Thursday, January 6, 2011

Village Visit and NYE

Happy New Year all!

I hope you all had fun-filled (and probably drunken!) NYEs. Thank you to everyone for your messages – really enjoyed reading them all! It's been about a week since my last post, so thought I'd bring you all up to date on my New Year's and other adventures!

On the 30th December I went on a day trip to a few villages that my organisation works with - Srijan Foundation work to promote social development by helping people to help themselves. It's about helping people to understand what they're entitled to ask for, and what help is already out there. They do a lot of work with children and education. No website yet (it's coming, don't worry!).

Anyway, we headed off, about 40mins on a bike (don't worry mum – I had a helmet!). You can see the pictures here on Flickr. I'm not going to go into too many details, I think they speak for themselves, but I do want to talk about one particular photo....this one.

Jharkhand (the state of India I'm in) is the most mineral rich state in India. It has 80% of the nations valuable minerals. It's also one of the poorest states – how come? Mainly lack of development, corruption and the normal things that developing nations have to deal with – lack of infrastructure, etc. It is also home to some of the poorest people in India. Many of them are illiterate, if they do go to school they leave early, marry early (sometimes as young as 14/15) and spend their entire lives in a state of poverty.

This is exacerbated by the fact that as mines close, they leave a hole in the local employment ecosystem. The land is un-farmable, meaning that the locals resort to illegal mining. They have to withdraw their children from school as they cannot afford it and the children go to work in the mines.

After extracting the coal, they have to transport it. This is done by loading the coal, up to 200kg at a time, onto a bike, like the people in this photo. They then push it 20-30km along undulating roads to the markets, where they sell it. It's a day-to-day existence. If they can't work, they can't eat.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The children need to work as early as possible to help support the family, so they are taken out of school with little or no completed education. This means that even if they wanted to, they have no skills to do anything other than work in the coal mines. There is no other industry available anyway.

Srijan has just completed a 1yr pilot in a nearby town of Kujju. They have created Alternative schools for children, they are emphasising the importance of education, setting up Self-Help Groups for money-lending amongst the community and providing access to alternative forms of income. It's slow progress, but it is progress and this year 11 children have returned to the government school and are resuming education. And that is exactly why organisations like Srijan are important, and why I'm doing what I'm doing out here.

Right, that's enough serious stuff! New Year's Eve....random. I was supposed to be going to a place called Betla, which has a National Park. But on the Friday my boss decided “No”, as it was “too dangerous”. You see, this area has a high level of Naxalite activity and he was concerned about me heading off to that area.

Now, I know all of you are well read-up on Indian political movements, but in case you missed the latest documentary on Channel 4, the Naxalites are a Maoist anti-government group, who do things like blow up train tracks etc. They have no history of targetting Westerners (not too many here to target I guess!), but better safe than sorry!

So instead, I got on a bus for 3hrs and headed to Ranchi, the state capital. There I met up with the Philiopinos again and we had a bit of a party in one of their friend's house. It was great fun, lots of good food and conversation. We had fireworks at midnight too, Indian style – pics will be on Flickr soon if you're bothered!

One thing I should add – if you've ever tried to have a BBQ, I recommend charcoal over pure coal. Apparently it lights a bit easier....

I'm hoping to start proper Hindi lessons at last in the next week or so. I can get by with my limited vocabulary, but looking forward to learning some proper grammar so I can start having proper conversations!

Still getting woken up at 5am too - for those who think I might be exaggerating check out this video. Sorry the image is rubbish, but you get the idea!

So I think that will do for now. It's a black-out over here this evening, so I'm typing this by candle-light!

Oh, and if it's your kind of thing – follow me on Twitter – links on the right....

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