Friday, August 10, 2007
Working with Sister Sudha has been an amazing experience. She is such a strong, committed and inspiring woman. Without her, Nari Gunjan would be unable to function...in fact when she was ill with typhoid for the last couple of weeks, it was difficult for her co-coordinators to run things without her direction--they would need to either call or visit her at the hospital. It was really touching the day she was discharged from the hospital and she returned to the hostel. The girls literally ran out in the middle of class to greet her, and many were crying. It was hard for them to not have her around, knowing that she was sick, and missing her...actually, I think it was pretty hard on all of us. By the time we left Patna on Tuesday, she was getting stronger and was preparing for a weeklong trip...thank goodness! It would have been that much harder to say goodbye if she were still sick. Mumbai has been great so far (we're planning to also visit Agra, Jaipur and Ladakh), but I miss Sister Sudha and the girls already.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
The monsoon is in full swing now...both our forays outside the hostel and our village visits have slowed down due to the rains and flooded streets, with water above the knee in some areas. Many Musahar families live in mud huts, and every monsoon season brings both hope and despair: hope for the opportunity of steady agricultural labor for the season, instead of the average 10 days per month of work for the rest of the year; despair due to the heavy, unceasing rains that literally wash away their homes, forcing them to rebuild their houses every year.Nicole and I have begun compiling the data from our village visits in order to write up our report. The average wage for 10-11 hours of agricultural labor for a Dalit woman is about Rs. 30 per day, or $0.75, while her husband makes double that. Less than 1% of the women are literate, but hopefully with Nari Gunjan centers in the villages, their daughters will radically change those statistics. The girls attend the centers until they get married, at around 14 years of age (though the legal age in India is 18 for girls). We've also begun speaking with the women about child marriage laws, as well as domestic violence laws, in the third round. We know we won't be able to change everything overnight, but at least we can try...
Here are some photos from our village visits:
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Our living situation had to be altered once it started raining heavily at night (after all, it's monsoon season)...our rented house's caretaker, Suji, sleeps in the unfinished second floor and apparently gets wet when it rains at night. The first time it happened, he banged on our front door in the middle of the night and slept in the unused bedroom that had bed bugs (poor Nicole). Upon learning about the incident, Sr. Sudha firmly told us that this was an improper arrangement and we should no longer answer the door at night. So the next time it rained, at 3:30 a.m., Suji banged on our front door, and upon our seeming indifference, came round to our open bedroom window and shone his flashlight onto us as we "slept", yelling the whole while. How creepy and inappropriate! I understand that nobody can sleep in the rain, but as he sleeps on the unfinished floor upstairs, he could have just moved his mattress into the covered garage instead. The day after, Sr. Sudha had us move into Prerana hostel. It's great being able to spend more time with the girls and Sr. Sudha...I just realized I have a little less than a month left here. So much to still do: we plan to continue the survey and do 3 more rounds of another 6 centers/villages, plus all the computer work that needs to be finished.
Here's a photo of Prerana Hostel, my new home:
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
The 90 girls who live at Prerna Hostel all come from the 'untouchables' Musahar community (Musahar meaning they eat rats), most from the various villages and slums where we take the surveys. Nari Gunjan has 50 centers spread among these villages, which serve as elementary schools for the communities (most of the students are girls) and a base to work with women's Self-Help Groups (SHGs). We survey the SHGs in three stages: first to just meet the community and interact with them; the second we actually take the survey (with the help of translators who are the Nari Gunjan coordinators); and for the third stage we're planning some kind of information/education campaign about the new domestic violence law that has recently passed. Since the great majority of the women are illiterate, it will be a challenge to come up with some kind of handout, but we're hoping we can create something that we can leave them with...we'll see! Here are some photos of the Nari Gunjan center and village meeting from Digha, a slum we visited on Tuesday:
Although I've only been interacting with the girls at the hostel for a week, they are really special--it's difficult to describe so I hope my photos will suffice for the time being. There's just such a joy around them, I can't really explain it...Anyhow, on Wednesday we all (about 100 of us) took an overnight field trip to visit Bodhgaya, where Buddha reached enlightenment, and Nalanda, the ruins of temples and monasteries that was one of the first universities in the world. It was simply amazing! I'm including photos of the tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment, along with photos of various temples and a playground where we played with the girls, near one of the temples.