My experiences in the rural villages of India

Nestled in the beautiful Himalayan mountains is a small town called Sidhbari. A short flight from Delhi, Sidhbari is the HQ for Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development (CORD). I have supported the work of CORD for the past 10 years (last 5 years as Co-founder of the NY Chapter for CORD). As it has been few years since my last visit I decided to make a return journey to Sidhbari.

The first day I was blown away by the beauty of the Himalayan mountains and was welcomed by a beautiful rainbow right from the tip of the twin mountains.

Rainbow from the the tip of the Himalayan mountain at Sidhbari

The next couple of days I walked through the villages that were already developed and it was incredible to see the difference that CORD had made in the lives of these people. Through the Mahila Mandals (Women’s Groups), CORD has brought women together, empowered them to stand up for their rights, educated them on child-health and maternity-health, and assisted them with employment.

I ran into a group of women who were laughing and singing as they walked to work. I chatted with them and they spoke of how CORD has changed their lives and has given them a renewed confidence that they were worth something. They were able to contribute to their families, become independent, and stand up to injustice.

Thats me with the village women. Decided not to wear a saree so that you could recognize me :)

Another interesting incident happened that day. In order to shortcut to the next village my friend suggested we walk through the fields. At the end of our walk, we directly came out in front of a small hut with the family who owned the field sitting on the patio. I had a sheepish look of invading their space when the ladies called out and welcomed us home and asked us if we would have a cup of tea. This generosity overwhelmed me especially as this was after destroying a bit of their crops by trudging through it!! That is the beauty of our culture, in which guests are welcomed and treated with the same degree of respect given to God.

I spent time speaking with Dr. Kshama Metre — the National Director of CORD who shared with me CORD’S next 5 year plan. CORD has now adopted several extreme villages which include villages where drinking water is available once in three days and villages with high farmer suicide rates. The NY Chapter will be raising money for these villages.

Please feel free to support these ventures by donating generously. All your donations are tax deductible in the US and in India.

The next day I went to the CORD disability center where differently-abled people were treated. Children of all age groups were being treated for various problems including speech disability and autism.

This lady physiotherapist left her practice in Bangalore to serve in the villages of Sidhbari

As I was leaving the physiotherapy center, I saw a mother carrying a 11 year old child who was taller than her leaving the center. The child couldn't walk on his own and I was overcome with emotion seeing the small little lady carrying her fully grown son back home. In many instances people with disabilities are disowned by their families and receive neither treatment nor care. CORD has revolutionized the treatment of the differently-abled. Its unique community-based disability program, focuses on treatment and inclusion in the community, and has assisted over 450 such people.

One of the important parts of my trip was meeting a few of the CORD leaders during their monthly visit to the main office. They were a source of inspiration to us. One lady told us a recent incident of how during the Adolescent female sessions they led a session on rape and one girl started to cry and admitted that she was being raped by her own father for the past 6 months. The mother was questioned and she admitted it but feared social ostracism and didn’t come out in the open. Immediately the father was arrested and the child put under therapy sessions. This sent a strong message to the village that such crimes will not be tolerated. This incident though horrific shows the impact of CORD and its success in bringing about upliftment of not just the women but progress for the entire village.

These women leaders “rockstars” are the backbone of CORD as they go from village to village transforming lives. They face tremendous resistance when entering a new village but that they have been able to overcome these challenges with their resilience and passion and often sleep on streets in these new villages which are far away from their homes, befriend women and make slow inroads till they are accepted.

The dynamic women leaders of CORD who are the backbone of the transformation

I can write on and on about my wonderful time but words cannot describe the experiences that I had. It is only to be experienced.

Yet, what stands out most in my mind from this time in Sidhbari is not despair or hopelessness, but a fervor and passion for life and for others. The women of the town opened their lives, their homes, and their hearts to me and made me feel welcome. The children’s unbelievable energy, unwavering, joyful smiles, deep curiosity, and great enthusiasm taught me lessons in fortitude, passion, and empathy. The women’s resilience, entrepreneurial spirits, and determination to create better lives for themselves and their families sparked in me a real excitement for the power of social enterprise to create sustainable, community-led impact.

Hanging out with the kids returning from school (balwadis)

I left my trip with a new found passion for life and a deep desire to use my energy and time to continue to help create a positive and meaningful difference in the world.

THE START OF NEW YORK CHAPTER OF CORD USA

CORD has done a lot of great work however 40% of India is still below poverty line and a lot of work remains to be done. Inspired by Dr. Kshama, a team of us (Chandni, Navin, Mansi and I) started the NY Chapter of CORDUSA in 2012 to raise awareness and funds for the great work thats going on.

As mentioned above, CORD has adopted several extreme villages which include villages where drinking water is available once in three days and villages with high farmer suicide rates.

Please feel free to support these ventures by donating. All your donations are tax deductible in the US or in India.

ABOUT CORD

Three things really captured my heart about this organization:

  1. The head of CORD, Dr. Kshama Metre — I was highly inspired by her simplicity and dedication when I met her for the first time. A pediatrician by profession, she had left her flourishing practice in Delhi to serve the poorest of the poor and lived amidst them. She shared her struggles and her success stories which left me highly inspired to do more than what I was doing.
Dr. Kshama Metre awarded the Guardian International Development Award

2. CORD focuses on providing sustainable solutions to poverty and unemployment as opposed to charitable giving. The entire fundraising is done by a team of volunteers and 95% of the funds raised were directly invested into rural development.

3. SUCCESS OF CORD: CORD was established in 1985, and has provided income generation activities for 13,000 villagers, and started 563 women’s groups with over 22,000 members. The organization has also started 220 youth groups, 1490 self-help groups, and many adolescent girls’ groups with 10,300 total members It has also implemented natural resource management programs, which succeeded in reducing water scarcity. These programs have impacted around 50,000 villagers directly and 500,000 indirectly and helped alleviate multiple afflictions in the lives of the poorest of villagers which lock them into permanent cycles of poverty.