August 17, 2006

Wondering where I am?

Hey there, some people have been asking where I am!!! Just to explain..I'm not in London, or at Warwick, or in Kenya, or travelling with Indie!! I suppose its my fault for this confusion as I am not the best of people at keeping in touch..

I'm in India, in Indore, at the Barli Development Institute for Rural and Tribal Women. You can check out their quite old website if you feel like it, though i'll try post some informative articles up soon about the Institute and Solar Cooking.

I've mainly been working in the workshop where they make a type of solar reflector and cooker, known as the Scheffler cooker. It has been a really interesting experience, hard work too (for those that know how the summer in bulgaria was, you may be surprised i'm really working hard now!).

I ended up here, through a UK based organisation called Development in Action..though before starting work I went to visit the Rainwater Harvesting Club (which was actually a one man affair, run by Mr Vishwanath). Mr Vishwanath is truly the guru of rainwater harvesting in Bangalore!! He was really really wise, and also made sure I made the most of my 3 or 4 days in Bangalore. I got to make some sand filters which he is know testing…perhaps i'll one day put some details about that too!! I wish I could have stayed there longer (actually, I think I could have if i missed the DiA orientation week, which was not what i expected it to be..but won't complain here!)

Well, what i've pasted below, is the report I wrote for DiA to let them know how we are doing, perhaps if u feel inclined to, you might read it, though its long and some say written in a childish style – its intended to be a simple read.

theres also some pics on the india gallery, though it takes a while to upload anything.

DiA report:

It was an interesting experience to arrive at Barli, and for our first two weeks, to try and understand what is going on and why. It meant that we asked ourselves a lot of questions, and made some criticisms which we were later to understand.

I started to work in the workshop from my first day. This was the first time I was working in a workshop, let alone in a workshop in a developing country. The only safety rule here was common sense. We wore slippers, not big safety shoes, the safety goggles for drilling were used as something to laugh at.

Workshop times are 7.00am to 9.00am. Breakfast from 9.00am to 9.30am. A long lunch break from 12.00pm to 3.00pm and the work finishes at 6.00pm. There are 3 male staff at the workshop, Sakaram Bhaiyya, Rajendra Bhaiyya and Bharat Bhaiyya. There are also two female field workers Nanda Bhabhi and Sundar Bhabhi.

It was exciting to be working in the fields one of the days, weeding. At that point our Hindi was below basic, so conversation was really funny. It still is, though our Hindi has improved to a point where we can find out about the trainee’s backgrounds, what they like doing, their families.

In the first two weeks before Jimmy and Janak arrived, we were not sure where exactly we were meant to be at the Institute. Having been previously informed by DiA that we would not be working in the workshops as Jimmy had set expectations of the roles of men and women I was careful not to let myself get used to my work there. I did some work in the office, on days when we had run out of materials. These occur now and then, material runs out and the workshop shuts for a day.

Office work included sorting out files, sorting out cupboards, sorting out the library. I also got to read some of the many papers that would only be found on these computers at Barli – Jimmy and Janak have written a lot of papers!!! We also had enough time then to start learning how to write Hindi.

When we arrived there were two other volunteers at the Institute from the States and they would explain to use how things worked (meals, sorted out our accommodation at the institute for us, showed us where the internet and shops were). Soon after that, Steph and I started finding our own way around, and figured out our favourite restaurant was Sun Foods. Barli has a small booklet for its trainees, with some information about the surrounding area, expectations from Barli, rules, as well as some places to visit in Indore. This was useful to read on our arrival here.

The work at Barli has been quite varied. In the mornings (from 7.00am to 9.00am) the trainees work in the fields, clean the Institute and also do beadwork and handicraft making. We can help out with any of these, and so sat down a few mornings and learnt some beadwork.

It has been excellent to be able to stay at the Institute itself rather than at the apartment outside. The main benefit has been that we have been able to experience life outside of our work at the Institute, and it has also meant that our time here as volunteers has extended beyond our ‘set’ duties during work hours. It means we can sit down in the mornings and do bead work if we want. We have lunch with the girls, and its also a little bit of social time. Though we do have to be wary of showing any ‘favouritism’ or ‘extending any favours or gifts’ to the trainees. This is sometimes difficult to define. I think we’ve been eating more and more since we got here, and would probably be shocked by how much we eat for lunch compared to when we arrived. I think the food provided by the Institute forms a healthy diet, which we supplement with fruits we buy from the local fruitshop.

One of the other volunteers, Michelle was giving English classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. We would sometimes go to help out. After she left, Steph has taken over the English classes and I help out on some of the days. On Sundays Steph gives a dance class instead. We have had a problem keeping up the numbers, and have now talked to one of the teachers – the problem apparently was that after Michelle left, the girls did not know they still had English classes even though we would announce it. This had not even crossed our minds.

One of the things I have learnt since being here is just this, how different people find different things obvious, and how sometimes we cannot realize what is taken as granted to others. One of the examples is this English class problem. Another is how the girls at the Institute until a few weeks of us being there did not know that we could not speak Hindi. We thought they would just know this, and I wonder what they thought about us! That has been another great thing about staying at the Institute, learning Hindi from the trainees has been great, and it has also been excellent for making friends with them. When Steph was teaching ‘Where are you from’, we found out that some of the girls only knew the name of the town they were from, and had no idea where it was. No idea what a map of India looked like, let alone where on a map of the world India was. When I was talking about my boyfriend, Mumtaa, the most dedicated attendee at English classes said until she came to the Institute she had never met anyone with a boyfriend. She would never think about having one, her parents would ‘kill’ her if she had one.

The stories we hear from the girls, are the sorts of things we have always read about, but I do not know what to think or feel even, how to think or approach these things when you hear it from someone who is going through it. I feel confused, shocked, amazed when I find out that one of the girls is 21, the same age as myself. Shes separated from her husband. She has a child, and she was married when she was 15. A lot of the time, I am just imagining how so much of who we are is because of our environment and opportunities.

A few weeks back we visited the site in Dani where one of the solar cookers will be installed. We were expecting to return about a week later to install it. Heavy rains started – one morning it was raining – and just didn’t stop, and we just watched from the office that day as the water level rose and rose! Since the rains started I’ve been in the office – did some engineering drawings and completed the solar cooker organizations database I’d been making for Jimmy. He is now in charge of all the solar cooker organizations in Asia, under the World Association of Solar Cooking, as part of an agreement reached at a Solar Cooking Conference this year. When it comes to working around Jimmy, I am not sure whether I should say we listen to Jimmy’s stories in between work, or work in between Jimmy’s stories – though I had been warned about this in advance by Tom.

A lot of people have passed through Barli since we’ve been here – the 2 American volunteers, a woman and her daughter from Spain who were trying to make dolls from old batteries so that they do not enter the waste stream. Most recently two volunteers working for the Mona Foundation have been at Barli, documenting the Institute through photos and videos.

I think that Jimmy has tried very hard to make the Institute a place that is ideal for a volunteer experience. There are 3 rooms for volunteers. Our room has a kitchen area with a fridge and a gas cooker. We have a bathroom/toilet which has a tap for filling cold water in a bucket to bath in, and a sink too. So we’ve made some minor changes to our ‘routine’ bathing habits and need to adapt to not putting any paper down the toilet. We have to burn all our paper waste – the fire is used for boiling water for the batik training. Our food wastes are put in a compost heap, which Steph said does not really work. The institute disposes of other wastes elsewhere.

Jimmy has been very encouraging towards me, and would like to see more female volunteers working in the workshop. He said that this may encourage some of the trainees at the institute to take up this sort of work. When I had arrived he had said that I could plan and make my own ‘solar project’, but that time was an issue here. There was one day when we made a little ‘pencil holder’ from old batteries, really just for fun to see what could be done with old batteries. I think he would be very open to volunteers who would like to do their own ‘solar’ projects which would benefit the institute or be of interest. I think the workshop has got quite a good equipment base – grinding machine, drilling machine, metal cutting machine (though I do engineering, these are likely to be wrong technical names!). It has been fun learning how to weld, spraying paint on the cookers, talking with the staff in hindi, meeting their families – every day is just so full of experiences, conversations, making observations of how things work in the workshop.

I have really had an excellent time here. To add to work at the Institute, I have also had an excellent time around Indore as we made some friends early on in our stay when we were sorting out or mobile phones. They are all our age, which has meant we have got to go out quite a bit – making sure that we get back before our 10.00 curfew. It meant that we got to see lots of places around Indore which aren’t mentioned in any guidebooks, and that we’ve made some great friends too – kabi alvida na kehena : )

- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Vishwanath

    Hola Anaokhee,
    Thanks for the nice words . Remember to pick up the cheque next time around :):)
    The bio–sand filter is working perfect and now we are making a wetland on the terrace.
    Sarah Martin from Frnace is here for a year so the rainwaterclub has grown a 100% since you
    were here. Cheers and enjoy your stint in Ujjain/Indore

    27 Aug 2006, 18:32

  2. I’m glad I randomly drifted to your blog, Anokhee – the work you’re doing sounds really interesting, as well as being very important. Enjoy the rest of your time in Barli (Navratri’s coming soon!), and I look forward to seeing you back in Warwick.

    15 Sep 2006, 08:12

  3. Vishwanath

    ... and where are you my favorite son
    and where are you my darling young one
    back in Warwick?
    how are things?
    The bio sand filter works great and there is paddy growing int he terrace with greywater through the bio sand filter

    08 Mar 2007, 16:22

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