Archive for August, 2009

August 2009 – R.O.S.E Kanda

Tucked high up in the foothills of the Himalayas, 200 KM from China and 150 KM from Pakistan, Kanda is a small farming community where the people work the land for a living. Here we have come to learn about the traditional way of life of rural India. We are staying with Mr Jeevan Lal Verma and his family, who run a small not for profit organization that improves the way of life for the whole community.

By paying Jeevan to stay at his home he is able to buy building materials and employ local people to build roads and buildings that benefit the whole community. He also experiments with different farming techniques in order to find the most suitable/effective methods for the climate.

This work is essential as the climate has changed considerably over the past few years, the traditional rains that are relied upon for production of rice have declined considerably, so much so, that this year the community has had react quickly to the conditions and had to plant wheat in an attempt to produce enough food to survive.

The most recent project which is almost finished is a building that houses chickens for the community so that they can produce eggs. Part of the work has also been to find out which breed of chicken produces the most eggs. In doing this Jeevan can tell all the other farmers which chickens to raise so that they don’t waste their time and hard earned money doing the wrong thing.

In addition to the work that Jeevan has done with the chickens, he is also investigating which type of cow is best for the farmers to keep and which produce the most milk. Jeevan tells us that the local farmers consider grass to be waste or useless and are not aware that if fed to cows can produce valuable milk. Currently Jeevan has four cows which he is producing milk from to ascertain which type is most suitable.

Jeevan’s work is therefore not just about building; it’s about learning and education. The local people practice farming techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation, but as the climate is now changing the farmers need to change too. In order to get the people to embrace change and the new techniques it requires Jeevan to actually prove and show the farmers the differences that can be achieved – hence the work that he is doing with the cows and chickens.

In order for Jeevan to share this information with the local community he is building a community hall so that the farmers can regularly get together and share experiences and information. It will also provide the farmers with a place that they can sell their own produce to each other without having to pay for transport costs to the nearest market which is over an hour away by car. This will also move the village a step closer to becoming self sufficient.

To build the community hall, and in fact to build any new building, Jeevan has to buy the land, materials and manpower to construct the building – the money that we have given Jeevan to stay at his home helps pay for this.

The builders doing the work do everything by hand, there are no cement mixers and even all the bricks are made by them by hand. We asked why Jeevan didn’t buy a cement mixer to help the workers. The answer is simple… A cement mixer would not only cost a lot of money, but more importantly it would take the jobs from two people who desperately need the work – Jeevan pays well at 150RS per day (about £1.85), the average days wage in the area is just 100RS (£1.25).

Concrete is the main building material here and cement has to be bought in. Surprisingly a bag of cement costs almost the same as it does in England at 375RS, or almost £4.70, which works out at the equivalent of two and a half days pay for a builder – this is very expensive which makes progress painfully slow.

There are three other materials used when making cement; water, sand and stone (aggregate). The stones that are mixed with the cement are made by other workers who spend all day breaking large rocks into smaller stones suitable for concrete. The sand that they use is dug from the river bed and carried about a mile and even up to 20, and the water also carried up to a mile is stored after the monsoon season so that it is nearer, all of this reduces the building window within the year.

Our experience of a rural life means an early start at 6:30am with breakfast at 7am, this consists of home made organic curry and a local tea brew called ‘Chi’. All the food at Jeevan’s is local and organic. Rather than having a shower we fill up a bucket of cold water and wash ourselves down. We are lucky staying at Jeevans because he has built a couple of squat toilets for volunteers use.

After washing we go and help teach English in the local school and come back at 2pm in time for lunch. Jeevan’s family do all of the cooking for all of the volunteers and the food is excellent. It’s quite common for volunteers to take a nap after lunch as it’s so hot here during this part of the afternoon.

During the later afternoon when the temperature drops a little and building materials allowing, work continues with the construction projects – here you can get involved as much or as little as you like; or you may want to visit the nearest large town or simply do you laundry instead.

As it begins to get dark the grass that has been collected during the day needs to be cut for the cattle to feed upon during the next morning and there are also vegetables to be prepared for dinner. The electricity supply here is less than reliable and frequently shuts down, thankfully Jeevan has installed some solar panels and batteries to store energy for power cuts, but it’s always useful to carry a torch with you.

Dinner is usually served at around 9pm, we all eat together and once finished the day is over and people head to bed so that noise disturbance to other farmers is kept to a minimum.

Our stay at R.O.S.E Kanda has taught us much and made us appreciate not only how difficult life is here, but also how much work Jeevan has to do to educate the local people whose practices are based on deep rooted traditions. They get no help or subsidies from the government here, so all work is self funded and self motivated – it’s a real challenge and one to be admired. This is a very peaceful and friendly place which gives you a real insight in to traditional Indian rural life and one that is well worth experiencing.

Charlie Bennett & Phil Stebbing – Manchester, England.

Work plan:

Sand, cement, steel, doors windows and shutters. Wooden panels, supports

Skilled/unskilled community members:

Making blocks, wall construction, making aggregates, roofing plastering,
Water management, santitation, waste disposal, electrification.

Landscaping, beautification, flower pots

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