Tuesday, April 7, 2009

INDIA: The Project

Host Partner: Sayhog Sansthan
The Project: Water Harvesting Structure
The Total Cost: 1.5 lakh Indian Rupees
Contribution by Host Partner: 50% materials, scientific and project expertise.
Contribution by Villagers and Beneficiaries: 50% labour, tools and expertise.

10 -12 km outside of Bhinder lies a tribal village of 50-60 famlies named Vaniyatalai. Just outside of the main village portion was where the water harvesting structure was to be built. A trench of 4 feet wide and approx. 30 feet long, was dug across a small dry tributary. For the first week we dug out the trench by hand, using pick axes, and small shovels/hoes. The men mostly dug, while the women filled their Tdagari with sand and dirt. The Tdagari balanced precariously on their heads, the women walked up the small incline to dump the sand and back down to fill it once more. The sand was strategically placed in order to eventually extend the structure and contain the water once the monsoon rains arrived.

This is the second year of drought and once the structure is complete at the end of April, it will hold the water back just long enough to percolate some into parched land and recharge the water table and 5 open wells in and around the village. By the end of the first week, the trench had been dug 1.5 m below the surface to the bedrock. It was now time to lay the foundation stone. With ceremony and blessings, we took part in the laying of the first stone, and cement mixing begun!

The second week on the Project found us mixing cement and hauling stones. The women mixed cement – 60 Tdagari of sand + 1 bag of cement and 20 pails of water. First the dry is mixed and then into a circle with a small well for water, and then the 20 pails of water. Then the dry cement is scooped into the well and from there it sits for 10 – 15 minutes. Eventually, one or two women scoop the cement with a large hoe, another lifts the Tdagari onto the heads of the women who balance it and walk it to the trench. All of us foreign women slopped cement down the back of ourselves more than once!

While the women were doing this, the men moved rocks, big rocks, huge rocks that took two – three men to carry, and 60 kg bags of dry cement. They work very safe here, carefully stepping and moving rocks. They are incredibly resourceful and reasonably fast and making tools and implements to assist them in the labour. After several hours of work we headed up to the village for traditional breakfast of milk and maize and later to another's home for chai. It was hot and by the second week we were better acclimatized, still taking breaks in the shade and consuming lots of water, but move slightly faster, and felt a bit fresher at the end of the day.

There was little English spoken by the people, however through hand gestures and pointing, we were able to converse and share our lives. Amongst the women, we chatted about husbands and children, sisters and mothers. Amongst the men, they spoke about the work, the tools and materials and amount of harvest, rain and flora of the area. A great commraderie was established by the end of the third project day, and by the very last day, tears were shed, and ache in our hearts appeared. I think each one of us would like to return someday, to see the project and hear news of the families, and share space once again.

INDIA: Location and Culture

The Location and Culture:

In the southeast corner of Rajasthan, lies the town of Bhinder, home to some 30, 000 people. The town is made up of a mix of Hindu, Muslim, and Tribal people and in the center of town is a 600 year old palace. The palace has been converted into a historic hotel with 25 rooms, each with a western style bathroom. It is here the group of 8 stayed and traveled from each morning to the project site. Most days we came back for lunch, a short rest, and then there was free time or travel to visit different families homes. We were welcomed into the villagers homes and they appeared to be so excited, we saw hand made mills stones, the freezer, the dairy owner, we played with children and Trudie did a bit of sewing. Jeff played Tic-Tac-Toe with some school boys and Erin and I held hands with our new found women friends.

We saw the village school that has 127 students up until the 8th class. Across the dirt road is a preschool with 20 children under 5. We visited completed Sayhog projects like the Climate Change project, the Biodiversity project, and several other villages that have been self-sufficient since Sayhog assisted them with water harvesting structures, better breeds of animals, and expertise. We heard about the success of this particular village since 2005 and witnessed the difference in the landscape from where there is water and where there is little. The children appear healthier, the community so proud and because of the philosophy of Sayhog, each community is invested in their own success. Sahyog started working with this village in 2001 and they have been self sufficient since 2005. They talked about the creation and success of self help groups. (SHG’s) How each member contributes a certain amount, as decided by the group, and then if and when they need a loan, then they borrow from themselves with a much lower interest rate – 10-20% instead of from other private lenders at 60-70%. There were some fabulous photos taken and more chai was drunk. Heera Lal, Sayhog Secretary, was an excellent tour guide and project manager. From this village we went back to Bhinder. On the way, the small car Pablo was riding in had a flat tire, and so we didn't get back to the hotel until 7 pm with 30 minutes to wash up, everyone was beat but the show must go on and so a group of tribal and farmer men came to the hotel and preformed puja, ate and then sang many songs to Shiva and danced. This is was one of the most fabulous evenings during the two weeks. To see them sing and dance, and enjoy themselves it was a beautiful evening.

The food was amazing! The town of Bhinder friendly and safe. The Villagers we worked with were friendly and curious and generous. It has been an amazing experience, full of meaningful connections with the people, an education, and an opportunity for sharing.