Friday, July 31, 2015

Bicycles and Umbrellas

I haven't been able to get such a composition, but so enjoy this sharing this and breaking my norm of using just my own photos.

Soft manufacturing.  Light infrastructure.  Tools.  Wholesale utilities.  These are pieces of my every day that I see done well.  Very well. So well that their use if obviously for the long-term — longevity, purposeful, effective, sustainable.

Sustainability. The ultimate death knell or the initiative-saving redeemer.  Sustainability is to where my weeks have led me. Though the word has so much buzz, thick politics, and a spectacular indeterminacy, I do believe it is the key to any project’s livelihood and efficacy.  Programs to create or achieve sustainability usually take the form in some sort of monitoring and evaluation / analysis.  Keeping track of what has been done and periodically checking its usage / productivity / impact / support is essential to keep relevant and improve the afore mentioned metrics.

To zoom this in to real application, let’s talk about three things.  First, where I see this happening in my daily life.  Second, where it has become a factor in my time here.  Third, where recent of my conversations on the issue have led.  First:  bicycles and umbrellas.  I don’t know if Hero Bicycles actively monitors their product in India, but these bikes are built to withstand anything.  I have seen these bikes everywhere, of all conditions and ages, used as transportation for a family, as anchor to haul a trailer, or even ridden to herd goats.  The frame sizes all seem to be generally similar — large — and I see rural village children far too small for what they are riding, as well as older elegantly white-mustached gentlemen cruising into the Old City.  Much like many lower socio-economic urban areas of the US, there exists a general stigma that bike riding is for the poor and not something sought out.  It greatly joys me to see the utility these bikes do serve, though, despite such existing attitudes.  I see the sustainability aspect at play in two phases, here.  One, the quality and durability of the product.  As mentioned, these bikes are heavy-duty and I see bikes of all condition still in use.  Second, the bikes’ prevalence and utility helps to reform the stigma and negative perception people may have about bikes and poverty.  Essentially, these bikes heroically help to reform perception while providing a durable device — truly (hopefully) a sustainable initiative.  Umbrellas also rank on this order.  This one seems natural to me now that I am in the monsoons and constantly wet.  Hardcore umbrellas are a must!  Sometimes I do see umbrellas turned inside out, but they don’t then collapse or break apart.  What I have come across so far are of thick fabric and sturdy handle, built to successfully block the torrent of wind and rain.   

Second:   miscommunication.  Miscommunication, missed communication, mass communication, absent communication, maybe over communication, all can have devastating effects on development work.  Fortunately thus far, I have not met devastation, but I have recently run into an unfortunate lack of interaction between personnel that is soon to be explored.  

This room is in the Seva Mandir rural hospital near Kherwara.  K and I found ourselves stuck here for a few hours (remember the monsoons…) last Saturday as we were heading to a new village initiative in Pareda.  Since we were in place we went ahead with some maintenance and repair works that were in order.  As you can see in the picture, the room is freshly painted and is aimed to make the environment fun, warm, and relaxing for future adolescent residential-patients to be treated for malnutrition.  K and I were there taking measurements and strategizing the layout of the room in order to make it child-friendly:  lowering sinks, adjusting water faucets, tiling the bathrooms, accessible and functional windows, etc.  What my panoramic misses is all the reconstruction and renovation work that needs to be done with the ceiling and upper walls.  So, the (recently?) painted murals will either have to be redone if repairs go ahead or repairs will not be done so that the murals can stay.  This makes no sense and is simply disappointing.  The whole initiative to convert this space into a residential room is known, but respective project planning was done completely in the wrong order; thus, where I see sustainability as issue in my work.  In order for anything to be maintained — let alone improved — foresight, systematic planning and monitoring, evaluation, and transparent communication across initiative divisions is foundational.  This is a very simple example, but it speaks to much more than just the order in which to handle a wall.  Development work is often under criticism for only creating more problems or leaving false hopes for despairing or neglected communities.  This definitely has happened in the world and is possible.  Sadly, there will probably be more “fresh paintings done over what really needs to be fixed.”  There is much more to comment, but let us transition with this theme into the final section.

Third:  how to foster sustainability and what areas really need it.  Being surrounded by other volunteers from SM and other NGOs is an invaluable resource to reflect, react, and plan for our work.  Lately, I have been very fortunate to engage some very challenging, proactive, and honest conversations about development work at large and in India, “development issues” in India, and ways (mostly questions) to address disability and gender hierarchies.  There could easily be a whole other meandering reflection essay about these, but here I want to provide a link where this is emotionally demonstrated and give a brief list of ideas we have discussed.  Please take this list and challenge it, explore it, troubleshoot it, and definitely feel free to share your thoughts!

  • Why is there seemingly so much miscommunication in domestic development projects?
  • What initiatives or programs can be put in place to institutionalize foresight and long-term planning?
  • How do these types of dilemmas compare across the Global South?
  • What level of impact can really be expected by someone who comes to do work and then leaves, i.e. summer volunteers who must work with translators?
  • What is the ( / Is there a) fundamental piece to development work?  Is it health? Infrastructure? Education? Particular human rights?
  • How can we open up channels of access and advocacy for individuals with disabilities?
    • especially for youth
  • What is an effective means to provide children starved for attention, compassion, and intellectual stimulation?
    • in the context of discussing a residential-school for children with disabilities 
  • How can we ensure that curricula address the needs of an environment that demands dynamic problem-solving?
    • in the context of discussing equitable instruction between government schools, private schools, and institutions for disabilities, but I consider the question of analytical thinking paramount at all levels of Indian society 
  • Are love-marriages, versus arranged-marriages, helping to balance patriarchy?
    • in urban environments? in the rural environments?
  • Could a different dating culture help to empower women?
    • such as longer courting?
    • what types of spaces make the most sense in India for such an institution?  i.e. coffee shops? restaurants? theaters?  outdoor spaces?

I am sure these items have been explored and central in development work since its inception.   I encourage you to look at any of the numerous websites, articles, and books that offer their opinions on causes, proper presentation for discussion, and solutions.  The more we challenge with an open, cooperative, and proactive spirit, the more effective we can be in addressing the qualms that limit projects in any arena, not just India.  

The beautiful city of the lakes below Karni Mata by night in the rain.

No comments:

Post a Comment