A daily routine is starting to set in with some things; volunteers each spend time reflecting on the day, writing their recollections into their journals, remembering the extraordinary events that occur every day.
This is the way in India...Heera said we would be meeting the community council members today, then we would visit the project work site. Quite unexpectedly, after winding along narrow roads, dodging cows, dogs, men and women carrying loads of sticks that were twice the size of them, or others, with graceful strides, carrying pots of water on their heads, we arrived at a small school far on the outskirts of Bhinder.
We could see women and children in the school yard, but after disembarking with our day packs, we were greeted with such warmth that we were at a loss for words. A young woman emerged from the crowd, carrying a metal tray, holding a simple urn of water and a small shallow dish. Within the dish was a small amount of wet, red paste - the material that would forever bond us to these people, India and humanity. Carefully, she looked into my eyes, dipped a finger into the paste, and made a long cool-feeling mark on my forehead, then touched a final pat of paste onto my hair. The school principal then placed a garland of orange chrysanthemums around my neck, grabbed my hand firmly, and welcomed me into their community, school, and so much more. The pair, watched by more than one hundred women, men and children, with equal care and thoughtfulness, approached each member of our group and welcomed them accordingly.
After removing our shoes, we sat on mats, while everyone who could fit on the school veranda around us, crossed their legs and sat around us. Heera made introductions, spoke at length about the partnership between these farming families, Developing World Connections and what the mutual and collective partnership of people cooperatively working together are capable of.
Several self-help group representatives stood, and each in turn, with palms pressed together in friendship and greeting of equals, soul to soul, told how this cooperative relationship has improved their own lives, their immediate family members, and the greater community. Elders were introduced and all spoke eloquently as hushed community members listened in silent reverence and admiration.
There was so much to be proud of all around, and as each volunteer rose to speak, our words of gratitude for being able to share a small part of our lives with each of them, seemed to come from some deep place that holds all humanity together, regardless of distance, culture and time. A small group of school girls stood and sang a beautiful song of friendship and greeting that has been used by their community for centuries.
A young boy then stood and sing an ancient, and almost melancholy song, with his clear melodic voice, that brought lumps to our throats and tears to our eyes.
After the formal ceremonies ended, and we pulled ourselves together, we were swarmed with warm greetings, smiling faces and all of this, using only the language of warmth, gestures, and eyes that spoke many things of the heart.
Our morning was not even over, and the red paste, that was now dry on our foreheads, reminded us that a profound experience had just occurred, and would take much time to sink in to where it was being called from that sacred place from within each of us. We bid the families farewell, climbed back into our vans, and with much fanfare, photographs and waving, we regretfully climbed back into our vans to visit the location that would be our work site.
The setting of the site is within an eroded furrow in the land, where monsoon rains flash down the slope, leaving only enough water behind to support low prickly scrub bushes and desert palms. Decades of overgrazing and lower than normal rainfalls have brought this area to the point where any form of agriculture is impossible. Then Heera showed us what community self-help groups can do when they work collectively to improve a 54 hectare parcel of adjacent land. The community enclosed the land with a 1.5 meter rock wall in 2002 and the change, and with small rock runoff-velocity reducing walls in some gullies, dramatically changed the landscape to where the indigenous grasses yielded a harvest of hand-scythed animal fodder in the first year, and planted trees are now growing for future resources.
We completed the day by helping the families dig a deep ditch across a shallow gully in preparation for the coming water runoff retention wall. Then, with wonderfully aching muscles, we returned to our home base to reflect on another amazing experience.
DWC Team Leader