January 8th, 2017
Today marks the conclusion of our three day Fulbright-Hays GPA Workshop in Udaipur.
We started the workshop broadly with the ethics and tactics of development, narrowing our focus through the four sessions to end discussing chulas in Rajasthan.
I don’t want to forget this feeling: alive, inspired.
My notes from the workshop (these are lengthy- feel free to skip to my reactions at the end of the post):
Professionals and activists from around India crammed around the table for a busy three days full of powerpoints, debates and tea. Below is an outline of the schedule and speakers, with a few brief summaries and short highlights.
Session I: Development and Intervention Forum
George Varughede with Development Alternatives
“Unfortunately, we are very fortunate.”
George, between deep chuckles, introduced us to two development strategies:
-Oasis & graveyard: Academics & NGOs help certain communities, creating an oasis, but the majority of people & land go unhelped, constituting the desert.
-Helicopter: Imagine a helicopter flying over a field, spreading many seeds but investing little energy in where they land. Often the government, trying to serve all, will disperse resources over a great area and volume of people, but it is most often unsuccessful.
George insisted that a balance between these two strategies be found, and that partnerships with local organizations will be critical moving forward with such development.
Lastly, George was frank that he thought giving he MA insert away for free was “the biggest mistake you can make,” for when you give something for free, there is little to no value assigned to it.
Sailesh Rao with Climate Healers
On the world going vegan within ten years: “It’s going to happen. It has to.”
Sailesh encourages veganism and argues that we need to shift our focus away from “how they cook” to “what we eat” as the footprint associated with the dairy and meat industry far outweighs the effect women have on the forest.
Jokingly, we have all come to describe out interactions with Sailesh as the “Sailesh Experience.” He is passionate and unwavering in the fight for animal rights. With eyes that seem to see through my soul, he has undeniably made me reflect on my consumption.
Session II: Social Science Forum
Indira Rama Rao: Professor Emeritus from University if Mysore
Dr. Indira is a warrior, fighting for women in forest communities and educating students in women’s rights for over 30 years; she is a humble woman who knows when to listen but demands attention when she speaks.
Dr. Indira discussed the necessity of addressing gender in development. When there is a new technology or idea introduced into a community, existing hierarchies are challenged, changing roles and the status of individuals within the community. Women are often charged with preserving culture, but their work is seen as unskilled and is often undermined.
Paul Greenough: Professor Emeritus from University of Iowa
Throughout the trip, Paul has narrated rickshaw rides and walks down the street, seamlessly integrating relevant Indian history into our experiences in Udaipur. His lecture was no different: Paul gave us a detailed history of the Aravallies and the history of their occupants, the Bhils & Rajput people, ending with a bit of history on Gandhi.
Satish Sharma with Foundation for Ecological Security
Satish Sharma, a former botanist, helped us a develop a context in which to understand biodiversity in Rajasthan. He argued that firewood collection for cooking with chulas is not a threat to the forest but rather that the forests are being destroyed by fragmentation, encroachment and mining.
Session III: Practitioners’ Forum
Parul Kulkarni with Ajeevika NGO
High labor mobility has been, and continues to be, central to India’s economic growth. Goods and services are cheap, but come at the expense of inhumane labor. Parul drew our attention to the trials faced by the 150 million migrant workers in India, who face inhumane working conditions, discrimination, and lack access to welfare problems (welfare programs are state run but migrants are constantly on the move).
In response, Ajeevika Bureau (established in 2005) steps in, seeking to “reduce hardship for migrants and render migration into a more positive opportunity” through working at the source and destination in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Mahashtra. They assist migrants and their families with registration and photo IDs, skill training and placement, financial services, social security, legal aid, counseling, advocacy, and health services.
Ramesh Kikkeri with SVYM
“What we learned from them is more than what we have taught them.”
Ramesh works with cookstoves in Southern India, though his design differs drastically from the chulas with MA inserts we have been learning about in Rajasthan: it includes 2 burners, and a third container to store hot water. In addition, there is a compartment for wood combustion, so the flame is not visible from the outside of the stove. I will not pretend to understand the engineering behind the design of the stove, but I was inspired by his approach to development work.
Ramesh has set up self help groups and trained youth (22 total: 5 women, 17 men) in how to maintain and fix basic stoves. However, he does not use diction that allows a power complex to form: instead of “training” he asks for “help”…in building and trouble shooting together, the villagers naturally form an intimate knowledge of the stove and how it works, so that it may continue working, even in Ramesh’s absence. In this way, SVYM is different from other organizations in regards to their introduction tactics. They believe that technology cannot be imposed on villagers. Instead, first you must build a trusting relationship and listen to what the villagers perceive as their problems, then work together to find a solution. SVYM believes that each family in each village is unique and deserves a unique solution: one size does not fit all.
Lastly, Ramesh was honest in addressing the fact that he does not believe that deforestation is caused by rural women collecting firewood for their chulas. Women don’t cut down trees, instead they gather dry and fallen biomass within the forest. He criticizes pushing our agenda of slowing deforestation on these women, instead of listening to what they want.
Fabio Parigi with Siemens Corporation, Italy
Fabio, a long time collaborator with Sailesh and Uday, helped us understand the combustion efficiency of MA: it helps increase air flow, making temperature constant throughout the cooking vessel and allowing for complete combustion of the wood (though, again, I am not the person to ask here). Then, he described efforts to introduce the MA in Nyumbani village in Kenya; after designing the insert with local community members, and building protocols together, they held a local cooking competition to familiarize women with the insert. The winning prize? A goat.
The MA has thus far been adopted with great success in Nyumbani, and Fabio hopes to expand his work to Tanzania, Sudan, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.
Session IV: Social Science Forum
Meena Khandelwal from University of Iowa
Meena summarized what we had learned over the last three days, pleased with our exposure to an array of perspectives from village women to experts and academics to activists. This lead into an open discussion on solutions, issues and constraints (though, I was left with anything but closure).
I want to remain acutely aware of the impact and privilege I have. Throughout my life, and throughout this trip I have struggled with feelings of guilt and shame. I have privilege as an American, as a white woman, as a member of a loving middle class family, and as someone who is healthy and able.
Related to this is my enormous ecological footprint. In India, these seemingly intangible concepts are naked to my eye. How hypocritical of me to discuss deforestation after hours of travel by plane, train and rickshaw, after tossing my 20th plastic water bottle into the trash.
Lastly, I have struggled with the ethics of international work. What right do I have to be here, as an outsider, who doesn’t even know the language? Inevitably, I project my US-centric perspectives and values unto situations and experiences in India. It is clear that I am not an expert in anything- how dare I think I had something to offer these women!
Why not stay and work in the US, where many of same things happening? There is poverty, danger, inequality and pollution; they are just hidden and compartmentalized.
I vowed in my blog to share myself honestly. I am not proud that these are realizations I had yet to come to, and I do not claim to have credentials to speak on development. My thoughts on these questions are ever changing: my mind is fluid, and mostly confused. I hope only to continue growing and learning.
But I do think I have changed, for the better, since our arrival in India three weeks ago.
Now, I realize that preaching without action leads to guilt. This guilt has forced action and self change. I have a lot of work to do on Emma.
Simultaneously, I think it is important to know that we never stop growing. If I were to wait to act until I felt sufficiently wise, I would forever delay action. Instead, I need to focus on the belief (or hope) that every relationship is symbiotic; in every interaction, we should teach and we should learn.
Next, I do think international work is important. Being an outsider isn’t necessarily an obstacle; I believe we are outsiders nearly everywhere. Even as an American I am an outsider in the majority of communities in the US; everyone’s experience is their own, at the intersection of all their classifications. The only reality I know is my own. Therefore, doing work anywhere will require a time investment to integrate into the community, to build trusting relationships. Ultimately, I think we have an obligation to help others, at home and abroad because at our core, we are all humans. The restraints we put up are constructed divides that are only real because we have given power to them.
Additionally, simply by being American in a globalized society, we are intimately connected to the rest of the world. And regardless of if we do work at home, or abroad, it is important to combat a US-centric view and open our perspectives to our global impact. Coming to India has exposed me to concentrated problems that are prevalent and visible, making me aware of my role as a global citizen in a way I don’t think I would have been possible if I had stayed in Iowa.
Finally, I think I must confront all of the paradoxes I have discovered within myself; I am insignificant and important, I am a learner and a teacher, I am closed minded and I am open, I am evil and I am good. I am crossing my fingers that such confusion and evaluation is productive.
The chula “problem” has served as a lens and powerful learning tool, allowing us to peak into the intricate web of development, seeing how connected everything and everyone truly are.