Monday, February 7, 2011

Srijan Foundation - 10 Years Today!

Hi all,

So it's been almost two weeks since I got back from Nepal, and I've been working 12 days straight - who said this volunteering lark was easy?! Anyway, that's (kind of) my excuse for not posting in that period - although it's mainly been that I've been waiting for today.

Basically, this weekend has marked the 10th anniversary since the Srijan Foundation (the organisation I'm working with, just in case you missed that!) was founded. To recognise this fact, we've had a couple of days of getting most of the team members together to discuss what is currently happening across the organisation and look forward.

It's been a really interesting experience for me over the last week. Last Saturday I set off on a two-day trip out to some of the remote offices to introduce myself and meet the staff. The field offices are where the actual projects are run and give a great insight into the work that Srijan Foundation does, so I thought that was worthwhile posting here....

Jharkhand (the State I'm in) is a primarily rural state. The main occupations are farming and mining. It's actually an extremely mineral rich state, which should really make it rich. It's not. It's one of the poorest in India. Education is severely lacking and attitudes to women, children and the disabled are also what would politely be termed "backward" in the UK.

All of these things are inter-related. The poverty of the families means that they often withdraw their children from school at an early age. Children work in the mines and in the businesses related to that. This means that their future job prospects are extremely poor. Going back to school once they've left is extremely difficult. Many migrate to the big cities in search of work. There is a sex industry that thrives on the back of these migrant workers, spreading STIs back to the rural areas, where a lack of sexual health education means that infection rates soar.

Girls in the villages are seen as a burden on the family. Money has to be paid for their marriages and the more they are educated, the more has to be paid (as they have to marry a boy with equivalent or better qualifications). This means girls are taken out of school even earlier and marry as young as 13 or 14. The average age of marriage in Jharkhand is under 17. It's a sobering experience to be here and to understand the situation so many people find themselves in, just because they weren't fortunate enough to be born in a country such as the UK.

So what are Srijan doing about this? The simple answer is a hell of a lot for such a small organisation - They provide Alternative Education Centres and Bridging Schools for the children who have missed time in school to allow them to rejoin education. They provide vocational training to get adolescents out of the mining and sex industries. They provide sex education, both to the children and to the rest of the villages so that they understand the importance of safe sex and their rights as individuals. They provide access to contraceptives, medical treatment and literature on all of this. They provide sensitivity training to the villages regarding women's rights, the importance of education of children and other such equal opportunities issues. They provide medication and advice to girls caught in the sex trade and help to prevent abusive behaviour towards them. They set-up women's Self-Help Groups to allow women to use Micro Finance systems to start their own businesses, growing crops, creating clothes.

The list goes on and on....I'm probably leaving off so many things that I'm doing them an injustice. I'm working on a website for them at the moment, so that will give you more information once it's live.

They really are an amazing organisation and it's been a privilege over the last few weeks to work closely with a number of them and see that passion for their work coming through. I just hope I can do a good job and help them over the remaining 10 months of my time here (yep - been here over 2 months already!).

If anything I'm talking about is inspiring you to get involved, you can learn about the next VSO meet-up here.

Anyway, I think that's enough for today. I (finally) get a day off tomorrow I think, so I'm going to take the camera out around town, so look out for those hitting Flickr soon!

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