Since its going to be quite a while till I get back to Bombay, I thought I'd update you all about my Uttar Pradesh NGO visits by email. Also, since I had quite an interesting time in UP.
|Samerth's school is located 4 hours away from Raipur|
|At Samerth's school for tribal children|
On the way back, cops kept stopping our car every 100m or so asking us where we were headed. And told us that after a certain point, there was a "chakka jaam". Not sure what exactly that means but turns out that the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister was coming to a nearby town/village ( which also happened to be his hometown/village) and the villagers were protesting. He had promised them a school, which hadn't been fulfilled. I kind of freaked when we had to stop to figure out what to do. Bike after bike with 3 men each, holding lathis, and with dupattas tied as bandanas kept passing by. A few phone calls to local cops on duty later, we were asked to drive back 30 mins and take an alternative route. Which the driver initially refused because its a really bad road and he was scared of his car getting stuck in keechar. But when we approached, we saw that it had been done up by MREGA. Phew! We drove down and returned a little later than expected. God knows what we would have done otherwise. We were a good 2 hrs away even from a rundown hotel!
|GiveIndia employee distributing saris to poor widows at Maitri, Vrindavan|
|Shramik Bharti's recording studio that transmits educational information|
The highlight of my next visit, which was to the Kanpur-based Shramik Bharti, was me being interviewed for "Mehmaan Manch" - a weekly talk show on the local radio in UP (91.2). Since the radio station was on our route to meet the villagers (for my writeups for http://ngos.giveindia.org) , their CEO Rakesh asked me to stop by for 10 minutes to have a look. He was really looking for funding ideas for the station from me. Little did I realise that their staff (who are all volunteers from the village) would want me to be guest speaker. So I spoke about GiveIndia, what had brought me to the villages that day, and of course signed off with a message for girls to study so that they stand a chance to become like me ;-)I have asked them for a copy of the same once the edited version is in place - will share.
|Milaan's school where classes are going on while work continues...|
|One of the only pictures I managed to sneak, because of the monkeys,|
at the Ganga aarti,
Last stop was Kiran Society in Varanasi. I really wish the visit was better organised here. The NGO is located 1 hr from the main city, in Madhopar village. And their school bus also picks up visitors to the NGO daily and drops them back to the city along with the children. So I could have ideally finished everything in one day by interacting with the children in the bus on the way there and back. Unfortunately this didn't strike Kiran's team and I took a train that only got into Varanasi at 9am (instead of another that would get into the city at 6am) as I thought 6am would be inconvenient for the driver (as he would need to leave Kiran at 5am to come get me). Further, it's only when I got there that I realised that their Founder lives at Kiran itself. Their website mentions that their Founder is from Switzerland. It's only at Kiran that I realised that the "JK" in ther CEO's name Mrs. Sangeetha JK stands for "Juddith Keller" - Sangeetha is her Indian adopted name! So I missed meeting her as she was in Bangalore when I visited :-(
BTW, ORG team, its because of this connection that they have many donors abroad. But many were not able to donate during the India Tax Saving Challenge because of the second level password. I spoke to one of their long term volunteers from Switzerland for a couple of hours on day 2. He was very upset about foreigners not being able to donate and went on about how our site is flawed till I explained it all. He also referred to our tier 1 MOU as a "stone-cold agreement" and how it's not a partnership agreement but "GiveIndia is dictating terms" in it. Again, I spoke to him about the bad experiences we've had (without naming any NGOs) and he kind of understood where we were coming from. Their COO Ranjeet was all praises for Valli and he also said that he's very open to Kiran being used for experimentation for any new funding models/activities that GiveIndia comes up with - he understands that we need to be experimental too.
Before I sign off, I just like to say that this was one tough journey. It was around 40 degrees everywhere ( barring one day in Kanpur when it rained), the road distances were long and the roads just terrible. The potholes in UP give competition to the craters on the moon! But what was the worst was that there was hardly any electricity (to the point that even invertors went of). Shramik Bharti shared with me that they had spent Rs. 40,000 on diesel for their generator the past month! At most places where I was meeting beneficiaries, we sat in the shade but were fanning ourselves with my notepad and other brochures of the NGO to keep flies away. It is also very scary when the electricity went at both Mathura and Kanpur station - it got pitch dark and I was clutching onto my main bag for a good 10 mins or so lest someone tried to flick it. I would have truely be stranded without money and my phone had that happened! Despite the pains, this was one memorable trip.
I came back yesterday to my 5 year old nephew asking me "Aap intne kaale kaise ho gaye" (why I have become so black?) But for the first time, was truly glad to be back - to eat some fruit and salad ( versus the Samosas and Wadas I had been eating as that's all you get from roadside stalls as you go more rural) and to get my spectacles fixed!
And lastly, if you enjoyed reading the above and would like to experience the same, do accompany me on a visit or 2. There are no more NGOs to visit in Maharashtra, which means you would need to be prepared to travel a bit. Am headed to Tamil Nadu post-Diwali so folks in Bangalore/Chennai do consider the offer :-)