Saturday, June 25, 2011

Week 3

Three days ago I went to Setrawa to see the empowerment center and school that Sambhali runs in the village. It was my first time driving in the highways of India-and that was an experience. Cars are constantly getting into the opposite lane to pass slower cars, trucks, busses, or rickshaw (which happen to be full of people). The scenery was beautiful; the Thar Desert dotted with trees. You could not go more than 10 minutes without seeing an awesome animal, just walking around minding its own business. I saw camels (one hump-if you are curious), gazelles, goats and baby goats, cows, and PEACOCKS!! I felt like the most ridiculous tourist trying to take pictures of the peacock, I’m good at embarrassing myself.

Setrawa is a village of 3000 and it was amazing to be able to be there and experience the atmosphere and people. During the day, Sambhali runs a school for young children there who are not enrolled in school. These kids are such a joy to watch. They get bathed once they get to school at around 11am, and once all of them are clean and fresh, they have prayer and singing. I got to see them pray and sing their English and Hindi songs. They close their eyes and sing with such conviction, all of them are so excited and well behaved. After they stood up one at a time to introduce themselves, in such perfect English! I just wanted to take them all with me-they were absolutely adorable.

In the afternoon, girls who are already enrolled in school come for extra tutoring and practice. It’s incredible that they are putting an extra effort to come and practice even more. Their time at Sambhali is also usually the only time these girls get to have fun and play. The age range is between 9-15, and all of them usually help out at home doing chores when they are not at school. Their English is amazing, and when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, the most common answer is “police woman.”

I also got to see Govind, the founder of the organization, and Sambhali Trust give out a few loans to older women in the community. Sambhali has started micro-finance in the village, and most women take out loans to buy cows, goats, sewing machines, or grinding machines. An American that came with us to Setrawa is doing research on women’s empowerment and micro-finance, and it was interesting to watch what happened and get her insight on how Sambhali differs compared to other organizations.

We ended our day at the home of Govind’s cousin, on the outskirts of the village. Their home consisted of four stone rooms. There were 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, and room where the goats were kept. It was incredible to see this type of life-style, which is considered comfortable for the desert. To see people being able to utilize everything and waste so little (or basically nothing), really puts life into perspective. It’s overstated and completely cliché, but seeing this family and the simple life they lead made me think about what happiness, satisfaction, and the concept of “enough.” I know the feeling is common and stereotypical, but I don’t think its significance and what it means should be downplayed.

My Friend Raj looking great before a family party!

Govind's Cousin's wife making masala chai for us in her kitchen.


The Micro-finance group!

The kids!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Week 1

It has already been more than a week, and everyday I am learning something more about India, Jodhpur, and the Sambhali Trust. So why am I working with the Sambhali Trust, and in all places in Jodhpur?

A while back, in August, I got an email from the GPP minor that talked about the Sambhali Trust. I had been looking for practice options and organizations to work with, and the more I read about the Trust the more I liked them. I’ll keep it simple, the Trust was established by Govind Rathore (my boss) in 2007, working almost exclusively with Dalit (lower caste/untouchable) women and girls. By teaching them Hindi, English, Math, sewing, arts and crafts, and other workshops, they hope to not only educate the girls and give them a means for employment, but to also empower them and increase their self confidence and belief in themselves. Based on the interests of various volunteers throughout the year, they have offered different workshops like photography, nutrition, health, sexual health, etc. Throughout the 5 years, they have grown tremendously, now they have 2 centers in Jodhpur, a boutique where graduates sell their work, a number of centers in the village of Setrawa, and micro-finance.

Jodhpur is located in the Rajasthan region of India, a region that is known for its cuisine (sweets) heat (its in the Thar Desert), and is also one of the more conservative and traditional regions of India. Women usually wear the tradition Indian clothing, and many married women cover their face and hair with thin veils in front of their husbands as a sign of respect. Though love marriages are increasing, arranged marriages are still common as well. Rajasthan is also one of the remaining regions where caste still plays a huge role, especially in the villages.
Govind tells me that the centers in the village of Setrawa are still not fully accepted. Not only are they working with women, but they are also working with Dalits, and many of the higher caste men are stubborn to accept this.

My daily life here revolves around the school and family. Since I live where I also work, I have become pretty comfortable with the staff and family. I usually get up by 8am, after breakfast and some reading, I go upstairs to the classrooms. The girls get to the school by 11, so I try to do some research and administration work (like writing proposal responses, looking for ways to find more volunteers, email responses). Between 11-3 I am with the girls. I’m technically only working with 4 girls in English, between 12-12:45 (Nitu, Nitu, Jasoda, and Momtaj), but I love spending time with all of them. They are so incredibly open and accepting, always asking questions, always helping each other out. They spend a lot of time on their sewing, and you can always find at least 2 girls sewing in the corner. I’m getting much better with communicating with them, and Tamanna, the sewing teacher, has been a great help in filling me in on the stories behind different girls, and what type of activities she thinks would benefit them. Each girl here has a story, many come from homes where their fathers or husbands suffer from alcoholism, and many come from violent homes. They deal with what Govind calls the triple curse: caste, gender, and class.
But, what I feel is important is that they are very positive. They are always laughing, and acting silly. One of the girls did awesome henna work on my hands the other day, and we all had so much fun watching her work.
After the girls leave at 3, I go back to doing administration work. Then, I might go to Fresh and Green (the grocery store) to buy mangos (which are INCREDIBLE here), or National Handloom (a kind of mall) for some Kulfi(Indian ice-cream). Next week I will be going to the other center as well at 3pm, they were on vacation this week.
After 7pm I end up hanging out in the kitchen, talking to Mukta (Govind’s wife), her sister-in-law, or the 3 boys that work here. I watch them cook, ask A LOT of questions, and just watch the family interaction-it’s very lovely. Dinner usually consists of 2 vegetarian dishes, maybe some soup, and chapatti. I have become slightly obsessed with chapatti, which I can only describe as a round, wheat, lavash-like bread, but much tastier.

Well, this is a much longer post than I intended initially-Sorry! Hopefully I can write a bit more about my adventures in the city (Sundays are adventure days, because they are off), and on Govind’s insight (he has so much knowledge on NGOs in India, empowerment work, and Indian culture and history!)

Here are some pictures ☺