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Archive for November, 2008

I arrived in Kanda on November the 2nd after a long journey by bus from Nainital. Luckily I met Helen and Mark, two English volunteers, at the shared-jeep stand so I didn’t have to search for the right way to ‘the square, reddish house’. With my heavy back pack the road was a bit tough, but I made it safely. After 8.5 hours by bus, it was lovely to sit back in the sun with a cup of chai, chatting with Mark and Helen.

 

 Unfortunately, the second day was Helen and Marks last day. We went exploring in a field nearby and after that I joined them in the short walk to Kanda Market followed by the steep short cut track to Kanda. I was surprised by the hot temperature in daytime; short sleeves were enough, compared to the cold weather later on in the day.  In the evening we had a great meal, including a cup of lovely fresh, hot milk with lots of sugar.

 

Early in the morning Helen and Mark left and I had to sit down for a while with a swollen knee; I think I may have been a bit too enthusiastic walking on the bumpy roads and carrying my back pack. I took care of baby Anuska, I helped cooking, made chapattis as best I could and helped with cutting the grass, although I could not handle this task for a long time – it was hard work!

 

I noticed that I had no network with my cell phone here in the mountains and Internet wasn’t working, so I went into Bageshwar to inform my parents that I had arrived safely. As I knew they were a little concerned about their daughter alone in this big unknown country. I was glad I could take their worries away; the Verma’s are really welcoming and family-like.

I arrived back in time to join Mr. Verma in a celebration in the temple up the hill. I really enjoyed it, although I did not quite understand everything, even with the explanations of Mr. Verma.

 

On Thursday there was another event in a different temple; the temple was just opened and there was a meal for everybody that wanted it. Of course I loved to try it! I received a plate with fried chapatti, a cucumber-yoghurt sauce, vegetable curry and pickled mango (really nice!). After some shopping we went home and I helped Renu take care of the baby and I helped with the cooking. Mrs. Verma noticed that I was a bit cold and immediately she brought a shawl and heated some milk for me; a great example of the warm heartedness of the family.

 

I had planned to go to Almora on Sunday, but then Renu told me there was a special event happening in the Verma house; Anuska was now 5 months old and ready to eat solid food. Lots of great dishes were cooked and after some traditional ceremonies – for example Anuska writing on paper! – She could try a sample all of the prepared food which was served for her on a silver coin.

 

The day after I traveled by shared jeep to Almora and although the trip should only take 3 hours, it took me 5 hours to arrive there and then I had to walk for 3 kilometer uphill. Because of the delay I decided to stay an extra night in Almora. I stayed at the ‘Bansal Hotel’, recommended by the Lonely Planet firstly and now by me (it was a bargain!). During my trip I visited several temple’s, including the Kasar Devi Temple, but if I am honest I was a little disappointed by it. Almora is quite small, you can do some shopping, go on the internet, eat delicious tandoori chicken at ‘Soni’s’ and have a nice chat with the locals. Unfortunately, there was a strike on the day I wanted to leave and the next day I became sick which I think was due to some of the food I had eaten at a temple, so my trip took longer than I expected. But I would still recommend Almora to anyone, just for a night or two.

After some quiet days spent helping with the housekeeping and cooking we had to say ‘goodbye’ to Dipty and Anuska, because they were leaving to return to their own home 2 hours away from Kanda. I traveled with them to their house where we had a meal and a stroll through their village and then it was time to return Kanda. It was not easy to ‘leave’ them there, but we had two new people coming back to Kanda with us Jeetendr and Chandra so there would be enough company!

 

 

 

Ro

 

Rodée Veens

19 years, student University Social Work, HAN Nijmegen

Rodeeveens@hotmail.com

11/2/08 – 11/24/08

Holland, Netherlands.

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GETTING HERE

We woke up on the over night train from Delhi around 4.30am with plenty of time before our stop in Haldwani and just in time to see our first Indian sun rise out of the open train door. We arrived around 6am with Mr. Verma there to greet us. As we had only arrived in India a couple of days ago we decided to get to Kanda on the private taxi that Mr. Verma arranged for us, he picks you up from the station and then shares the taxi back to Kanda with you (this cost us 3000 Rupees at the time), you can take the bus or shared taxi but as we weren’t sure of our surroundings we thought the pick up would be the best idea. The drive took around 7 hours but the scenery was fantastic. The drive was through the mountains with views of the Himalayas so the time seemed to fly. We stopped off on the way a couple of times to have a good cup of Chai (Indian tea), or a snack (one of them being Indian chocolate – a little like butterscotch fudge, gorgeous!), pick up a bit of shopping and stretch our legs.

We arrived mid afternoon at Mr. Verma’s house, we were shown to our room by Chris (another UK volunteer) and then offered some lunch, our first authentic Indian family meal; rice, spinach and daal (lentils). After lunch Chris showed us around the place. Some of the previous projects are clear to see as they are on the property; volunteers in the past have helped to build the kitchen and eating area, cowshed and the all important bathroom and toilets (I will come back to those), as you can see below…

A LITTLE ABOUT R.O.S.E.

Standing for Rural Organisation for Social Elevation, ROSE is located in Kanda in the district of Uttarakhand at the foothills of the Himalayas.

Kanda, and it’s surrounding villages, face similar challenges to other mountain communities in the Himalayan foothills, including high unemployment, poverty, restricted access to quality education, health and sanitation problems, decreasing agricultural productivity and environmental degradation. All factors coming under increasing pressure due to the ever-rising population.

As the majority of the adult population in the Kanda district are illiterate there are also problems in the dissemination of information and knowledge. Coupled with this is the resistance to new ideas, as many prefer to stay with traditional agricultural practices rather than risk production (and hence food on the table) by trying new methods.

The primary means of advertising the advantages of new techniques, therefore, is by example. This is where Mr. Verma (the founder/Director of ROSE and our host) has been instrumental in initiating various models to show working examples of ‘better practice’. These include a Cattle House, Sanitation Block, Shower Block, Kitchen Facility and more. In addition, Mr. Verma has also helped to establish a local school and arrange general improvements in the living conditions of some locals through various other facets of fund-raising etc. (of which the homestay we are involved in is part of).

For more information on ROSE see the website at http://www.rosekanda.org and if you are a volunteer on your way and wondering what to bring a definite winner is chocolate >:o) (even more useful is anything that the school may use such as pens/pencils/paper or second hand clothes for the villagers etc.)

SETTLING IN

We settled into our room while Chris told us what he and a few other volunteers had been up to for the last couple of weeks. Chris was here when the rice fields were harvested, and at the time of writing they are being ploughed to prepare for the next harvest – the locals are very efficient and managing this land is no mean feat; given the geography there is very little flat land so the hills have to be ‘shaped’ into terraces of ploughable small pieces.

Although there isn’t a specific project going on whilst we are here (there is the need, just not the funding), Chris and the others had been helping to maintain the road to the house, helping out at the school, as well as just helping out the family with general day to day tasks. After dinner we called it a night for a well deserved rest.

OUR FIRST DAY

Our first day was a trip to Bageshwar a nearby town with broadband internet access (there is one/off dialup internet access here but it costs ROSE so we chose to pay for our own and take advantage of the speed at the same time)! We got up early and after lunch had our first Kanda bucket wash.

Washing

You get a bucket and fill it up from the tap outside (the water is from a fresh spring and, as a previous project set up a filtration system, safe to drink – cold and tasty), you then go into the “shower cubicle” and use a jug to wash yourself down, as you can imagine this is very refreshing in the morning!! As we are talking bathrooms we might as well explain the toilet. There are two available and they are just the “normal” stand up ones, a barrel of water is outside and after you have “done your business”, you fill up a jug and rinse away down the little hole in the floor.

We are actually very lucky here when it comes to toilets, in Kanda very few people have access to sanitary facilities, originally 5% in 1992, but with the help of ROSE with their latrine building programmes and generally making locals aware (funded by volunteers and government bodies) this has now risen up to around 25%.

Back to Bageshwar

It was a shared taxi to Bageshwar. The drive is up and down mountain roads with big bendy corners all the way; although the three of us managed to keep the contents of our stomach in our stomachs we have found that (on nearly every journey to or from the village) some of the locals are not so lucky and have to stick their heads out of the window! You soon get used to the journey and if a taxi hasn’t got sick down the side of it then the driver is obviously driving too slow and clearly no fun!

Bageshwar is built up around a river (it’s actually formed at the only the point the rivers Gomti and Saaryu converge) and is quite a bustling town. This area is similar to Delhi in some ways as it is a main town in the area, but nowhere near to the same degree, it smells a lot fresher, a lot of the people happily exchange a “Namaste” (Hindi for “Hello there”) without expecting money in return and there isn’t nearly as much touting or begging. We spent the day catching up on the net and wandering around the town and then headed back on the 30km taxi drive back to Kanda.

After our travels and lack of sleep we were both run down and in need of an early night.

DELHI BELLY

A WARNING TO FELLOW VOLUNTEERS!

The night didn’t turn out to be much of a good nights sleep. Mark was up all night with an upset stomach. After talking to Mr. Verma before we set off to Bageshwar, he’d warned us not to have any of the meat in any of the stalls or restaurants, however by then it was too late and the chicken we had in Delhi had already been planted!

Mark spent the day either in bed, or on the toilet, so we didn’t really get up to much. The next few days were the same, poor Mark spent most of the time in bed – with Mr. Verma administering some herbal tonics to ease a recovery.

Passing Time

Chris and I helped around the house, read a bit and visited Kanda market a few times (A small, local stretch of road just a couple of clicks away). Here is definitely a stark contrast to Delhi, with fresh air and very friendly people, all the children greet you with a “Namaste” and quite a few venture to try with a “hello” and “how are you”, and are extremely happy when you reply. In the market there is a shop owner Mr B.D.Pandey who loves to speak English and have chats with you (top of the market on the right – an elderly chap with big glasses), he used to be in the Indian Army and was also a teacher in School Kanda so we had a few conversations with him about English and Kanda life, as well as Shakespeare – his favourite writer. I also caught up with the clothes washing, all you need is a bucket, a scrubbing brush and some wonder soap we purchased from Kanda market, our clothes have been sparkling since we have been here. Although it is hard work it can be quite refreshing in the afternoon sun, a good idea if you feel like cooling off.

We also went back to Bageshwar for some much needed loo roll for Mark. We ended up in the market for quite a while looking for this (there is only one shop that sells the stuff – that’s why you don’t eat with your left hand!), and when we asked the locals where – they would chuckle at us (for needing it in the first place) and then all send us in different directions, however we got it eventually!!

VILLAGE LIFE

The Verma family are really friendly, and we enjoyed spending time with the children, Ruchi and Gotam (Mr. Verma’s grandchildren) and Saju (Mr. Verma’s youngest son). They love to play games, Snakes and Ladders and Ludo being their favourites whilst we’ve been here – so while Mark was ill we spent the evenings with the kids and our board games. Gotam’s English is very good and in the evening as well as playing the games he also likes to spend time reading to you. There were 2 of Mr. Verma’s daughters here when we arrived, Renu and Dipti, who helped Mrs. Verma cook up some lovely spicy meals.

Chores

Even though there was no project due to Diwali festival holiday and farming time ,whilst we were here there are always plenty of things that need to be done around the place. Cooking, pot washing, clothes washing, ploughing, weeding, and gardening to name but a few. You will never feel pushed into helping out, indeed, it’s much the case you will need to assure the family that you wish to help as the general feeling is that you are a guest in the home as well as part of it – so don’t be too shy!

DIWALI

We were lucky enough to be around the village at the time of this festival, Diwali, or the festival of lights which is a religious festival to show Rama and Seeta (a Hindu God & Godes laxmi) the way home after his years in exile. We had been stocking up on fireworks for the last couple of days in preparation but the first day of Diwali was a quiet one. In the evening we sat outside with Mr. Verma and were treated to a spicy Bombay potatoes, my favourite dish so far. While sat, Mr. Verma explained what he was doing with the ROSE foundation and how he had been able to help the poorer people in the village. He had the option to become a successful Goldsmith business man with his father and brother but instead chose to stay in the village and help improve life for his fellow villagers. It was a very informative discussion and it is nice to know you are doing a little to help a man who has given some 25 years to this cause. Later we all had a go at grass cutting (preparing the grass for the cows for the morning) and then after dinner it was bed, ready for the festivities the following day.

After a breakfast, while Mr. Verma’s oldest son, Jeetendra, was setting up the fairy lights and the electrics they needed, I was asked to help the children with the floral decorations, we spent most of the day on the roof (a good sun trap and a great place to dry your clothes) making bright orange marigolds carnation chains (after picking the carnations further down the road) to decorate the house. Inside some of the women were decorating the house, they made a small shrine in one of the rooms and also painted the stairs and the floors with white motifs, very pretty. Near the end of the day I also helped Ruchi build and decorate a small temple which we put at the side of the house. The decorations were the same as the house. First a few bricks were painted with a clay like substance and once they had dried we then decorated them with a flour and water mixture, Ruchi was much quicker and better than me at this! We then put the bricks together to make a mini temple, and once this was constructed we decorated it with more flowers and some candles and it was done, very pretty.

FIREWORKS

When the sun went down it was time for fireworks!!! We had a collection of rockets, fountains, Catherine-wheels, fire-crackers and ‘bombs’. Much fun was had with the children and the fireworks, they were going off around the village, so when we ran out we could still watch from the terrace. We then popped upstairs where the girls were praying and singing and enjoyed and Indian sweet.

Chris left after the first night of fireworks so we joined him to Bageshwar, however due to the festival most places were closed so it was only a short journey, on the way back Mark had a “cut throat shave” at a local barbers in Kanda, a bargain at 20 Rupees . Later in the evening it was more firework fun and a few games of Ludo before bed.

Last Day of Diwali

The next day was the final day of Diwali. We had our breakfast and then decided to go a tea farm further up the mountain. After walking to the main part of Kanda (a couple of kms from the market and all up hill!) we got a taxi to the farm. The farm is organic and absolutely huge, unfortunately there were no tea-pickers out but we did get a couple of pictures before walking back. Because the farm is quite high up on the mountain you get some great views and the scenery for the walk back was amazing, walking along the winding roads through the forest, picking up some more fireworks on the way of course, and when we got back to the house the sun was going down over the mountain tops.

Gotam and Ruchi weren’t about that night so Mark and Saju went into the fields to set off a few rockets – one didn’t work, one reacted more like a banger (fortunately the glass bottle was good quality and didn’t shatter) and at one point, Mark set a rocket off that veered disturbingly close to the dried hay stacks such that the whole family where out for half an hour with torches checking for fire!

FINALLY…

This brings us pretty much up to date, the past week has been fun with the festival (and festival food mmmm). This morning we went with the family to a small homemade temple along the road. The family prayed for their grandmothers and grandfathers and give thanks for the harvest (they do this twice a year after harvest). We also had brunch there which was a real treat, spiced rice, vegetable curry, yogurt, fried chapattis, banana fritters (Puwa) and guava (a really tasty fruit that they pick from the nearby trees), very nice! After that a clear up and back to the house where Mark has been helping Mr. Verma set up a blog for his volunteers (https://rosekanda.wordpress.com). While Mark has been beavering away I have been playing Ludo with Gotam, as well as teaching him to play hop scotch, and doing more clothes washing.

Late after noon we had the best
“Pakaori” onion+ Gram Flour bhajies and lime dip ever as a snack. Renu has promised to write down the recipe for us. Then for our evening meal we had a treat, goat curry, it was very tasty, a little like lamb/mutton. While eating we were talking to Saju about the meat, saying it tasted a bit like sheep, but he had no idea as they don’t have any sheep here. To finish the meal we had a couple of Indian sweets, they are small “sugar balls” and taste a bit like candy floss, very very sweet but very nice.

Mr. Vermas’ family have been great, we are due to leave in a couple of days but have had a lot of fun here, and although there were no big projects while we were there it was good to be involved with the family for the short time we were here. Unfortunately we didn’t get to visit the school due to school holidays (because of Diwali) and we didn’t partake in a multitude of other things available (due to time and Mark not being well) but we got to enjoy the festival (and festival food) with the family instead, it has been great.

ADVICE TO VOLUNTEERS

Things we couldn’t have lived without…

    • A jumper for the cold evenings – it can get quite chilly up here
    • An IPod and books– in the evenings it can get a bit quite so having some books and a bit of music really helped
    • Toilet roll – as we have mentioned there is only one shop in Bagashwar that stocks this and it isn’t the easiest place to find!
    • Travel games or some cards – the children love to play, Ludo and Snakes and ladders being there favourite, but they pick up games really quickly (we thought Gotam how to play hop scotch while we were here)
    • Sleeping bag – covers are provided but sometimes it can be a bit chilly, however if you don’t have one Mr. Verma is happy to provide blankets
    • Wind up or Solar torch & candles – all really handy as there are frequent power cuts (although they don’t last long) and a torch is handy for a trip to the toilet too. There are batteries available in the market but there isn’t really anywhere to dispose of them safely.
    • Walking shoes/sandals – there are some great views around the village so make sure you have some comfy shoes and go for a few walks around the surrounding market and mountains.

 

Mark & Helen

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I was picked up by Mr Verma on the 2nd October from Haldwani and I spent the first night at his Daughter Gunja’s apartment for the night.

On the 3rd October I was given a tour of Haldwani and we went to a G.B.Pant University of  Agriculture & Technology Pant Nagar Agriculture  fair where Mr Verma got lots of seeds and fodder to tack back home with him. Whilst we were in Halwani, Mr Verma purchased an SUV which is extremely important to be used as a taxi service for the locals in Kanda and also for collecting fodder and other large things for the Organic Farm.

 

The drive up to Kanda was very nice, going through long winding mountain roads and beautiful scenery all the way. When I arrived at R.O.S.E Renu and Saju (Mr Verma’s daughter and son) took my bags from me and I went up to the house where I met the family and three other volunteers. Tim and Katrina are a newly married couple from the UK and Clemence is an 18 year old Belgium girl who was braving India on her own since her older brother had to go back home (I was and still am in awe of her bravery!).

I was shown around the next morning by the other volunteers and settled into to things very quickly. Tim had been excavating sand and rocks from the local rivers so that the materials could be used for building and also to improve the flow of the river. The girls had been working at the local school where Gautam (MR Verma’s Grandchild) was studying. They would go up at 9am and do the daily prayer with the class and then it was yoga. After this they would then teach until 12pm in English and return for lunch as it is the hottest time of day.

 

Whilst being here I have met 7 other volunteers(Tim, Katrina, Clemence, Blake, Helena, Mark and Helen) and I only spent 2 days on my own which were actually quite nice as I only got closer to the family. I have done daily grass cutting, which involves a big wheel with a blade on it and the cattle fodder is fed through the machine and you end up with finely cut fodder which apparently helps cattle digest their food better. This is a tiring exercise but an important daily task and it’s amazing how you use muscles you forgot you had but like everything is becomes easier as you go on.

I have excavated sand and stones from the rivers to help the flow of the river and to use the materials taken for building. I have done road maintenance as the roads are very uneven and have lots of potholes. I have also helped improve the drainage alongside the roads for when the storms hit. I have been involved in harvesting Soya beans. The cut plants are brought up to the house and left out to dry, once dry we would beat them hard with sticks until the pods broke open and the plants were  broken down finely. Then the beans and plant leftovers could be separated out by air sifting. Using a blanket two women would create a wind flow and then the woman would drop the mix down and the leftovers and Soya beans would separate. This had to be repeated time and time again until eventually there were two separate piles. Drying of rice is also important and I have helped to gather it up into sacks once the grains have been dried out.

 

On one of the days here Mr Verma had been away and came back with an adopted baby girl for his daughter Dipti. There were lots of celebrations for the baby’s arrival and on the same day the cat had had a litter of four kittens ( you couldn’t write this stuff!).

Whilst being here I have visited many temples and there was a religious festival that went on for 3 days and at the climax of this festival a Pig, Buffalo and Goat were sacrificed to honour one of the Hindu Gods. Although this may sound horrible it was actually very interesting and was done very humanely. The atmosphere was electric and I have never seen so many people in and around the local temple as I saw that day, nearly every inch of space and was taken up by people and it was just amazing as normally the market is very quiet with only a handful of people at any one time.

I don’t think I could have learnt as much about the culture of India and Indian people if I hadn’t come to R.O.S.E. Living as part of an Indian family in a small and very friendly Indian community has been life changing for me and I have come to really appreciate my own family and my standard of living back at home. You don’t realize how easy our lives are until you come here and get back down to grassroots with basic tools. When you undertake any labour tasks you can’t help but think…..If only I had that tool then I could do this so much more efficiently and it would make people’s lives a bit easier to do the task.

 

Personally I found that this was part of my personal challenge. I would sit and try to pinpoint things that could be improved. Even the computer equipment is very basic with dialup internet at the moment in Kanda. I have thrown out countless computers and laptops in the past because they were not fast or efficient enough for the developing world and I didn’t even consider that something like that would be a hugely beneficial piece of equipment out here. Any kind of technology could help a lot.

Lots of the projects depend on donations, but most important would be the brains of skilled people. Quite a few Canadian Universities have been over to visit and students have used the experience and local environment to help with their dissertations and masters degrees as well as taking part in sanitation and dairy projects. There is so much potential for people to come out here and learn a lot. Skilled people (engineering, computing, scientists, builders or any background really) could actually teach very important skills to the locals which in turn could help them to improve their standard of living. I have had so many ideas for improvement and not in areas I have any professional experience, but luckily due to my education I actually did know a lot of things I would never have thought would be important.

Well today is my last day and it is Diwali. I have seen the field green and lush with crops when I arrived to completely bare and turned over with fertilizer in 4 weeks. I have had beautiful sunshine and seen the peaks of the Himalayas and also witnessed a huge storm which had water gushing all around. The Verma’s family have all been extremely kind and welcoming through my whole experience and I know I will miss them dearly. Now I will put my feet up, enjoy my chai and reflect whilst firecrackers go off all around the valley and rockets into the air.

 

Chris Mc Menaman

 

Diploma Marine Biology, Plymouth University

Ex Digital Print Manager – Woodmansterne Publications Ltd

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The volunteering I have participated with is called R.O.S.E (Rural Organisation for Social Elevation) which provides essential work (such as building, agricultural and educational) for the local Kumaoni community and has won many awards (please visit www.rosekanda.org for more details).

It is located in a beautiful village called Kanda located at the foot of the himalayas and living with a local family it gives volunteers the unique opportunity to get a great insight into rural Indian culture.

Personally, I have found living with Mr Verma and his family ( Jeevan Paying Guest Unit) whilst staying at the beautiful area of Kanda has given a unique and unforgettable experience and insight into rural Indian culture (such as cooking, agricultural and cooking methods). Participating in the building of an essential local shop so that villagers can sell local produce has felt enlightening. The Verma family have also made me feel very welcome and looked after and have provided me with delicious local Indian food.

Luke Angel.

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