Jharkhand 2018: Day 3

On Thursday December 27, we made the drive back from Giridih to Ranchi. On the way we stopped in the Gola district, a place I visited last time! There I got to meet four sevikas (plus one male helper) and one sayonjika. Quick recap: Ekal Arogya, which is Ekal’s health division of village development, trains one woman in each village to be a sevika. The sevika knows basic symptoms and home remedies, and uses preventative techniques to keep her village healthy. For example, she educates the children on hygiene and finds places to build soak pits. A sayonjika oversees ten sevikas.

Village women live in a very different culture than I’m used to. It’s a lot harder there for women to open up and speak freely. To my surprise, they had no such qualms. They told me that thanks to Ekal’s training, they have become very respected in their communities. They have a job, and the whole village supports them and listens to them. I could see their empowerment shining as they looked me in the eye and talked to me about their personal experiences, feelings, and concerns.

These women do a lot of amazing work. For example, after training they now know that diarrhea, a very common malady in children, is caused from an imbalanced diet. The sevika identifies these children and talks to their parents. They work together to fix the issue. Diarrhea is a lot less common now thanks to awareness, they said.

They showed me some of the plants they use for home remedies. For example, the amrita twig was a supple tree branch that could be used for almost anything. If crushed into a paste, it could be applied to the skin over a fracture to heal the bone. Other medicines could be made from it for hormonal issues and diabetes.

The women were all very thankful to Ekal. They told me they’re glad they have the knowledge to help their village on their own power. They have seen their community improve in front of their eyes thanks to this health education.

The women also spoke to me freely about some changes they’d like to see. Subadra, the sayonjika, oversees almost 2000 people. Every month she has to travel to the ten villages under her watch. She has to walk, and it takes her hours. She comes back home late, in the dark. She asked if Ekal could provide a scooter for sayonjikas to travel easier.

Meena, the sevika for the village Magalpur, asked for a smartphone. This way sevikas could use WhatsApp and have easier communication with each other, doctors, and Ekal. Basanthi, the sevika for the village Masredi, asked for an official sevika uniform. With a sari and cap, people could recognize them as a sevika and they would have more respect. A jacket would help for the colder times of the year, and shoes would help when they have to walk for house calls. Beena, the sevika for the village Purna Sirka, asked for a materials kit. Supplies like a notebook, pen, and case would help them stay organized and write reports.

All of these things are so simple but would make their work multifold easier. It’s also easy for us in the USA to raise money for these things. I was really happy that the women opened up to tell us these desires because with this knowledge, we can now make these changes happen. I’m thankful that this trip allowed me to ask all the people I met about the changes they want to see, because now Ekal can improve even more.

And that’s that! I am now back in America looking back on my trip. It was wonderful to come back to Jharkhand and see even more new, nuanced sides to the work that Ekal does. After talking to so many, I can see that Ekal really gives people and communities hope for a better future. I’m happy that I can play even a small part in that.

Advertisements

Jharkhand 2018 Day 2

The next day, Wednesday December 26, was jam-packed as I visited several different locations and interviewed many, many people. We started the day at the organic farming “mini-GRC” right outside Giridih. This center contains seven to eight acres of farmland, all grown using organic methods. I spoke to Arjit Kumar, the center coordinator, and Rajvan Singh, a farmer and teacher. They really praised organic farming for its cleaner environmental and health footprint. They teach farmers to use things they already have access to, like cow urine, to make their own organic compost. Singh expects to have all one hundred villages in the GRC impact area to be totally on organic farming in the next three years. The Ekal system allows them to reach out and systematically teach nearby farmers these helpful practices.

Singh asked if Ekal could help with marketing education. These farmers that switch to organic practices have to compete with chemical farmers. Generally organic products cost more, so farmers need to be able to market their goods properly.

Organic farming center at Giridih
Farmer Rajvan Singh showing the organic waste decomposer, which takes 40 days to make compost from cow urine, jaggery, and water
Fresh papaya! Tasted amazing!

Next I ventured to the Ekal school in the village Phuljori. Outside the village temple, thirty children sat on the ground with crossed legs and straight backs. Their teacher, Sushila-devi, sat in front of them. There was a single chalkboard with their Ekal school code: BHJH0714213.

There were thirteen girls and seventeen boys. I asked the whole class if they liked school, to which they gave a resounding YES! The Ekal school is in the afternoon so these kids can go to regular school and then come here in the afternoon. For some kids that have to help their family on the farm, the Ekal school is their only source of education. They get to learn English, math, Hindi, music, sports, and yoga. The parents like sending their kids here because, as they told me, it teaches them discipline and good values.

I joined the kids in doing some of their yoga and dances. I asked some of them about their experiences. Seven year old girl Nitu likes English and wants to be a doctor. Seven year old boy Satish likes math and wants to be a teacher. I met twelve year old Vishal, a graduate of this Ekal school, who now attends a nearby middle school. He says that without the discipline and love for learning that Ekal taught him, he would not be able to keep up in his advanced studies. In essence, Ekal Vidyalaya’s system of education for village children develops them into well-rounded people who can start thinking bigger. I’m sure that Nitu will become a great doctor, and Satish will become a respected teacher.

I asked the schoolteacher what could improve. There is no water source close to the school, so the kids stay thirsty. I can’t imagine going hours without water. She also asked if some more teaching materials could be provided for her: notebooks, pencils, table, etc.

We stopped by the Khandoli GRC for lunch. This is a new GRC (started five years ago) so it is still acquiring land and developing.

My all organic, locally grown GRC lunch!

We then visited a second organic farm to get some more information on organic practices. This farm had green crops stretching out farther than I could see. The farmer there told me that organic farming is comparable to chemical farming (using pesticides, etc.). These Ekal organic practices include three crop strategy, crop rotation, and organic compost production. After switching, he has found that he still gets the same or even more yield than before. Combined with the better environmental and health impacts, farmers like switching over.

Look at this ripe organic tomato!!

We ended the day by visiting the village of Parmadi. Parmadi is a very unique place. It is a village of about six hundred located next to the Sati River. Every monsoon, the river floods over and blocks off the village from the mainland. During this season, village life is difficult. Lives have been lost because sick people couldn’t reach a doctor. After Ekal Vidyalaya entered the village, they realized this was the biggest problem blocking them from development. Ekal worked with the local government to have a bridge built so Parmadi would always be accessible. When I came, I got to walk across this bridge.

The bridge to Parnadi. All of the villagers were waiting to greet me!

Parmadi is by far not the first Ekal village I’ve visited. But it was very unique. The entire village came to receive me with smiles and open arms. I was garlanded four times. Everyone was so unbelievably happy to meet me, and kept coming to shake my hand or touch me. The reason? They wanted to show their gratitude to Ekal. They told me, over and over again, how much Ekal has helped the village. This bridge across the river has given them so much hope for a better future, one where they are not at the mercy of the river.

Ekal’s village development is always integrated into the community. What I mean is that it isn’t some kind of bureaucratic general plan that they just slap into every village. When Ekal enters a village, they always communicate with the people. They learn about their unique feelings and concerns and act on them. I could really see that in action in Parmadi, where a lot was done to take care of their unique situation.

For example, in addition to the bridge, the Ekal school in this village was under a sturdy concrete structure built by Ekal. This structure could stand up to heavy rain, meaning school could still run during the monsoon season. It’s this kind of thought that Ekal puts into helping each community.

The Parnadi Ekal school

Parmadi also has four solar street lamps that line the “main street” through the village. The villagers were very thankful for these lamps. When the sun sets early in the winter, this is really the only source of light for the entire village. People socialize under them, and kids study under them. As they kept thnaking me over and over again, I saw how much the community changed after a simple addition from Ekal. One lamp only costs about $250. It’s a small donation from us but as we all gathered for a sastang under one of these lights, I realized how much gratitude and appreciation they had. It’s hard to convey through my writing, but it was so humbling for me to sit under light, something I take for granted, and see these villagers smiling with so much joy because they could finally go out during the dark without fear.

Solar lamp
Village sastang under the light of the solar lamp

The villagers said more of these solar lamps would be greatly appreciated. They also asked for more things that would make their lives easier, like a cold storage for food during the summer. I’m happy that these people who felt so hopeless before now feel invigorated enough to ask for more. Ekal has given them a second chance.

Jharkhand 2018: Day 1

Hello everyone! It’s been quite a while since my last post. In the span of sixteen months, I have graduated from high school and finished my first semester at Williams College. Of course, I’ve been involved with Ekal the whole time. I was invited to be a speaker at the Ekal Power of Education 2018, and I won the India New England 20 Under 20 award for my service.

Ekal Vidyalaya is a non-profit organization that fosters holistic village development by building schools (vidyalayas), teaching tailoring and digital literacy courses, developing organic farming methods, and performing arogya health work. In August 2017 I came to Jharkhand on a ten day internship with Ekal Vidyalaya, which is chronicled in this blog. For five of those days, I stayed at the Karanjo Gramothan Resource Center (GRC), where I got to observe all of those services that Ekal offers. I decided to come to Jharkhand again to learn more about the feelings of people that have been helped by Ekal. Instead of just observing, I wanted to really communicate with these people. This way, we in the USA can better understand the actual impact of our money and Ekal’s work. So I journeyed around Jharkand, interviewing people and getting everything on film. A video will be made for the Ekal Power of Education event scheduled to be held in Cambridge, MA on March 2, 2019.

This time, I spent four days in Jharkhand. I flew into Ranchi, and then journeyed into the more rural city of Giridih. Giridih is about four hours by car north-east of Ranchi. Ekal has an organic farming center as well as an emerging GRC around Giridih.

While driving up on December 25, we stopped at Pirtinr (Parasnath), a small town where Ekal offers a tailoring course and a computer course. I got to talk to some students in both the courses.

Let me first start with the tailoring course. Ekal offers a three month tailoring course for girls to learn the basics. After the course, these girls have the skills to work, earn income, and teach others. I walked into a cozy classroom with sewing machines pushed to the side. A group of about twenty five teenage girls were sitting on the floor singing a prayer. Sample clothing articles hung from the walls: tiny blouses, pants, and skirts.

I sat down on the floor and had a candid conversation with them. All of these girls were teenagers who were around my age, give or take a few years. It was really humbling to sit with them, my counterparts across the ocean.

The Ekal tailoring center in Pirtinr

I asked them why they wanted to learn tailoring. All of them went to school, and then would come to the tailoring classroom after school. A common answer was the ability to earn their own income. I understand the sentiment: we’re at the age where we want more independence. Tailoring allows these girls to earn their own pocket money. As they talked, I could see the pride they held in supporting themselves. Tailoring also gives them a future job opportunity.

I met an amazing young woman Ankita. Ankita is fourteen years old, in seventh grade. Every day she travels seven kilometers from her village to Pirtinr to go to school and learn tailoring at this Ekal center. She is finishing the course right now. She wants to open her own tailoring center in her village so she can support her family. Ankita has six siblings. Her younger sister is mentally challenged. Her father has tuberculosis. She is likely one of, if not the only source of income, for the entire family.

I was blown away by her optimism and can-do attitude. Despite the challenges, she always talked with a smile. She told me Ekal gave her this hope of helping her family. If this course wasn’t offered, she wouldn’t have any way of earning money on her own as a young girl. Ekal is a big help for girls like Ankita.

Meet Ankita, the powerful 14 year old!

I asked the girls what more Ekal could do to help them. Lavli Kumari, a tailoring course graduate who was serving as their substitute teacher, asked if Ekal could provide funds for the girls to buy their own sewing machine after finishing the course. A common issue was that these girls would learn and then forget because they did not have their own machine to use. I think this is a great idea–Ekal can look into giving micro-loans to these girls so they can kickstart their own tailoring business.

Across the street Ekal holds a computer course. I walked up the stairs and into a classroom holding eighteen computers. In front of me were eighteen school-age boys–most were around fifteen years old. Just like the tailoring girls, they traveled to school and then took this course after school. Some traveled as far as fifteen kilometers! This course also takes three months. The teacher teaches three batches every day, so every three months fifty-four people are certified. With this certification, they can go to Giridih and take an exam to get certified for accounting and data jobs.

The computer course boys!

The boys told me they took this course for that opportunity to get comfortable with computers. They said this knowledge would help them in getting related jobs in the future. They were very grateful to Ekal for this opportunity to learn. In fact, they asked if more centers could be opened so this education would be more accessible!

The teacher did say that less girls took this computer course. The class I talked to happened to have only boys, but his other two batches had a few girls. He said part of the reason is that the village girls don’t trust a male teacher as much. Even so, the number of girls are increasing, so progress is being made.

That’s the end of my interviews from Tuesday December 25. Definitely my most thought-provoking Christmas!

Ekal Trip Day 10

I’m so sad to be writing my last entry in this series. My time in Jharkhand has come to a close in this trip to India.

We drove out of Karanjo early this morning and got to Ranchi around 10:45. I ended up giving my presentation on my trip around 6 in the evening. Mr. Lalanji, Ms. Usha Jalanji, and Mr. Amarendra Vishnupuriji watched me, among others. It was very nice to be able to talk about all the things I have experienced these past 10 days. I did a basic overview of my activities each day and then covered some points I wanted to discuss like English education and my malaria Action Plan.

IMG_6126

With the end of the presentation came the end of my internship. I would like to thank some of the amazing people that have helped me.

IMG_6121
Santosh Mahtoji, principal of school in GRC, Karanjo

IMG_5797
From left to right: me, Dr. Bhatia, Dr. Mrityunjoy, Rajnathji

IMG_6131
Mr. Lalanji, in charge of the GRC initative

IMG_6127
Devnandanji, in charge of Gramothan office and IT in Ranchi

IMG_6128
Usha Jalanji, in charge of women empowerment

IMG_6124
Aarya, the videographer that accompanied me

IMG_8292
Sikhunder, our driver for the past 10 days, and our car, which brought us through the valley to Karanjo and back!

IMG_6115
Last but not least, my mother, who I couldn’t have gone anywhere without!!

Thank you to everyone who has loyally been reading my posts. It means a lot that you’re so interested in what I see and what I have to say. My time here has been very thought provoking, so I hope that it is the same for you.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” In other words, the future of the world lies in the way we lead our lives. This trip has shown me the work Ekal has done and still has to do. There is a long way to go, but I plan to continue supporting India’s development trough Ekal Vidyalaya until finally that status is reflected globally. Big change starts with small change, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from these 10 days, it’s that in order for there to be any change, we must actively embody and pursue it.

Ekal Trip Day 9

Today was my last full day in Karanjo and it continued to be as busy a day as every other day. I am already sad thinking of leaving.

This morning I went to the school to teach more science. I decided today to cater more to the older kids, so I taught about the heart. I gave an informative presentation covering the circulatory system and heart rate. Then I let them use the pulse oximeters and stethoscope to find their heart rate. I worked with girls and boys from seventh to tenth grade. It was fun because they picked up on it really fast and also were genuinely interested in learning. They said they would love me to teach them more the next time I came!

In the afternoon we visited the village of Jamid to go to a real Ekal school. Now I know what you’re thinking: “But Nandini, haven’t you been going to Ekal schools this entire time?” When I say real Ekal school, I mean that this one is honestly the most basic type of school. Twenty eight kids sat on the floor of a temple as their teacher, Miss Pinky Mahto, taught them from 2:30 to 5 in the afternoon. The curriculum covered seven subjects: Math, Hindi, English, General Knowledge, Drawing, Sculpture, and Sports. I saw them go through a little of each. For example, in math they did carryover subtraction and multiplication tables. General Knowledge was a lot of things, but it mainly covered their science and social sciences. Personally, I think those should be its own subjects in order to give them in depth information.

A lot of the teaching is done through music and physical activity. For example, they did a word problem in math with subtraction through a song about ducks dying. (Morbid, but surprisingly cute.) They went through yoga poses, and played a game when discussing the sky, Earth, and core.

The teacher gets trained at the Gramothan Resource Center here in Karanjo twice a year for a week each time. The students are tested three times per year.The Ekal school curriculum teaches at about a third grade level. The oldest age allowed in an Ekal school is 14. Most kids in this Ekal school went to a nearby government school in the morning and came to Ekal school in the afternoon for more reinforcement and other activities like Yoga, music. At this school, the oldest kid was in fifth grade at the nearby government school but felt more challenged academically at the Ekal school even though that only teaches till third grade level.

I got a chance to look at their textbooks. One covered good values, and was picture-based. The other was a teacher handbook for Miss Mahto to use to guide her classes. I flipped through it quickly and landed on the English pages. Unfortunately, the same inaccuracies that the kids in Gadarpo, Jangi, and Karanjo had were in the book. English phonetics were written incorrectly, which leads to wrong pronunciation and shallow understanding of the language. I’m hoping to continue my work with Ekal in improving the English curriculum so that kids start to understand instead of just memorize the language. Even today at Jamid, the kids were filling the blanks in English vocab words. For example, the teacher put e_eph_nt on the board and asked a kid to fill in the blanks. However, if this is the only thing that is taught, all the kids will have is a limited arsenal of words and no understanding of how to confront new words. I attached pictures of two pages below. An example of what I’m talking about is how the letter A is matched with the vowel ऐ which makes the sound I (like the I when talking about yourself). A never makes that sound in English.

Since my stay at Karanjo is ending, I took a picture with the core team members here at the Gramothan Resource Center who have worked to make my stay here amazing. Thank you very much! Their names are below in the caption.

IMG_6113
From top left: Tribhuvan Hasdaji (carpentry teacher), Ranjit Mahtoji (Computer on Wheels teacher), Dudhnath Rayji (construction coordinator), Arjun Sharmaji (GRC Central team member), Dr. Mukesh Mahtoji (physician), Santosh Mahtoji (Computer on Wheels village coordinator), Rajdeep Royji (IT and Skill Development Coordinator), Baidnath Gope (head of GRC office), Lal Mohan Mahtoji (GRC head coordinator &  budget team member), BasuDeb Tantiji (head of GRC training)

That was all for today! Tomorrow morning I am returning to Ranchi to give a presentation on my time in Jharkhand. Tomorrow will also be my last blog post in this series. Until then!

Ekal Trip Day 8

Independence Day celebration was spectacular and fully packed! The students marched in a parade early in the morning. We met them at the gate when they were returning to the school. They were all dressed in white, donning an Indian flag brooch, and holding a small flag. They set themselves up in rows, boys on one side and girls on the other side, near the flag post in front of the school. The band played patriotic tunes. Below the flag post a rangoli (traditional Indian art done on the ground with colored powder) was made in the shape of India in orange, green, and white. The kids sang songs and gave speeches for Independence Day. Two kids even talked in English! The flag was hoisted, and once the assembly was over everyone went inside to eat a special meal.

After the morning celebration, we went to see the Ekal Mobile van aka ‘Computer on Wheels’ in a nearby tribal village. This extremely cool initiative from Ekal in alliance with IIT Mumbai is a large yellow van that houses twelve laptops inside. The van drives to two villages everyday where people can take twelve week long courses in the van on basic computer skills. This course is designed for people who have literally never even touched a computer before. It introduces them to using a computer, Microsoft office. By the end of it, they are comfortable enough to go into certification courses, offered at Ekal GRC Karanjo, that can get them jobs. Since we live in a world that is increasingly becoming more technology-dependent, I think it’s great that Ekal is working to prepare people for the changing workforce. ‘Computer on Wheels’ fits very well with the government sponsored ‘Digital India’ program.

Three times a week, Dr. Mukesh, a local Ekal physician, comes along for the ride on the Ekal Mobile Van to give free check-ups to the villagers. He has free medicine and immunization, and helps out with any basic problems on the spot, advises people on hospitalization. It’s initiatives like these that really get healthcare out to the masses. If only Jharkhand didn’t have a shortage of doctors…

IMG_6046

In the afternoon, at the school, there were some more cool performances, including some extremely flexible group yoga poses, a folk dance, and lots of singing. I got to give the students the sports equipment we had bought in Ranchi. We gave the school stuff that every student could use to have fun and stay healthy, like badminton rackets, volleyballs, soccer balls and jump-ropes. I hope they enjoy it!

Later in the evening, there was another performance. Some of the girls did dance routines that were fun to watch! All of the songs and dances I saw today were either patriotic for Independence Day or about Krishna, since Janmashtami (Krishna’s birthday) was yesterday. We were really celebrating the whole day!

IMG_6070

Tomorrow is my last full day in Karanjo! I will be going to the school again in the morning and visiting a remote Ekal village in the afternoon. Until tomorrow!

Ekal Trip Day 7

Today was an awesome day! A day understanding what ‘Gramotthan Resource Center’ does and provides. The school day started off with a morning assembly. All of the students were there at ten to chant prayers together and get in the right mindset to learn. After  prayers, kids came up to the podium to say the news, ask trivia questions, and give inspirational quotes. After assembly, Principal Mr. Santosh Kumar Mahanto-ji introduced me to all the teachers at school.

There are 330 kids total in the school, with 92 girls total. Even though the girls were made to lead the prayers, I noticed throughout the day that they were very reluctant in sharing their thoughts. None of the girls raised their hand to answer a trivia question this morning, even though I’m sure there were a few who knew the answers. Later I saw a list of toppers each year for the tenth grade boarding exam, and a girl had never been the topper. I know its a cultural barrier that’s hard to overcome, but I really hope that the girls in school manage to overcome this and learn that they are equally bright and talented as their male peers.

Since every student of the school was there, I demonstrated a science experiment for them. I did the density one involving eggs sinking in regular water and floating in salt water. I had done this experiment in both Gadarpo and Jangi. Since there were a few older students in the audience, they already knew the concept of density, but it was still well-received.

After the morning assembly, I toured all the facilities at the Karanjo Gramothan Resource Center. First we went to the carpentry room. Here people are trained in  carpentry by Tribhuvan Hansda-ji for six months, after which they have the knowledge and talent to open their own shop and work independently.

Next door was the art room. Amar Pal-ji is the art teacher. He teaches art classes to the kids on the weekends, and during the week works on his own crafts. The stuff in there was beautiful! My favorites were the glass paintings and the paper butterflies. I will be buying some and taking them home with me.

Then we visited the tailoring training center taught by Shilpa Mishra-ji. Here girls learn to be tailors in six month courses. The girls learn, and then go back to their villages to either open a business or teach other girls or both.

Next door was the computer training center taught by Parveen Kumar-ji. Here a mix of boys and girls take a six month course on computer skills. They learn basic operating skills for a Windows interface, like using Word and Powerpoint. The program is developed by IIT Mumbai. This was good because it gave them the skills needed for a data entry job.

IMG_5987

After visiting all these skill development centers, we went on to see the organic farming going on. Every meal I have been eating here is not only all organic but is grown and picked right in the fields around the guesthouse. Right now they can feed themselves on what they grow 20 days out of a month. The goal is to make the Karanjo campus completely food-sufficient.

In order to minimize environmental impact, everything is natural. No chemical pesticide or fertilizer is used; instead, natural alternatives are used such as cow manure and cow urine. Farmers are given training in organic farming and how to make manure from cow dung & earthworm and pesticide from cow urine. Pesticide made out of cow urine does not kill the pests,  instead repel them. They also focus on getting the most out of the land. One thing I thought was really cool was their three crop strategy. They farm three types of crops: roots, leaves, and trees. Each of these parts has its own nutritional value. It makes the land three times as productive. For example, I saw turmeric growing, where the roots were used for the turmeric, the leaves were used as food, and fruit trees grew around. instead of just one crop, the same land was giving three types of food.

After lunch, I went back to the school to speak to the English teachers, Sujata Mishra-ji & Bharti Mohoto-ji. After my time teaching English in the two villages Gadarpo and Jangi, I had some ideas about how to better teach the language. I had taught third to fourth graders both times, and they all knew the alphabet. However, they weren’t very clear on how each letter had a phonetic sound that was different from its name. (For example, the phonetic sound for a is the sound it makes in the word cat. That sound is different than the name of the letter.) Since they didn’t understand how each letter sounded, they got stuck when I showed them simple three letter words. Other than the ones they had memorized like cat and dog, they didn’t know how to say a word they had never seen before, like top. I believe that understanding English phonics would help them in understanding the language. Even if they don’t know a word, they would be able to read it, and their pronunciation would be much better.

This was what I told the English teachers. I went over the lesson that I gave the kids in the villages, and then I went over some English rules I thought might be helpful. Unfortunately English is an annoying language in that it breaks its own rules as often as it makes them, but it was still helpful in setting up how to read things out loud. I plan to keep in touch with the teachers through Skype calls to see if they see any improvement on how the kids understand English.

IMG_6012

After this we drove out of Karanjo to a tailoring shop two kilometers away in one of the  neighboring villages. It was run by a woman named Supriya, a graduate of Ekal’s tailor training program at Karanjo. After finishing it in 2014, she went back to her village and started her own business. She also teaches local girls to be tailors. So far she’s taught 37 girls! She earns about Rs. 10000  a month tailoring. She has plans to expand in the future. It was awesome to meet someone directly using what they learned into keeping themselves active and independent.

IMG_6015

Then we visited another awesome girl, Rukmani, another graduate of the tailoring program who had started her own business in her village. She used the money she earned to put herself through school! She has earned her BA in Economics and is currently working on her Masters. She hopes to take the government exam for bank employees in the future. All of this was achieved on her own power from tailoring, and I loved how she chose to educate herself.

IMG_6017

That was when our day came to a close. We returned to Karanjo and attended a beautiful aarthi in the on-campus ‘Hanuman’ temple with the girls who stay in the hostel. 49 girls stay in the girls hostel, 140 boys stay in the boys hostel.

Tomorrow is India’s Independence Day! This will be my first time being in India for Independence Day. What’s more is that it’s the seventieth anniversary! The kids will be putting on performances tomorrow in celebration and I’m very excited to watch. Until tomorrow!

Ekal Trip Day 6

This morning we drove out of Ranchi. It wasn’t too sad though, since we will be back on the seventeenth.

Our morning and early afternoon was spent driving to Karanjo, a medium sized hamlet in block Bandgaon (population of 565 as of Census 2011) .  Mr. Rajdeep ji, IT supervisor at GRC Karanjo, accompanied us from Ekal Gramothon Foundation headquarters, Ranchi. The drive, about three hours south west of Ranchi, was extremely scenic.We crossed over the Saranda-Singhbhum mountain range to reach the other side of the valley. To be honest, it was a side of India I had never expected. It was as green and lush as Hawaii! One of the trees, attributing to the lush green, is Sal (aka Sakhua). Mr. Rajdeep ji mentioned that Sal wood is very hardy and used in making door frames. Sadly Sal forests are disappearing. We even stopped at a waterfall (Hirni Falls) en route.

We got to ‘Gramothan Resource Center (GRC)’ Karanjo around 2 in the afternoon. GRC is an Ekal setup in remote places across the country. There are 10 GRCs across the nation as of now. The GRCs serve as resource centers for around 100 villages surrounding the center. GRC Karanjo is basically a campus housing  a schoolhouse, boy’s hostel, girl’s hostel, and other buildings all together. We will get tour of the campus tomorrow, so stay tuned on details of GRC! We got set up in our guesthouse. It will be my first time sleeping with a bed net. We could not walk around the campus this afternoon due to very heavy rains.

Shri Arjun Sarmaji is staying in the other room in the guest house. I’m standing with him in the picture below. He specializes in organic farming, trains farmers and is in charge of that division in several GRCs across India.

I also received a schedule for the next three days. I’ll be very busy! I’ll keep you all posted. Until tomorrow!

 

Ekal Trip Day 5

Another busy day! Today we headed out for Gola, another village block about sixty kilometers west of Ranchi. We specifically visited the hamlet Jangi. The drive there was just as picturesque as yesterday; it was more mountainous and we travelled on roads that snaked through lush green valleys. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures as it was raining heavily in the morning. 

Once we arrived at Jangi, I started teaching at the school. The class had a mix of kids from second to fifth grade. There were twenty one kids: fourteen boys and seven girls. In general, both yesterday and today, the girls seemed quieter and more reluctant to answer questions. It might be a cultural difference, but I hope that through education these girls gain the confidence they right now don’t have.

I taught English and science like yesterday. In English I focused on phonetics. The kids learn the alphabet, but don’t understand phonetics, which is the sound of each letter. Knowing phonetics means you can read and say any new word you come across. I found that in general the kids are using more memorization to learn rather than understand. They know small words like cat and dog, but if I give another small word like top they don’t know how to say it. These are foundational problems in the education that I was trying to address.

After I wrapped up the science experiment on density, the school sat together and held a sastang. The adults sat in the middle, and the children circled around. They sang several bhajans. What was cool was that although they were religious in nature, they had core messages about community development. For example, we heard one about women empowerment that said to not treat girls differently from guys.

After that we got to go around the village a bit. Jangi is much bigger than Gadarpo: here there were over 2500 people as opposed to a maximum of 300 yesterday. The village also has way more amenities: there is water from pumps, permanent soak pits, and most importantly, indoor toilets households. Speaking of  permanent soak pits, these are constructed from concrete for about 5000 rupees. It is a very smart investment by Ekal to cut down on stagnant water pools that mosquitoes breed in. I noticed that both today and yesterday, the villages were totally bug-free, compared to the cities I usually go to, Delhi and Chennai, where the mosquitoes are way more rampant.

Before leaving, I ate a meal at the house of the Arogya chief (Pramukh). This village participates in all of the Ekal divisions, from  education (Vidyalaya) to  health (Arogya) to  village development (Gram Vikas) to  culture development (Hari Katha). I met the people who were in charge of these divisions for the entire block of Gola, which encompasses 30 villages.

Ekal Arogya works in conjunction with the Indian government system of rural health care, which begins at the Anganvadi level. These are women who are trained to recognize symptoms of disease and provide basic treatment. They are based in subcenters. We met Saloni, the only woman officially in the subcenter for all of Gola. She was also the only official nurse midwife (NM) for all of Gola, meaning for 30 villages she was the only one with the credentials to deliver a baby. A severe lack of doctors and NMs make things hard for her, as she can only depend so much on assistants. Shortage of doctors and NMs is attributed to lack of infrastructure and facilities which makes it almost impossible to retain doctors and NMs in these areas. Living healthier lifestyles and keeping good hygiene helps lower disease though, she says.

IMG_5879

Tomorrow we are heading to Karanjo. We will be staying there for the next four nights in a guest house, living in the Ekal life. I’m very excited! Until tomorrow!

Ekal Trip Day 4

Today was busy! We headed out for Bhandra at 9 in the morning. Bhandra is a block village that contains several smaller hamlet villages. We went to the hamlet Gadarpo, which was about an hour and a half drive (about 60km north west of Ranchi). The countryside was very beautiful, filled with lush green vegetation. Hills popped up once in a while. Rice paddies stretched out into the horizon. Since I’ve only ever been in cities, it was a side of India I had never seen before.

Once we arrived in Gadarpo, I immediately started teaching at the state run elementary school. I worked with a class of third and fourth graders. There were about twenty kids. First, I spent an hour on English. I went through the alphabet, phonetics, phonetic syllables, and simple words. The kids already knew the alphabet but not how to pronounce the letters, so I focused on teaching them proper pronunciation with an American accent.

After that we did science for an hour. We first did an experiment on density, involving water, salt, and eggs. It was meant to show them how the density of water affects whether something floats or sinks. It was easy for them to pick up on and they were genuinely surprised to see the egg that sunk in regular water to float in salt water. I could see the cogs turning in their head, trying to answer questions they had never asked before. After that experiment, we talked about the heart and let them use stethoscopes and pulse oximeters. They had a lot of fun listening to their heartbeat and finding out their beats per minute.

Obviously I’m not an experienced teacher, but the kids were very attentive and excited. It made me feel really comfortable in the classroom. I went with the flow and tried to make things fun for them. For example, I sang a short Carnatic song for them first, and when we went over English phonetic syllables I said them super fast so it would be fun to repeat back.

Once school let out at 1:20, I talked to some women who used the Saathi pads developed by Amrita Saigal. Saathi pads are made from a core of banana leaf and are completely biodegradable. Currently they are being given out for free as a pilot program in some Ekal villages. I was asking questions in order to get feedback from the users so the pad could be improved.

IMG_8293

After that, I got to see different health implementations set up around the village. I saw the soak pits that were used to eliminate stagnant water pools where mosquitoes could breed. I saw a community garden used for growing herbs used in home remedies. I also saw an organic waste pit. The village was extremely clean as a part of the Swachh Bharat movement. Cleanliness was even encouraged in the kids at school, who sang a song about being clean and hygienic when I came in!

The village also participates in Ekal’s Arogya program. I met the Sevika of the village, Sakuntala. Sevikas are female health workers chosen by the village to represent them and help them stay healthy. They attend a training program in Ekal Abhiyan at Ranchi, and after that implement hygienic practices in their village like soak pits, educate everyone, and move villages onto health initiatives like the anti-anemia program. For example, Sakuntala makes sure that everyone eats a balanced diet with lots of greens in order to keep iron content in the blood high and avoid anemia.

After the tour around the village, my mom and I ate a late lunch at Sakuntala’s house. I washed my hands under water she poured from a pot. Then I sat on the floor and ate a fulfilling meal of rice, dal, beans, and spinach. It was not only delicious but also very heart-warming.

IMG_5844

In Gardarpo, one house has a television. Not everyone has electricity, and there is no running water. Water is brought from a pond that is a four minute walk away. Everyone uses open-air toilets. Gadarpo is just one village of many in India, with similar and probably worse circumstances. Yet when I was there, I could see that everyone was genuinely content with their life. It was an amazing sight to see so many happy people, and I hope I can live my life in the same vein.

Tomorrow I head to another village, Gola, which is about sixty kilometers away from Ranchi. I will be teaching again. Until tomorrow!