Treading on New Terrain

Project RISHI Berkeley’s Transition to Bharog Baneri

After many years of working with the UCLA chapter in Vadamanappakkam, we decided that it was time to transition to a new village in India. The result of this decision was a unique trip to India last summer where our members travelled to numerous villages and states in order to collect as much data and talk to as many people as possible. When this data was relayed to the Berkeley chapter in the fall, the choice came down to two villages: Kadera and Bharog Baneri.

Kadera is a rather large village, populated by 11,000 people, located in the Ajmer district in Rajasthan. The Berkeley chapter members met with the village panchayat, Anganwadi workers and doctor who all proved to be very dedicated to helping the local people. One of the most prevalent issues in Kadera is a lack of awareness in education; parents would rather their children get jobs and earn money than invest in their education. Villagers also have little knowledge of health concerns; they are not aware of chronic diseases and see little value in receiving general check ups from the doctor.

Bharog Baneri is a much smaller village located in the hills of Sirmaur district in Himachal Pradesh. There are several problems the villagers face; notably, lack of access to nearby cities, a short supply of teachers in schools and health workers in the recently established Public Health Center, and little awareness regarding garbage disposal techniques. Other issues identified there were a lack of resources to send children — especially girls — to school outside the city after a certain age, computer labs in the high school with no one to teach the students, and Anganwadi centers which have few resources to engage the kids they take care of. In Bharog Baneri, the Berkeley chapter has two reliable contacts in Piyusha Abbhi, a local business owner, and Brinjinder, a villager deeply invested in tackling these issues.

There were many pros to choosing Kadera, including but not limited to a larger target population, issues that reflect projects we have implemented in the past and village leaders very willing to work with us. However, we decided on Bharog Baneri in the end for two main reasons: contacts and projects. The fact that we have reliable contacts in this village is absolutely essential during the school year when we plan our projects and obtain more data from overseas. In addition, we see several issues in Bharog Baneri that we believe we will be able to address with sustainable solutions. The prospect of both short and long term projects was critical in our decision.

Additionally, Bharog Baneri has a series of health and education-related problems that Project RISHI will target in the coming years. Environmentally, the main issue is relative ignorance, or lack of care toward implementing a regulated trash system. The routine procedure for discarding trash in the village is to burn it, which ends up negatively impacting the local environment and water supply. Also, a lack of general health awareness has resulted in fever, diarrhea and respiratory infections in the area. Many adults and children within the village lack basic knowledge of common health precautions that should be taken, causing unnecessary harm. Villagers also personally brought up concerns with the Anganwadis, such as their shortage of proper toys and equipment for the children to play with, as well as lack of available space.

During club meetings, members have split up into groups in order to brainstorm solutions to the problems pinpointed in Bharog Baneri. Each group has been given an essential project to work on, some groups with more people than others depending on the severity or human-need of the project. Within each group there is a Project Leader, an NGO Correspondent, a Project Secretary, and a Project Coordinator; each person is responsible for a different task, which has increased efficiency for both contacting India and developing solutions in Berkeley.

Confronting attitudes toward general health problems is definitely a long-term project, but NGO health camps can be utilized to introduce these ideas to the village. By contacting nearby NGOs in the Sirmaur District and Shimla, we can hopefully gain access to resources and help set up a health camp within the village. By facilitating health and adding an educational aspect to the camps, RISHI hopes to increase the long-term resolve of the project. The current possibility is to have an education segment prior to receiving a normal check-up; however, ideas are still being discussed.

Increasing environmental awareness through a children’s trash pickup day exemplifies a short-term project with a long-term objective. Informing children of the hazardous methods currently used to remove waste and having them observe recycling methods would be informative and hopefully sustainable. The main goal is to gradually change the community’s mindset about how trash is collected in the village.

For the local Anganwadis, we will be fundraising through bake sales and sponsorship by local businesses to purchase materials. By purchasing both gender-specific and education related toys, hopefully the addition to the Anganwadis will allow young children to be entertained and have more practice reading both English and Hindi, therefore easing the burden on parents as well.

To maintain personal contact with the village before arriving in Bharog Baneri, we are planning a pen pal program with the youth of the village. Choosing a class from a secondary school and beginning informal contact with the students can allow RISHI members to start building familiarity with the Bharog Baneri community. Sanjana Sathyanarayana also explained the idea of a youth council “as a way to introduce [children] to leadership and self-empowerment.” In order to carry on sustainable projects beyond the help of outside forces like NGO’s, the goal is to get the younger generation involved. Through this pen pal system, hopefully they can slowly take charge of their own trash pick-up projects, and spread health awareness.

Authors: Sneha Pang, Karina Oelerich, Preethi Venkat


Originally published at www.projectrishi.org.

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