10 April 2018

And this time it is Strawberries in the poly houses of Nepal

Maya Tamang a 40 years old woman lives in Gamailo and was selected as one of the farmers for poly house beneficiaries in Nuwakot district of Kakani Gaupalika. Maya has a family of 7 members and has 2 children. Being illiterate, Maya Tamang did not have enough alternatives for livelihood which made her a potential beneficiary and work as a farmer for poly house in Nuwakot District of Kakani Gaupalika.

Looking at the development indicators of life of villagers, Pragya implemented the project called “Improving Rural Livelihoods, Water & Sanitation in Earthquake Damaged Areas of Nepal” where a holistic rehabilitation programme is being delivered in Nepal. Current interventions are aimed at addressing critical needs of poor households affected by the earthquake in four disaster-affected districts in Nepal. The interventions are focussed on water and sanitation, short-term income generation, long-term livelihood development and protection of women from gender-based violence.

Selected as one of the livelihood package beneficiaries under the project, Maya decided to take this opportunity in the hope of providing better support to her family. Under the project staff’s supervision, she adopted poly house for strawberry production. After receiving support for the polyhouse like silpaulin sheet and bamboo, she zealously spent her time on the construction of poly house. Furthermore, the number of training she received from other organization during the previous year helped her to implement the technology, appropriately.

Maya Tamang in her polyhouse where she has planted strawberry
The variety of strawberries cultivated in Nepal requires an altitude of 1500 - 2500m with a temperature range of 4 - 25 degree Celsius and 3000 - 4000 ml of rainfall, making Kakani the ideal location for such cultivation. The preparation for strawberry cultivation begins around the month of June. After the months of tending, the actual plantation is carried out during September and the produce is ready by November.

Before planting strawberry in poly house, Maya Tamang used to cultivate maize in her farmland. During that time the income she incurred was very less which was not sufficient for her family. But after the strawberry cultivation in the poly house, she is able to have a good yield. In Maya’s words, it was not only her effort alone, her family members have also contributed equally to the cultivation of the strawberries. They helped in watering the plants and put fertilizers and nutrients regularly in the soil. Maya has already sold about 100 kg of strawberry this season and earns 30,000 INR and is still selling the strawberries. Her target is to achieve an income of 1, 50,000 INR. She is happy and satisfied with what she has gained and wants to work harder to make more money from the strawberry fields.

Strawberry in Maya Tamang's polyhouse
“We have seen difficult times when we did not have money to pay for children’s school books for school. Now life has become easier as we are able to manage our daily expenses smoothly,” says Maya Tamang.

Together, Maya and her family have planned to save half of their income for their children’s education and invest the other half to buy food grains that will keep them secure for the entire year. She wants to bring women in the community together, who are interested in strawberry farming along with her and are willing to develop micro-entrepreneurs so that the women in that area do not have to migrate to other places in search of work which will also help in stopping human trafficking in this area.

19 March 2018

Gaining their voices to say "No more violence!” through Know Your Rights Campaign

On International Women’s Day, Pragya in India mobilised communities in five districts across three states in the first phase of its biannual ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign under the project 'Comprehensive primary prevention programme addressing violence against ethnic minority women in India’ focussed on the community-led interventions to address violence both within family or private sphere and violence that occurs in the community or public sphere. The project is currently running in the states of Rajasthan, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh, with a special focus on the tribal population. In order to create safer and enabling environment for women and girls, Women Peer Group (WPG) leaders across 5 states are actively engaging the community members to provide guidance on health, nutrition, rights, and issues related to violence against women and girls (VAWG) and empower girls by taking collective actions to prevent VAWG in the target communities.

Women participate in KYR campaign in Lakhimpur, Assam
These WPG leaders, the anchors of the project conducted the KYR campaign by organizing an interactive street-play called “Ramli kyu maar khaye?” portraying one day in the life of a rural woman fictionally called Ramli, who faces domestic violence and how others in the village like mukhiya, Women Peer Group leaders and neighbours around her come forward to combat the violence done to Ramli and positively influence her husband (fictional name Devilal) to say no to violence by informing him about the adverse effects of violence on women and the existing laws that women can use to exercise their rights.  The audience applauded the performance of Pragya volunteers and had a lively discussion with the staff on countering violence against women.

The rallies conducted had the participation of both community members and school students. The posters which were developed for the campaign highlighted the issue of domestic violence, education of and celebrating the girl child. The message through these activities emphasized that as responsible citizens, we should not remain as mute spectators when we see any form of violence in our neighborhood and to deal with every act of violence in a collective and concerted manner. Around 731 people participated actively in the street play on domestic violence and the rally along with an extended outreach of over +1500 observers of the rally.
School children in Chamba participate in the rally

The campaign also employed stimulating media like SMSs in vernacular focussing on the messages related to eliminating violence and women and educating girl child. These messages reached out to over 10,000 people in the target districts. The campaign also underlined the need to ensure safe domestic spaces and recognize that domestic violence exists around all of us and there is a need to come together to uproot this evil practice which enabled a platform to villagers to voice out their concerns and emerging needs related to construction of toilets for girls in the government schools, safety of girls and domestic violence. The stakeholders also informed the villagers on various mechanisms and bodies functioning at the village and panchayat level to help and guide aggrieved women on violence-related cases and ease out the legal process.

The event saw a magnificent turnout from the local communities who were moved by the essence and spirit of the message, “Har vyakti ka hain yahi kehna, hinsa ko ab nahi hain sehna!” (Every person says, we won’t tolerate violence!). In some of the locations, like Sonitpur and Lakhimpur, people also traveled from different villages to the location of the campaign, sharing the need to have such campaigns in their villages for sensitization on the issue of domestic violence.
Our campaign event covered in Dainik Bhaskar, Rajasthan

The Know Your Rights campaign was also covered by the local vernacular newspapers in all the three states. The Know Your Rights campaign would continue for the next 2 months where Pragya will continue engaging the communities to create safer and healthier spaces for women and girls. 

7 March 2018

Empowerment Center Caretakers provide information and referral services.

Dipali Mech [name altered], a domestic worker in Assam, wants her monthly wage to be paid on time. Renu Daimary [name altered] wants divorce and compensation from her husband for the years of emotional violence that she has faced. Jamuna Saikia [name altered] and Mandira Boro [name altered] want compensation from their employer for the physical assaults they had experienced at their workplace. In Rajasthan, Sharda Kumari [name altered] wants an end of the restrictions imposed on her mobility. All of these women had once approached the Empowerment Center [set up by Pragya with support from UNTF EVAW] in their vicinity, seeking information and guidance to solve their problems. At these centers, they met the women facilitators, who are very supportive friends and mentors to them now.

Semima Khatoon is the facilitator at the Empowerment Center in Sonitpur district, Assam. She hails from Keherukhunda village and has 10e11 years of experience in the field of social work. Before taking up this role, she has taught English, Hindi, and Assamese to children in primary school and run awareness campaigns on vaccination for a local NGO. Priyanka Kumari is the facilitator at the Empowerment Center in Dungarpur district, Rajasthan. She is a resident of Chak Mahori village and has completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in History, Political Science, and Geography. Both of them have been working untiringly to fight against illiteracy, poor access to information– that further exacerbate violence, and result in disempowerment of women and loss of their self-confidence.

Semima and Priyanka attend to people who visit the center or call on the helpline number seeking information or help. A vast majority of women approach them for seeking information on legal aid, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and career guidance. Semima recalls helping a man to get an ID for Persons with Disabilities for his daughter. She also gets calls asking about compensations/entitlements, punishments stipulated under various laws. Priyanka receives visitors asking her about training programs at the center, about government schemes and scholarship programmes for girls. Women also approach them to report incidences of eve-teasing, stalking, domestic violence, alcoholism, and polygamy. Once these cases are reported at the center, they ensure timely response by contacting the relevant authorities and support providers who can take up these cases. They ensure both prevention of and response to violence by helping women with information as well as judicial and social security services.

Semima Khatoon, Sonitpur, Assam
To be able to provide the correct information to the visitors and callers, Semima and Priyanka keep themselves updated with the latest news and legal provisions. “I have gained immense knowledge from working at the Empowerment Center. The information I share with the women also empowers me” reflects Semima. She maintains case log, visitor and call logs and promotes the services of the Empowerment Center at various events that she attends or organizes. Her day starts with reading the local newspaper and documenting cases of violence published in local news every day. This gives her a fair idea of the prevalence of different kinds of violence against women and girls in her district and new schemes that are launched. This, in turn, helps her give feedback to the Pragya team and local mentors, on the priority issues for village level campaigns. 

A diploma holder in Computers Application, Semima also teaches women to use the computer and helps them with application forms for higher education or job opportunities. Priyanka, like a skilled librarian, knows all the resources in the Center including which book is in which rack. She finds it easy to immediately take the relevant books/pamphlets out when people ask for them. Priyanka takes regular note of the problems reported by the women who visit the center. She finds that most of the problems are related to water access, shortage of food and violence in the domestic sphere. She feels that the Empowerment Center also provides women a safe space to take a break and use the toilet, in between their long journeys through the town or day-long struggle with paperwork and follow-ups at the government offices.

Priyanka sharing information with a visitor
at Empowerment Centre, Dungarpur, Rajasthan 
Semima and Priyanka have developed rapport, linkage, and contacts with local law enforcers and NGOs, from whom they seek advice and also refer the cases. “These linkages are essential to tackle the cases of child marriage, dowry-related harassment reported to the Center. I hope to see a gender-equal society and I know this would happen gradually. At least, for now, the women from the villages have a center, which they can call theirs, and feel free to step in for any of their queries,” says Priyanka. Today their peers value their opinion and have respect for them for the knowledge they have gained through their work experience. They are considered role models in their village for being the people who have not given up on their aspirations and for working passionately for a cause close to their heart.

4 January 2018

Weather Monitoring Installations: Helping Himalayan villages prepare better...

Jagat Ram, a 40 years old Gram Pradhan of Durlekh panchayat of Didihat block, Pithoragarh narrates that cloudbursts and landslides are the main hazards in his Gram Panchayat and how on 15 Aug 2004, a landslide destroyed his house, killed a girl in his village, shattering many lives in front of his eyes.

31-year-old Pushpa Devi of Munsiyari block, Pithoragarh also shares that the villages in her Panchayat are highly exposed to landslides caused by heavy rainfalls and floods. She says, ”In both 2008 and 2013, many households and cattle were washed away by landslides in Bhadeli village.”

Jagat Ram can be seen here
Like Jagat Ram and Pushpa Devi, a majority of the villagers in these Himalayan districts are farmers and their livelihood is directly linked to vagaries of weather conditions. On learning about the Pragya’s installations of weather monitoring stations in the number of villages, they appear hopeful that there would be less damage in such events now, as people could be alarmed beforehand. Pushpa Devi says, “It will not only warn us about the hazardous event but will also help us in getting adequate emergency supplies, in place, post-disaster.” 

Installation of weather monitoring stations is being piloted across 800 villages in 4 districts (Chamoli, Pithoragarh, Rudraprayag, and Uttarkashi) under the project DMS Himalaya by Pragya. The project incorporates two tools namely “Go-Risk” which is an early warning tool with grassroots measurement grids and communication channels for pre-disaster use) and “RnR-Comm”, a component for relief and response information-sharing tool to help multi-agency response coordination for post-disaster use. These tools aim to enhance local self-reliance and improve the effectiveness of humanitarian support.

DMS Himalaya focusses on pre-disaster early warning system by strengthening the communities to be aware of early warnings through regular monitoring of weather conditions which can prevent loss of lives and damage to resources and livestock even if the disaster strikes. The young and enthusiastic local villagers are identified and trained to form Disaster Response Team (DRTs) to use these stations independently by conducting mapping, monitoring, and reporting on damage and relief, post-disaster. The identified Points of Presence (POPs), function as communication centers for isolated habitations in remote parts.  The initiative is further strengthened by forming resource hubs District Disaster Management Support Units (DDMSUs), for implementing DMS Himalayas effectively.

Weather monitor installed in  one of the clusters in Ukimath
“As far as I know this is first of its kind project. This will forewarn us about the disasters, and will save many lives” says Balwant Singh, a resident of Sitoli village of Didihat block in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand.

These weather stations are gradually enabling the villagers in the Himalayan districts to prepare themselves for forthcoming calamities and helping them to build a disaster-resilient future for themselves! 

Bringing children back to schools

The earthquakes and aftershocks which struck Nepal in 2015 had an enormous impact on the country’s poorest communities. The effect on Nepal...