Thursday, June 10, 2010

SSS: Week 3

Sarvajanik Shikshonnayan Sansthan (SSS)
A-3/302, Vishal Khand, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow
226 010 (Uttar Pradesh) India

Initial itinerary:
29-4 June, Lakhimpur Kheri
Working with community and discussing with district authorities

5-6 June, Lakhimpur Kheri
Action with World Wildlife Funds (WWF)

Our weekend spent in Varanasi postponed our initial work plan to visit the forest and tribal villages in Lakhimpur Kheri, which is found 3-4 hours north-east of Hardoi. Instead of being there on the 29th (Saturday), we left Wednesday morning and started our work straight away.

The postponement gave us time to rest and recharge, clear our heads and finally EAT MEAT! :) 

 Chicken do Piaza in Varanasi. Our only options were to eat chicken or mutton (goat). Still meat nonetheless. I missed it so much!

Once back in Hardoi, and while waiting the day we left for Lakhimpur, we found the opportunity to visit a focus group consisting of BPL and BBPL (below/below-below poverty line) women for further research, and to return to the degree college to learn more about agriculture. It was a relaxing working day for us girls (the guys were in Lucknow for different reasons). I enjoyed it a lot. 

 Meeting the women in Allipur

 Mango trees in the degree college in Allipur

At Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya Degree College

The next day, we were off to the Dudhwa National Park in Lakhimpur Kheri.  We stayed in very nice government cottages in the Tiger Reserve Park with permits granted through the intervention of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). Once settled, we traveled to bordering villages of the forest where we met families who practiced natural and organic farming. In a particular milk farm of a Punjab family, we learned so much on the subject as they toured us around, and fed us fruits! Yum….:)  We also visited the home of Mudit Gupta from WWF where he introduced to us the use of bio gas, which is one of the schemes WWF provides to the communities in the area.

Bio gas powered lamp (with Mudit Gupta of WWF)

We spent our next mornings going on jungle safaris for pleasure and work. Saya. :) We had the opportunity to ride elephants and see rhinos, exotic birds, etc! There were deer everywhere. Bummer we didn’t see as single one of the 95 Royal Bengal tigers in the park. Though thinking about it, it would've been very dangerous. Duh. We were easy prey. Our guides had no rifles or darts with them. But it would've been so cool. The closest we got was seeing their footprints on the vast grasslands, and their claw marks on tree barks to mark their territory.

Spotting a rhino on an elephant safari ride

One afternoon, we also visited four Tharu tribe villages bordering  the forest and found in ranges of 3-5 kilometers from Nepal. We interacted with them and basically researched on their conditions and compared them to our findings back in Pali, Hardoi. The people were amazing! Physically, they looked more Nepali than Indian. They were more shy and reserved. And, the one thing that we loved most about them is that they're very united as a community. The caste system is less visible, and we got to see more of the women. We saw a lot of things that could be set as models for the villages back in Hardoi.

With a handloom SHG of women in the Tharu tribal village of Gubrela

Undressing a Tharu tribal dress in Gubrela. Mainit!

The final day couldn’t have been more perfect. It was World Environment Day. We attended a meeting where the Deputy Director of Dudhwa from the Indian Forest Services (IFS) had an audience of Tharu famers. An environmental awareness talk was given on the importance of the park's wildlife, on global warming, health, etc. The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) was also present for a compensation distribution meeting with them. We were able to say a few words each to everyone to describe our visit to the park, what we learned, and what message we wanted to leave to the people of Dudhwa. Afterwards, we were a granted a private meeting with the Deputy Director for a more in-depth discussion of their efforts in the park.

It was June 5th (Saturday), and we traveled once again for about 4-5 hours to our office in Lucknow. 

Problems and challenges encountered
Monkeys. I can’t believe I'm saying this but the monkeys were our main problem this week. They're feisty and mischievous creatures stealing our food, entering our room, scouring our luggage, etc. One even took America's shirt to dry; but she got it back eventually. Everything else was just perfect. I loved working in Lakhimpur. It was a very peaceful  and natural environment. WWF and the government have worked hard and have been successful in keeping  the harmony between the wildlife and the communities.

One thing that we had to get used to, however, was the simplicity of life. It wasn't really a problem but it was a challenge we needed to adjust to. Dudhwa is a very remote place, therefore, we hardly had signal. We often lost electricity and water in our cottages, and my cell phone and laptop always lost power. For most of our free time, we were bored. But because of it, we've had more memorable in-depth discussions and debates on Indian culture and practices with Gaurav and Ravi - particularly Hindu culture, and we got to interact with some of the locals in the reserve park.

 Our cottage room in the Tiger Reserve Park

Knowledge applied
Research methods like in the second week was very helpful. Also, I think that learning modern languages has helped me adjust to the language barrier. Not to the extent that I understand Hindi of course, but i do try to adapt and learn as much as I can. Because of my past linguistic experience, I am more quick to learn compared the the others.

General comments and suggestions
The itinerary listed Almora as our next destination from Lakhimpur Kheri. We were told that there was some urgent work matter, so we were asked if we wanted to return to Hardoi or Lucknow for the time being. At that point, Lucknow was the easy choice. We were in desperate need to get back to the world wide web to check our inboxes, and to reconnect with our respective communities back home. We also needed the time to prepare our reports and work outputs.

Too bad for Almora though. We were so excited to visit the villages in the hill stations near the Himalayas!  We were more excited for the cooler weather. For nearly a month of our stay in India, temperatures  have never or rarely gone below 40 C with majority of the time averaging 45 C. Good thing it's only postponed! (I hope). 

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