Finally I reached my new home
on Le Reveil du Soleil (India), 20/Apr/2009 03:58, 34 days ago
It took me around 25 long hours trip by train from Delhi to Bhubaneswar though it was quite ok if I wouldn’t cont the screaming baby who was in the compartment with me and made his presence loud every each hour. I would have heard him even if I would have been in other compartment as the sleeping wagon has on one side several compartments without doors and on the other side there are other chairs thatbecomes beds separated by curtains. However trains in India are quite comfortable and clean.And yes finally I was in Orissa. The difference between Bhubaneswar and Delhi is amazing. Blue sky, large clean quite organized streets, more patiently people, many facilities even a cycling path and different architecture. Apparently the city was designed by the same architect who designed Singapore. I spent two nights there and was accommodated in the house of other two volunteers. I even managed to convince a mobile service provider that my passport and VSO volunteer ID should be enough to prove my identity and new residence and got a mobile card too.I had continued my trip and traveled another 2.30- 3 hours train to Berhampur which is a busy dirty town with narrowed streets and lot of shops. Another half an hour and finally I reached Mohuda– actually Gram Vikas campus which is at 16 km away from Berhampur and some few kilometers from Mohuda village and I was welcomed by very friendly and warm people.The campus is placed in an idyllic forest and abundant mango and coconut trees and other fruits which I am still not familiar with, in the middle of the nature (and nowhere), surrounded by beautiful hills. The sky is clear, with beautiful sunsets and stars are making there shining presence. There is so much vegetation that I couldn’t spot the moon but I believe it is hided by the hills.There are quite few families living here – of members of the staff and the people who look after the campus, small organic farm and the dairy. Everybody is so welcoming and warm and Nimisha who is VSO volunteer (who had been here for about1 year) was extremely helpful so I can say it is so easy to integrated and accommodate myself within the community.It’s been almost a week since I am here and starting to get used with the rituals and peaceful path here. Having lunch at the canteen ( I used to have breakfast and dinner too but I have to start to cook simple plan dishes otherwise my stomach can’t take heavy spicy food for every meal anymore) aritual of itself. The canteen is placed at 2-3 minutes walking from the office. Once you reached the building you leave your shoes out and from the entrance you go than at washing basin and after washing hands you move than to wash one plate, than get back in the main hall take food and have funnyrelaxing conversation with the staff members while eating usually very spicy veg meals that includes rice obviously. After finishing the meal you do wash the plate you use and return to the office. The office building has itself a harmonic architecture with a beautiful interior garden with an immense mango tree. The staff members are so welcoming and nice, they even pin a card with leaves in flower shape on the notice board to signal that is my birthday on Friday. I heard than it is the custom whenever someone’s has birthday though in India birthdays are not celebrated.I started my work with an induction programme talking with several staff members, meeting the director, do some reading and the best part had a field trip this Friday which was amazing. We (me, an American postgraduate student and our guide Gram Vikas’s layer and special projects coordinator) traveled to some tribal villages close by Mohuda to see the results of Gram Vikas’s projects mainly on health and sanitation (toilets, bathrooms and water tanks and wells and a residential school for tribal children. The impact is so visible. The villages seem so organized, very clean and with basic facilities. The visit at Kankia school was so enjoyable the kids were curious to ask questions and we could also hear a girl with an angelic voice performing and traditional song. Gram Vikas is a very creative and visible organization in Orissa withstrong experience in rural development. Their interventions are integrated approaches and I think it is extraordinary the way they are working, trying to ensure sustainability of the projects and breaking the barriers of caste, social status and gender. Back in Delhi I was thinking many times and talk with some other volunteers how can you do development when everything seems so helpless due to caste and social disparities that are still so vivid and strong. But it seems Gram Vikas’s approach is trying to break these disparities. The rural health and environment programme is their entry point as everybody is concerned about health and want to improve sanitation facilities to have a better health and reduce waterborne diseases beyond their social status, gender, caste, untouchables… In order for Gram Vikas to make an agreement with the community to implement the programme it is a condition that every household must fully participate. So than every meeting reunites all village’s members. There is in average a 6 months lot of community facilitation and mobilization and leadership training and finally everybody is participating, forgetting about their status, forming a village committee, than a registered rural society. The effort must be common so than costs are shared as well. A fund is collected and each household is contributing with money and labour for the construction of toilets, bathrooms and water tanks. In this way sustainability is assured. And after that othersprogrammes are introduced in the community – livelihoods (helping people to give up to shifting cultivation by introducing horticulture, or masonry training etc..), education and so on and enforcing Panchayats. In many villages once the community was started to be organized the government startedto make their presence and brought electricity in the villages as well. It is brilliant! I still have to more grasp out of the 30 years experience of Gram Vikas..As my tasks are concern I still have to wait and see and discuss what I am going to do as my placement objectives are so out of date… They already had – a dutch consultancy group who developed a M&E integrated system and which now is being implemented. There is still lot of needs in the Monitoring&Evaluation and Documentation department so than I am waiting to see what are the needs and how can I fit and hopefully start real work soon as it had been so long since I last worked..I am starting to settle in here. My room is big dark and cool in a nice surroundings but still will be temporary as I will be moving again in a month in the other VSO volunteer’s room as she will be leaving and her room is fully equipped. I am starting to get use with the peace and quite atmosphere too. Though it might feel isolated it is such a nice friendly community in a beautiful surroundings full of vegetation and funny little animals – weird insects, ants, geckos, small dogs and cats. I was told stories about other not so funny animals – snakes, scorpions and even bears though the bears stories seems there are legends. Unfortunately not for the other two – I am still hoping I will not have the unpleasure to get acquainted with a snake or a scorpion..The weather is extremely hot and humid which makes me sweating every half an hour or less even after taking a cold shower. Yesterday a storm embrace the forest pouring heavily for half an hour or more and causing long electricity cuts. Still it was still hot after the storm..and today was almost unbearably. But I like sunny weather so I should not complain. I don’t want to be now in cold place not even I will melt here and crawl like a gecko…And as all good beginnings should start with a beginning I celebrated my 32 years anniversary here in the first week of my arrival. I hope and sense it is the beginning of a good year.