flew down to Chennai, planning to sleep in the former French protectorate of Pondicherry, and on the Saturday headed by bus for the small city of Chidambaran, seat of Shiva-worship.

Our two modest suitcases were not welcome on board, as the driver made clear as did the jostle of passengers milling around us: his bus had no stowage space above, below or behind so everyone came on board with their baggage, but smile as we might he was not happy with ours!

After inveighing against us in Tamil, as gently reported by the woman sitting behind us, he finally accepted we were not moving and asked for the fare in faultless English – a mere Rs 69 for both of us (that’s called subsidised rural mobility!).

At Cuddalore, halfway through, a throng of people wedged themselves on, all standing, so it was virtually impossible to budge. With continuous two-tone horn blasts from start to finish we were the biggest beast on the road, ploughing ahead through impossible gaps and obstacles with horn full on. With this, and screechy music and Indian sitcom female voices all the way – not a moment to nod off.

Our main destination was the Shiva Nataraja temple, on its 40 acres in mid-town: the god Shiva takes form as the famous dancing figure in a circle of flames – the Lord of the Cosmic Dance.

Four stupendous gopurams, tapering multi-storey towers, with painted human faces of every kind staring forever down at us (actually these all date from around 17th century).

Entering at the south gate, leaving our shoes, passing by the big tank with an elderly woman bathing in brown water in a diaphanous brown sari, we passed to the east gate whose portals are rich with carvings of the 108 classical natyam dance postures: we counted all but 4, each carefully depicted in bas relief panels, along with some standing figures of Shiva, Parvati and one blackened, garlanded one behind a caged door whose identity was unclear…

Check back next Monday for the second part to Andrew’s story from Chidambaram. Do you have a story to share from your own adventures in India? We’d love to hear them!

An Inspiring Induction: Making a World of Difference with Vodafone

There is wisdom in smallness.”
– E. F. Schumacher

As Andrew mentioned in his post last week, both Candace and I are winners of Vodafone’s World of Difference (WOD) programme this year. I think Vodafone deserves a lot of credit for coming up with such an innovative CSR initiative.

At our induction day in late February, I had the pleasure of meeting lots of other winners from diverse walks of life. Like me, many of them are being enabled to transform the fortunes of small charities by the WOD programme.

A very small world

By very happy coincidence, one of the winners I met was Tom Stedall. Tom’s charity, The Converging World, works with the same Indian partner as Jeevika Trust in Tamil Nadu, Social Change and Development (SCAD).

Jeevika runs Project Pisces with SCAD, which has brought three traditional water reservoirs, known as ooranies, back into use providing water for farming and domestic use. Here’s an idea of how the transformation takes place:

Restoring ponds in India

Restoring ponds in India

Ooranie pond restoration in India

Additionally, in 2010 the ooranies were used for fish farming and the harvest was consumed and sold by 2,500 villagers in the Tuticorin area.

Ooranie pond restoration in India

The Converging World supports SCAD community development projects on GP consultations, education and women’s self help groups and is also developing renewable energy and woodstove initiatives.

Connecting Schumacher with World of Difference

Both The Converging World and Jeevika Trust draw inspiration from the radical economist, E.F. Schumacher, author of the book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered.

Schumacher rejected large scale industrial development based on the exploitation of finite, non-renewable resources.

He instead believed in tackling poverty by revitalising rural communities, promoting inclusive, sustainable development and creating and sharing appropriate knowledge and technology centred around human well-being.

At Vodafone’s inspirational induction day, listening to the fascinating stories of so many activists that are improving the world through grassroots, community-based organisations, it occurred to me that Schumacher’s belief that “Small is beautiful” is also a very apt description for the WOD programme itself.

Restoring ponds in India

To learn more about our water projects, such as Project Ooranie in Tamil Nadu, visit our website. Have a question about ooranie pond restoration? Leave a comment below and we’d love to tell you more!

Are you ready for a journey?

Man on bicycle in IndiaToday is an exciting day for us at Jeevika—the kind of day where you wake up before the alarm (which doesn’t happen often) and actually get to the train station on time.

All of this Christmas-morning-like anticipation has to do with one thing—the launch of this, our very first Jeevika blog. You may ask, why a blog? Why bother? Why start one now? And don’t worry, we’ve asked ourselves similar questions, but the answer we came up with is really quite simple.

The answer is you.

Since the new year, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking—indeed our office has become quite tricky to navigate with so many brainstorms and ideas zipping through the air—all to see what we can do to kick 2012 off with as big a bang as possible.

What we’ve felt is missing at the moment is a place to engage with you, our friends and supporters who are interested in rural development in India and want to learn more about the diversity of livelihood projects we’re helping to support. What’s missing is a conversation.

To change this, we want to invite you on a journey.

This isn’t the kind of journey that needs a passport or visa, and thankfully it doesn’t involve lugging overweight suitcases to the airport. All you need to bring is yourself. (Now that’s a packing list even I can handle…)

A journey with Jeevika might be an Indian woman’s involvement in a livelihood we help to support. It might also be one of our partner NGOs learning to deliver a new project or a UK supporter taking part in one of our annual events.

Jeevika Trust Livelihood Projects

Jeevika Trust partner NGOs

Jeevika Trust Fundraising Events

The important thing is that everyone can come on a journey with Jeevika. As though it were as easy as hopping on a train, it’s possible for anyone—whether in the UK, India or elsewhere—to come along and join us for the ride.

For a taste of what’s to come, here are a few things we’ve got planned so far:

  • “Voices from India” – a series of stories following several women that have been involved with our projects. From Basanti in Orissa to Priya in Tamil Nadu, we can’t wait for you to meet them.
  • “Jeevika in the Field” – a ground-level look at some of our team visits to India. These visits are an exciting chance to connect with our local partners in India, and we want you to come along, too.
  • Inspiring photo essays on livelihood projects such as crab cultivation and beekeeping—have you ever wondered how something as small as a crab or bee could change a life?

So the only question that remains is: are you ready for a journey?

Because we are, and we can’t wait to set out on it with you.

What are some of the things you’d like to read about and see on this blog? Leave us a comment–we’d love to hear your ideas!