Thursday, July 16, 2015

Clever People

A beautiful sunset dinner view towards the Monsoon Palace.  Check out all those bats above!

“People in India are very clever.  They always figure the way to maximum profit.”

The response had laughingly been given to me after I asked about a mine we drove past on a rocky, winding road between villages.  My village guide, K, told me the mine was probably illegal, just someone who lives nearby, goes to cut the marble himself and finds buyers.  All unregulated, unmonitored, and most of all unknown to the government.  Even though the conversation fell towards the end of our day together, the theme of “outside the government’s knowledge” seemed to very aptly fit the day. 

After the start to a week of miscommunications, misfortunes, and just plain misconnections, I finally got back to Kherwara and able to get to Bichiwara.  This time, I was thankfully joined by another volunteer, G,  who is working on education materials for the sanitation projects across blocks.  The Kherwara block office was packed -- every field attendant from the block was in-house for a full day's workshop / review / analysis / overhaul on initiatives.  The modest space was carpeted for the meeting.  Everyone sat circled in the main room, papers scattered, pens furiously noting, chai noisily sipped, and voices bouncing from different sections of the circle.  Of the 30-ish people in attendance, my reporting officer, Ms. AB ji was the only woman.  Her vivacious and directed speeches, though, proudly ran the meeting.  G and I were glad to leave them to their day and for us to get out and to the village, finally.

I was pleasantly surprised to see some improvements on the community center K and I saw during our last visit.  Now completely in use, a chalk board and two posters hung on one side of the inner room, while a non-formal education class of 26 was being taught.  The community center / education center site is one of my two primary foci right now.  We are pushing a proposal to construct an eco-san toilet there and to also develop educational materials for the children in order to inculcate the eco-san practice.  

Moving past the center we were warmly welcomed by the families we met as we discussed their habits and usage with the Seva Mandir-built toilets.  Here is where the "outside the government's knowledge" theme really hits.  Up 'til now K and I and have been discussing the numbers in the villages.  Currently 52 toilets by SM, 12 toilets by the government, and 4 water tanks by SM (3 of which are broken -- addressing these is focus #2).  14 more are in a current proposal.  The next families we met had gov-toilets built near their homes.  Any social-justice-inclined individual would be disappointed to see what was there.  No roof, a far out-dated dry-toilet system, tiny, ill-supplied -- all around rough.  The SM toilets have been built with great care and effort and have support from the families near them.  The gov-toilets have become storage sheds, forgotten shafts of cement, and neglected resources.  From what I learned in conversation, these gov-toilets actually hurt SM efforts because they so poorly represent the logic and ambition of ecological sanitation.  

One of the families we met with seemed a little apprehensive to have us walking around their home, but after a quick intervention from a neighbor we befriended, and (what I take to be) a quick cut at the shitty* job done by the gov-initiative, we were conversing and laughing in no time.  It was a telling point to me in my, SM's, and any organizational development initiative.  There is incontrovertibly a greatly shared desire to help, or at least recognize needs, but the outcome of the efforts terribly span the spectrum of impact.  This is no surprise considering the varying attitudes and experiences with each particular initiative, but it becomes a very real, sensitive, and important issue when efforts inhibit one another. 

Maybe because my previous efforts in service were with a government-endorsed and situated organization, I hadn't in the past felt the need to worry too much about "government initiatives" -- all I needed to do was to focus on the situation I was in, the students I was with, the amazing team I worked with, and the corps-at-large with whom I served DC.  It appears now that my projects are not only balancing village needs, SM fit, human capacity, but also gov-efforts.  Thank goodness I am working with clever people.    


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