3 weeks in the UK doing continuous loops between London, Cardiff and North Wales, catching up with family, friends and meeting anyone and everyone who might be able to support the project in India we finally received some great news.
The project in India has received national recognition!!
Here is the press release that has been sent out to celebrate Vi-Ability achievement during volunteer week:
Vi-Ability is proud to announce that Vi-Ability Operations Manager, Jo Clay & International Volunteer, Lucy Humble have won
WCVA “International Volunteer of the Year” award
Since August 2014 Vi-Ability has expanded its UK operations to India.
Thanks to a grant from Gwirvol and WCVA Vi-Ability has worked in partnership with Indian based social enterprise Silo India to provide month long volunteer placements in rural India to 18-25 year olds not in education, employment or training.
Lucy Humble, 26-year-old from Wrexham,
took the opportunity to volunteer in India in February 2015.
In the space of just one month, Lucy Humble converted people living in a remote Indian community into embracing sport and exercise activities, as well as recycling waste rather than littering, which is a massive problem all over the country.
Lucy explains her reason for taking up this opportunity; “personally I lacked the qualification side of things and when I moved to Wrexham to move closer to my family, I flooded the town with my CV and tried tirelessly to secure a job working with children but was unsuccessful. Even trying to volunteer in a childcare setting was hard to come by. So my motivation and belief to work with kids in Wales dropped! When Vi-Ability contacted me I was buzzing I would be able to gain experience and decide if working with kids was the role for me.”
During her month in India Lucy helped more than 70 boys aged from six to17 years old living in a boys’ orphanage build their knowledge, skills and confidence by engaging them in English lessons, creative activities and sports sessions. She also had placement schools where she supported more than 200 school children develop a passion for sport.
“From the minute Lucy arrived in India she fully immersed herself into the Indian culture, embracing every opportunity she was given, engaging with local people and spreading her infectious enthusiasm for making things happen here” said Vi-Ability Volunteer Operations Manager Jo Clay.
Her work included delivering an ‘anti-plastic’ campaign to educate pupils to reduce, reuse and recycle the large volumes of plastics they use every day.
“Given the pupils had limited English and are immersed in a culture where it is acceptable to drop litter anywhere, the sessions needed to be fully interactive to capture their attention while also educating pupils. Since Lucy’s departure the school pupils are still collecting and using waste plastic to create items of use – her session clearly had an impact and she will not be forgotten”
Lucy now back in the UK has successfully secured both volunteering and paid work in tennis coaching, a passion she discovered during her month long placement.
“The support I had out there, particularly from Jo was so strong I had no doubts in anything. Vi-Ability and Silo India had complete belief in all of us and personally this in itself gave me the motivation and belief that I could pursue a career in sport coaching, child care or community development” added Lucy.
Lucy has recently completed her level one UKCC Tennis coaching award and is now volunteering and undertaking paid work with Mold Tennis Club, Wrexham.
Former Sport Wales Senior Officer, Jo, 34, from Wrexham, spent 18 months working to develop the structure and governance of Silo India, which is now at the heart of Indian communities.
As Volunteer Operations Manager Jo has supported young people from the UK to develop their leadership skills, realise their potential and have ‘the best experience’ in India while doing so.
“Jo is a massive inspiration to others because she was in a very comfortable job in the UK, yet she was bold enough to take the plunge and grasp this opportunity to help people less fortunate than herself,”
Natasha, Vi-Ability project officer, added.
“She has provided many with the tool kit to make a big step towards achieving their goals, and instilled confidence within them that they can achieve it.”
Jo is now a full time employee for Vi-Ability and is working to extend this program to as many young people as possible.
“It is a huge honour and privilege to receive this award and a complete surprise to have even been nominated. It has been a life changing and amazing experience working on this project alongside such inspirational young people. I hope this award raises the profile of the work we are doing so that we can continue to provide this fantastic opportunity for more young people in Wales”.
For more information about this amazing project contact the Vi-Ability team to find out how you can get involved and support the on-going development of this project.
12 months working in India- roller coaster ride or big adventure?
Wednesday April 9th 2014.
After an evening out and beer the night before it was time to pack my bags again but this time head to Manur, a small rural village in the district of Tirunelveli.
Arriving in Manur was nothing short of surreal. Taken up to my house where I would be living (I’d specifically requested my own space not a host family to live with).
The top floor is where I live.
Enter the first room, one desk.
Enter the second room a mattress on the floor. That was it.
It didn’t really bother me but I remember having a feeling of ‘hmm this is going to be a lot different to volunteering’.
The first few days were odd, thats the only way I can describe it and I can’t deny that I missed the familiarity of the other places I had been living in India.
Suddenly I was the centre of attention as word spread across Manur of a ‘foreigner’ in town who had come to work in the local school (easier to say this than explain what I was doing). Everyday different people standing there talking in Tamil looking at me with great fascination.
I doubt some of the people had even met a white person before, never mind a woman who in their opinion dressed and had a haircut like a boy!
In so many ways I was different, totally different to their norm and I was in an environment that was totally different to my norm. But of course then began the familiar questions of, whats your name, where are you from and my favourite (note sarcasm) ‘are you married’……..
I’d forgotten what a complete obsession it is for people here, some how if you are not married then you don’t really have a life. You’re life (particularly for a woman) is not complete until you get married. I mean, you know, what woman can possibly live without a man to do everything for her!!!???
There was definitely an air of excitement in April. Suddenly Silo India had an opportunity to make a real go of the international volunteer side of their work and I had an opportunity to finally use my experience from the UK in India.
There was literally nothing in place, everything had to be written, designed and built from scratch but it was good to be working on things that had a tangible outcome.
Terms and conditions written, tick.
Application forms in place, tick.
Volunteer accommodation sorted, tick.
But at the same time vaguely isolating.
During the day I was working in a stifling hot ‘office’ which also doubled as a viewing gallery for the locals.
Power cuts occurred everyday between 12-3pm making any work impossible.
No WiFi, no ceiling fans.
It was over 40 degrees every day with night time temperatures a ‘cool’ 28!
I had no wifi in my house and no data connection on my phone.
Pretty much from 7pm every evening I was in the house with no access to the outside world.
It was tough settling into this new routine. People fussing around me, people taking far too much of an interest in me and although having my own place a continued sense of never having any privacy.
To counter this I often ventured back to Madurai, sharing a house with Brenda, a retired lady from UK volunteering on a women’s empowerment project. The house we lived in was nice enough but definitely in a pretty rubbish part of the city and the constant demands of the house owner to come and see us at 10pm most evenings was exhausting. However, we made the most of it, spending most evenings out having dinner and sampling India’s range of alcoholic drinks.
My reasons for traveling to Madurai at the time were quite simple, to meet up with people and to have some sort of normality which is totally ironic as Madurai offers nothing to the westerner in terms of normality but its all relative I guess.
Meeting Brenda at 6pm to enjoy a cold beer in one of the rooftop restaurants and to be able to rant, rave and moan about our confusions and frustrations of Indian life were both liberating and therapeutic. I’m pretty sure without Brenda there I would have slowly gone a little crazy.
End of April things didn’t quite go to plan. 5 days in hospital thanks to a huge infection in my leg set me back not just for those 5 days but also weeks afterwards. Read Expect the Unexpected
Funnily enough it was only a week or so ago that me and Swathi even talked about that time. Me explaining to the volunteers how Swathi spent 24/7 with me in hospital, doing everything to make sure I was ok. I’m still and will always be massively grateful to her and her families support.
Now I just have the scar as permanent reminder.
May ticks along and we slowly get back into the routine but with things happening so slowly in Manur I spend more and more time in Madurai.
Traveling back and to on the by pass rider bus (3 hrs plus) every 3-4 days to either Manur or Madurai.
It was exhausting and I never quite felt settled anywhere and in all honesty had no clue as to where my time was best spent. I never felt lonely but I often felt isolated and it was no surprise at this stage I hit a real low point. See blog ‘A real low Point”
On the positive side we had the official launch of Silo India and Hallelujah the bag of sports equipment from Sport Wales finally arrived!
I’ll always remember us all stood there looking at it wondering what the heck we were going to do with it now it had arrived. We needn’t of worried, in 8 months, 15 volunteers, over 300 hours of sport sessions delivered and over 400 people on a weekly basis benefitting from it!
The appointment of a few more staff to Silo India. In short this was nothing more than confusing and frustrating. We now had too many of us working on different things in complete isolation. It was nothing against the people that were appointed but in my view it was too soon to be paying people to do roles that weren’t needed when there was no money coming in.
I’m sure it was done with the best of intentions but instead of bringing people together as a team it had the opposite affect and I wasn’t prepared to use my time to try and change that.
So I took a step back, spent yet more time in Madurai and then taking a week in Sri Lanka to think about long term plans.
6 weeks on I was due to fly back to the UK, move back into my house and go back to my job at Sport Wales.
A years sabbatical had literally flown by and I wasn’t ready to go back. But to leave my job without any indication of when I would get another or where income would come from was a big decision.
Of course there were huge concerns from family and an unspoken pressure to come back to the UK.
Two pieces of advice still resonate with me now:
1. Make a decision and stick to it, once you make a decision you’ll find a way to make it work
2. Better to regret something you have done than not take the opportunity to do.
26th June I handed my notice into Sport Wales and decided to give this another 6 months from September to March 2015. Decision made. I knew I would regret it if I hadn’t of stayed.
A huge sense of relief having made a decision and excitement that I could actually do this. But at the same time a real fear that in 6 months time I’d just be back to square one.
Things at Silo India ticked along, frustratingly at an ever slowing pace despite the fact that the first volunteers were due to arrive on 5 August. I think a major part of my frustration was not being able to really use my skills and experience to help Silo India. There’s no denying that I and Silo India wasted a lot of time in these first few months because of total confusion about who was doing what and a lack of urgency about anything. As the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth.
28th July and I head back to the UK. Sad to be leaving India but excited to see family and friends and to have 5 weeks of not thinking. I think I’d totally underestimated how much India took out of me over these 4 months. Being in hospital, getting over that, trying to readjust to another culture within India, trying to understand what I was doing in Manur, trying to figure people out – what they wanted and who to trust, traveling back and to so often to Madurai. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally and when I look back now I think, blimey I was a bit of an idiot to think it wouldn’t have affected me quite so much.
Someone recently said, traveling is great, it opens your mind, you see things differently and it gives you new possibilities. Its true, definitely and India has given me all of this but I was thankful for my time in the UK for a sense of perspective and time to reflect. Its exhausting having to constantly compromise on cultural values, consider what and how you say things, hold back on honesty when asked certain questions about your personal life. The month in the UK was sorely needed.
If you’ve never been to the UK but want to, come between May and September. Yes it might rain and some days it might be a bit cold but there’s definitely no better time to be in the UK.
Spring blossom, warm days, long daylight hours (4am-10.30pm) and a million things going on. My month in the UK was good, if not a little hectic but it was just what I needed.
Better rested, with a bag full of things to make things more like home in India and I head back.
This time I headed back with two volunteers Jack and Simon. All of a sudden it felt very real and I had this huge sense of responsibility to make sure Jack and Simon were ok. After a long journey it was literally straight back into it, arriving at the house at 4am, up at 8am to meet Helen and Tash who were already out here.
The next few days were crazy and no time to get over jet lag. It was good to hear that Helen and Tash had had a good time but it was clear that a lot of work needed to be done to get this volunteer program right.
Jack and Simon were great volunteers, so laid back and just totally got stuck in. They made a great impact on the college boys, we had a fun trip to Madurai and even managed a business trip to Chennai. But I couldn’t help but feel that we were no better than other volunteer programs, were we really making a positive impact on peoples lives or were we just providing another opportunity for safe travel in India?
So began the process of really looking at it from the volunteers perspective, what were they getting out and how could we make sure that it really led them on to employment or next step education. So Jack and Simon planted to the seed of introducing personal development plans for each of the volunteers.
Connor and Elen arrive. So far we’d had pairs of the same gender so we were a little curious and apprehensive to see how a mixed pair would go. Connor just 18 and Elen 24, both totally different but absolutely brilliant. They were so passionate about what they were doing and totally questioned and challenged what Silo India and Vi-Ability were doing. A little taken aback at first but actually it gave us the kick to really focus the placements, support the volunteers and make clear expectations on both sides.
I think between the two of them they spent every single possible second with the hostel boys and it was during this month that we started to really see the impact our volunteers had made to date.
We also had a fun weekend trip to Kochi, beer in mugs and a random rickshaw pub crawl. I was now feeling like I was getting some sort of balance about being out here. Working hard, yes but also enjoying western company and seeing different parts of India.
Cara and Sharelle, two volunteers that had never really traveled outside of Europe before and certainly not traveled on their own. Both had a lot of volunteer experience at home but I think both of them would say it was a huge culture shock being in India and it took them a while to settle in. They did a great job of the volunteer work, were the first volunteers to really go through the personal development plan process and even helped to implement some assessment tools for English.
But for a number of reasons November was a tough month. The weather had changed quite drastically, a lot of rain which prevented morning sports from taking place, schools and colleges shut on random days and travel at the weekends more difficult.
I personally struggled in November. Frustrated with things outside of work, not being able to properly support family with things that were going on at home and constantly feeling rubbish. The local church also decided it was a great idea to have church service from 4-5.30am every morning. Apparently if you pray to god before it gets light then your prayers are more likely to be answered, yes really thats what I was told! It also seems the louder you shout ‘Praise the lord’ down a microphone the more likely god is to hear you!!!
It became a bit of a vicious circle but being woken up every morning at 4am, having 4 hours sleep, meant I felt queasy and tired most of the day, not really wanting to eat, then not eating meant I felt cold most of the time and again not really wanting to eat.
By the time it got to early December I was glad to be heading back to the UK. Randomly its always the last few weeks I am in India that seem to the most intense and hard work, maybe because I know its not long before I head back to UK for a bit of normality?
Dec 2nd I head to Trivandrum for what was supposed to be a relaxing few days before flying back. But the journey to Trivandrum (4 hrs by train) was awful, baking hot, bad stomach and feeling dreadful. Get to the hotel and literally sleep all day and all night, apart from regular visits to the bathroom. Next day decide to go to the doctors. Rickshaw across town at 7am. 8am waiting room packed and getting progressively hotter. Doctors don’t arrive until 8.30. 9.15 and I finally get to see a doctor, tell him whats wrong and he says hmm well I’m the bone specialist doctor so why have you come to see me? Quickly shuffled to the next doctor and a surreal experience of speaking to a doctor, with two other doctors watching and a room full of Indians being consulted by other doctors, definitely not a private consultation. 500 INR of medicine and I’m on my way back.
Literally spend that day sleeping too and that night, thankfully without interuption.
By morning I feel a lot better and have an appetite. Good job as I was flying home that night.
I arrived back to Manchester and then my parents house. I didn’t really care it was dark at 4pm and about 5 degrees outside I was just glad to not be traveling and finally feeling ok. In the month of November, by the time I’d arrived home I’d lost 7kg in weight, 14lbs, one stone. I was 51kg, my lowest weight for about 10 years.
December in the UK is not a bad time to be on an eating mission. I literally did not stop eating for the 3 weeks I was home. Got myself better rested and by the time I headed back on 29 Dec was back to 56kg. Not bad.
I also had a renewed word with myself about looking after myself better. In the UK it is entirely possible to work 7 days a week, relentlessly without a break. It isn’t good for you but its do-able.
In India its not.
The climate and constant compromises in culture, just the effort of having to constantly think about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, changing the way you speak all take their toll.
So January and I promised myself I would stay fit and healthy. I also decided that if I was going to be in India more permanently then I needed to make it feel more like home.
It didn’t quite get off to the start I hoped as the smallest person in our family (yes smaller than me) gave us all the biggest cold ever.
Oh how I have not missed British winter colds, two weeks it took to shift it. Thanks William!
January and our next two volunteers are due to arrive along with Cara who had decided to come back as a Silo India volunteer.
Unfortunately one of the volunteers dropped out last minute and the other after a few weeks just wanted to go home. In many ways I didn’t blame her, she arrived and her luggage didn’t until two days later, she was staying at the boys hostel (until we moved her) on her own, she had news about a family member being in hospital and then she got sick. It was a shame that she didn’t have the experience that she wanted.
January did give us an opportunity to really fine tune things though and by the end of the month we could confidently say that the volunteer program was in really good order. And finally I was offered a 6 month contract with Vi-Ability and getting paid for this work.
The Silo India office feels like an office. After 3 long days of painting we transformed the office from this to this. Just having a professional feel to the office has made a big difference.
Silo India office before
Silo India office after
Silo India office after
February, Anmol and Lucy arrive. Anmol 18 year old British Indian and Lucy 25 year old looking for a new opportunity. The two of them were a great pair, constantly smiling, happy and definitely brightening up our day. We could now start to make some real big progress with assessments and monitoring of the work the volunteers do and also deliver other projects in the schools such as conservation topics and really try out the personal development plan process.
It was a good month definitely and I really started to feel like things had come together, volunteers happy, placements happy and making loads of progress with long term planning with Silo India. I was due to fly back to the UK on 2nd March but decided to change my flight, it felt like we were just getting somewhere so to stay seemed the right option.
I even got around to painting my house or at least starting it. The house itself is nice but the inside was a little depressing!
It had already started to feel like home but it definitely does now.
Lucy and Anmol definitely made us laugh a lot and we still quote some of the things that happened when they were here. For Anmol we even got to celebrate Holi whilst on a business trip to Bangalore. A business trip that saw us meeting representatives from Welsh Government that are based in India and being invited to meet the Deputy HIgh Commissioner of the British High Commission! Not a bad days work!
March and this time 3 volunteers arriving, Alice and Molly from Swansea and George from Wrexham. For the first time in a long time we were able to do a handover between volunteers which worked really well and for the first time we could deliver in 3 locations during the day. The 3 volunteers quickly put a rota together for who would deliver what and set about delivering morning sport at the hostel, English and sport at two schools, English and sport at the college and English at the hostel in the evening. It was great to see the 3 of them work so well as a team and all of them get a good mix of sport coaching and teaching English.
These three were definitely the cheekiest volunteers we’ve had so far taking great delight in texting at all hours to say they were stuck somewhere, missed trains, rickshaws broken down and the ultimate on 1st April, George had fallen in the well!!! No I didn’t fall for it.
So volunteer program going exceptionally well, business plans going well and miraculously for the first time ever I put weight on in India and was back to 58kg, whoop!
Finally felt that all the hard work had paid off and we not only had a really good volunteer program in place but we could now make some firm future plans. So a week of late nights to complete two funding applications, one of which we were pretty confident we would get, the other a bit of a punt.
End of March and we receive notification that both applications had been rejected, one of which because of small piece of information. There was nothing I or anyone else could have done to change this outcome, we simply didn’t have the information they needed at time of submission. We were all totally gutted and thinking, right what next. Two options, sit and worry about it or look at other options and see this as an opportunity.
Its actually now provided us with a massive opportunity and whilst from September onwards my employment looks a little uncertain I now have a clear plan in place on where I can get investment from and what I need to do.
There’s nothing like pressure to focus your mind and there’s nothing like having the threat that you might have to give something up unless you act quickly to determine how much you really want it.
12 months, its been a hell of a journey and probably tested me in every way possible. But without sounding arrogant I know I can look at the work thats been done here and know I played a massive part in making this happen.
Do I want to move back to the UK or do something else? Nope not yet!
I’ve got used to the daily challenges,
power cuts, unpredictable WiFi, the church having a 6 hour service every Sunday morning, doing all my washing in a bucket and having nothing but Indian food breakfast, lunch and dinner. Its the challenges of making this work and become sustainable that is the big focus now.
Its been hard work, been tough and at times incredibly isolating but no doubt massively rewarding.
When a volunteer says to you that their time in India has really helped them with their confidence, knowing what they want to do and you see the kids they’re working with really grow and develop, then its impossible not to feel proud of what we’re doing here.
And who wouldn’t enjoy seeing these happy faces every week (I mean the boys not me).
Its been a rollercoaster thats for certain.
Since April last year its been a mix of highs and lows which happen so quickly that you don’t even have time to process them.
I’m settled here now, my house is now a home, Manur is no longer a random village but a crazy familiar place where I’m warmly welcomed by the locals.
The culture still baffles and confuses me but I think it always will.
I just need to find a way to become less annoyed by the continual questions about my marital status! I joke with Raisa and Swathi that I’ll tell people I have a wife as its sure to shut them up but…………..
1st May and I return to the UK.
I’m looking forward to it definitely, 4 months away from family and friends has been a long time and as good as Whatsapp and Skype are its no where near the same as spending time with someone.
Who knows how long I’ll be in the UK for but one things for sure it won’t be boring or quiet!
15th August 1947 India is finally an independent nation after hundreds of years of British rule.
The fight for freedom led by Mahatma Ghandi through direct non-violent action.
A national hero whose portrait can be found on every domination bank note and whose birthday is celebrated as a national holiday.
Ghandi successfully united a nation to fight for her own freedom, encouraged individuals to take responsibility and action, fought passionately for the rights of women and instilled a strong sense of national pride which is still hugely evident today.
The Ghandi museum in Madurai details the entire story from the arrival of the East India company to independence in 1947. Its a fascinating place. Admittedly at times I feel utterly ashamed to be British but its important (I think) to understand India’s history or at least part of it.
The most interesting thing for me is the direct comparison you can make from what is happening in India now and what was happening all those years ago.
31st December 1600 The East India Company receive a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I. The company’s shares owned by wealthy merchants and aristocrats with the government only having indirect control.
The company grew rapidly, at its peak accounting for half the worlds trade. By early 1700’s the company came to rule large areas of India with its own private armies, exercising military power and assuming administrative functions.
The battle of Plassey in 1757 officially commenced the start of the Companies rule in India.
By the 1820’s, believed by historians to be the start of the British colonial rule, the company became involved in all aspects of India.
“India was then no longer exporting manufactured goods as it long had, but was instead supplying the British empire with raw materials, [to produce goods that would then be sold back to India].By this time, with its economic power severely curtailed by the British parliament and itself effectively made an arm of British administration, the Company began to more consciously enter non-economic arenas such as education, social reform, and culture.” Wikipedia
Lord Dalhousie was appointed as governor general of the East India Company and set the stage for changes essential to a modern state. These included the consolidation and demarcation of sovereignty, the surveillance of the population, and the education of citizens.
Technological changes—among them, railways, canals, and the telegraph—were introduced not long after their introduction in Europe.
This was the positive stuff that British brought and interestingly things that Indians will still proudly quote at you today.
These things totally changed India. Suddenly people had greater opportunities to travel, access to news and resources from all over the world. It opened peoples minds to possibilities.
Indians themselves encouraged each other to think beyond their immediate surroundings, to open their minds to new ways and new cultures.
However, disaffection with the British also grew at this time. Indians wanted to do this for themselves not have another country (so vastly different on every level) dictating and controlling this for them.
India was beginning to witness invasive British-style social reforms, harsh land taxes which left many people unable to survive from the land that they worked, the introduction of laws based on British religious beliefs (Christianity) and summary treatment of some rich landowners and princes. India was no longer a country of its own.
“To his supporters [Lord Dalhousie] he stands out as the far-sighted Governor-General who consolidated East India Company rule in India, laid the foundations of its later administration, and by his sound policy enabled his successors to stem the tide of rebellion. To his critics, he stands out as the destroyer of both the East India Company‘s financial and military position through reckless policies. His critics also hold that he laid the foundations of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and led the final transformation of profitable commercial operations in India into a money-losing colonial administration. His period of rule in India directly preceded the transformation into the Victorian Raj period of Indian administration. He was denounced by many in England and India on the eve of his death as having failed to notice the signs of the brewing Indian Rebellion of 1857, having aggravated the crisis by his overbearing self-confidence, centralizing activity, and expansive annexations.The Government of India Act 1858 led to the British Crown to assume direct control of India in the form of the new British Raj. Britains wealth was increasing rapidly through the exploitation of India’s resources and the formation of the ‘British Raj’ only sought to consolidate this further.” Wikipedia
Not every British Raj officer entirely supported the work of the Raj and its treatment of India and its people.
But it would take an Indian, someone, people from every caste, village and town could relate to, not just someone who associated with the rich and influential.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, born on 2nd October 1869
“Born and raised in a Hindu merchant caste family in coastal Gujarat, western India, and trained in law at the Inner Temple, London, Gandhi first employed nonviolent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, in the resident Indian community’s struggle for civil rights. After his return to India in 1915, he set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination.” Wikipedia
“Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, but above all for achieving Swaraj or self-rule. Independence resulted in a new India.” Wikipedia
Indians finally in control of her destiny and the responsibility of all her people to retain this new found freedom. It was a long fought battle that was not just about regaining possession of the land but about changing a mindset of the people, giving them belief that things could be done.
Ghandi’s vision was clear.
Freedom, choice and equality for all Indians.
In 1947 this was finally achieved.
“In the 60 years since, India has had a mixed record of successes and failures.It has remained a democracy with civil liberties, an active Supreme Court, and a largely independent press.Economic liberalisation, which was begun in the 1990s, has created a large urban middle class, transformed India into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies,and increased its geopolitical clout. Indian movies, music, and spiritual teachings play an increasing role in global culture.Yet, India is also shaped by seemingly unyielding poverty, both rural and urban;by religious and caste-related violence;by Maoist-inspired Naxalite insurgencies; and by separatism in Jammu and Kashmir and in Northeast India.India’s sustained democratic freedoms are unique among the world’s new nations; however, in spite of its recent economic successes, freedom from want for its disadvantaged population remains a goal yet to be achieved.” Wikipedia
In the 18 months that I have been in India and the 2 and half years since I first came to this remarkable country, India has been in the media spotlight more times than I can ever remember. Some of it positive but sadly some of it highlighting to the world some of the major cultural, societal battles India continues to have with herself and her people.
Neither of these cases made worldwide headlines, one of them was reported on BBC India page but the other just in local and national press.
The first news article is not unique and perhaps explains why it did not make headline news. Incidences like this happen on a daily basis in India but not all of them reported in the media.
“Family problems over the last 3 days is suspected !
Karuppayi aged approx 31, working at Nagayapuram police station, new T Kallupati, Madurai, Tamil Nadu committed suicide by shooting herself with a revolver found in the police station
It is understood that she is married Mr. Pethannaswamy a relative in 2007 and has no surviving children from the wedlock. (two children born to the couple died and there are no more children)
The Husband who was employed in the armed services @ Secunderabad for the last 13 years, is now at home last four months without attending duty
Karuppayi had be posted to the above police station since last year January. On the fateful night, Karuppayi was on night duty at the police station . It is alleged that she called another policeman Mr. Sathyamurthy in the night and said she was having matrimonial problems and was going to commit suicide. A shocked Sathyamurthy called other police personnel and informed them. They in turn informed the panchayat / municipality officer to visit the police station and check. When checked Karupayi was lying dead in a pool of blood inside the police station. It is suspected that she opened the locker in the station took out a revolver and shot herself on the temple.
The Superintendent of police has said “it is understood that she has committed suicide due to family problems”, “we will decide on taking action on the husband”
Layman and Laws, wordpress blog, daily achives. https://laymanandlaw.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/
A major part of Ghandi crusade for freedom focused heavily on the empowerment of women.
It seems not much has changed in the last 60 years. Everyday in the papers you read articles about women being attacked, assaulted, undermined and treated like second class citizens. Successful women are often critised, not admired or held up as positive role models.
Most women are told what they can’t do rather than what they can do and as this article demonstrates, even for those in a career, in a senior position, they are still completely fearful of doing things for themselves. Society would have outcasted this police office if she had chosen to leave her husband, she would have been entirely blamed for the failure of the marriage.
It is currently illegal to be gay in India. In November 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that homosexuality was illegal and anyone convicted of homosexual acts could face a lifetime in prison. Its known across the country as section 377. Section 377 of laws the British introduced 153 years ago.
There have been few arrests in the last decade but a recent case involving a man from Bangalore not only highlights the real risk to gay people in India but the outdated societal beliefs and views.
The most interesting part of this article (I think) is this quote below.
“Dr Vivek Benegal, Professor of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), is not surprised by this case.
“There are many people who are still being forced to marry because of social pressure. Society really did not give him a choice,” he said.
“The man cannot be blamed. Neither can the woman be blamed. We can
only blame the social structure. They have been forced to formalise a lie.”
Dr Benegal added: “It is so tragic that in an era when science has proved that sexual orientation is not a vice, society should be forcing zebras to be horses.”
BBC, India news
The challenge here isn’t just about the legalities of homosexuality but also a cultural one. The man forced to marry even though is parents knew he was gay!
Not dissimilar to the UK even just 15 years back when people were completely disowned by families and friends, treated as social outcasts. Of course this still happens in the UK now too but attitudes have shifted significantly.
Weirdly Madurai, a city just 150km from here hosted the first gay pride festival for South Asia in 2012. Two years later someone is being arrested.
Both have happened in the last few months. Two stories of hundreds that happen on a daily basis.
India’s battle for freedom is far more complex right now than 60 years ago. The fight against the British Raj was about indepedence and freedom from another country and culture. Right now it is a battle with herself, changing the mindset of 1.2billion people. Shifting ingrained, long standing cultural values, beliefs and fears to a country that is has people who are liberated and empowered.
So what will it take to truly modernise and change India?
26th May 2014 following a landslide victory for the BJP party President Narendra Modi is sworn in as India’s 15th prime minister.
The first prime minister to be born after independence.
It is widely acknowledged that Modi’s use of social media as his primary campaign tool was pivotal to his victory.
In fact his victory tweet is the most re-tweeted in India over 70,000 times!
He talks passionately about womens empowerment, greater freedom for India’s people, encouragement of individuals to take responsibility to change India for the better and finally remove bribery and corruption. Sound familiar?
Modi’s major focus is about people doing things for themselves, not waiting for government to put policies in place. Sound familiar?
Modi talks passionately about womens empowerment, huge pride in his daughters achievements and a real desire to ensure women in India have equal status and opportunity to men. Again, sound familiar?
He has already taken steps towards this, investing huge amounts of money to ensure every household has a toilet. Might seem a strange policy decision to westerners but the fact remains that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted when trekking out to open fields to go to the toilet.
He has also brought the law and those accused of rape and sexual assault to the fore. This issue has once again become widely discussed, whether any action will happen is yet to be seen. Positive steps and signs that things may change.
Worringly the BJP (now ruling party) were the only one of the major parties not to support gay rights and support the de-criminalisation of section 377.
The 3 other major parties all included something in their manifestos in support of gay rights.
Clearly an issue for the current government that is way down the priority list right now.
Perhaps India could be waiting a long time for this to change?
Modi’s policies all sound good but how many people are brave enough to actually make change happen for themselves? How many people will continue to just wait for a policy change in government or a change in law to do what is right for them?
Everything is slow progress in India. It takes an eternity for even the basic things to be put in place. There doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency anywhere and perhaps this isn’t a bad thing?
But when I speak to people they all talk about the same thing.
Greater freedom, greater choice.
People are quick to complain about the cultural restrictions that hold them back, religious values that keep them confined to a particular set of behaviours.
Few truly follow their hearts and battle against the inevitable criticism they receive if they ‘do what they want’.
It seems (and this is purely perception) that everyone is waiting for someone else to be bold enough to break the norm, to challenge convention and create a new Indian culture that everyone wants.
The exceptions to this are few and far between.
Thankfully for me two people who I regard as very good friends, two Indian women, Raisa and Swathi are the complete exception to this.
It is no surprise I have ended up working with Silo India.
Silo India a company set up and managed by an Indian woman, who had a love marriage and isn’t afraid to challenge convention. I will often joke with Swathi that she is not really Indian, not a greater lover of the food and the heat, you have to wonder. But its much more than this. Its the complete acceptance of anyone’s beliefs, cultural values and religious practices. You might say essential if you are going to accept volunteers from all over the world but even in the UK where there is such of mix of race, religion, culture and lifestyles not everyone is that accepting.
In the UK or the west it does not seem unusual for a woman to run a business but to do this in India is like a woman doing this in the UK in the 1920’s, a time when women were largely expected to be home makers, child bearers and opinions never mind actions pretty much ignored.
If you read my post ‘freedom and choice’ you will understand the real challenges faced by women in India.
One of the managers at Silo India, Raisa. Again an Indian woman defying convention.
An Indian woman who refuses to bow to the conventions of arranged marriage, refuses to give up her career because of her families expectations.
Chatting to Raisa recently she told me that the mentality amongst society is that women can not live without a husband. I was a little shocked at first to hear this but when I thought about the expectations society has of its women it didn’t really surprise me. Very bold to follow your heart and refuse to accept this attitude for yourself.
Perhaps this will embarrass Raisa but this is nothing I’ve not said to her before. Meeting her literally changed my life. If I hadn’t of met Raisa and if it wasn’t for her openness and want to challenge conformity in India I wouldn’t of met Swathi. Ok the bag of sports equipment saga wouldn’t have happened either, but it did, which led to Vi-Ability undertaking a business trip to India, to Vi-Ability securing funding to send out international volunteers.
Of course it wasn’t simply meeting Raisa that led to all this, it was her and Swathi’s drive to make this happen.
Two people who have totally ignored the ‘conventions’ ‘traditions’ ‘expectations’ of Indian women and followed their hearts.
Over the 16 months I’ve known Raisa I’ve seen (at times) how tough this has been, the upset its caused her and her strength to stick to what she believes. It’s never good to see a good friend so upset but I can’t deny that seeing someone so determined is a real inspiration to be around.
Of course I have my days when I think, why oh why oh why?
Are things really going to change?
Are we making a difference?
But then I look back at the last 6 months and I can honestly say yes.
Since August we’ve had volunteers here. Silo India has grown hugely and we can now say that young peoples lives are being changed for the better.
Suddenly kids that would never have thought of life outside of their village have had their eyes opened to something different, their minds opened to possibilities and a belief that that they can choose to follow their hearts.
Now the question is not why? but why not?
Boys at the hostel now regularly say ‘in 10 years time I am coming to Wales’. Ok Wales isn’t exactly on the ‘bucket list’ for people of places to travel but its the aspiration to want to do that thats impressive!
I’m sure the next 6 months we will see even bigger changes.
In the meantime perhaps president Modi should exemplify Swathi, Raisa and some of the local people here as Indians that are taking it upon themselves to positively change the country.
Perhaps like me other people will also be inspired to confront their fears about doing something different and do it?
Perhaps we will see the change in India that is much needed?
Some alternative versions of traditional sports. Of course the expected ‘cheating’ happened but the kids absolutely love this game! How many kids at home would be happy doing this on a gravelly hot piece of land!
And of course the cultural exchange is two way. Connor is definitely getting into this traditional Indian game. In fact he proudly told me today that his team won 47-16 points yesterday. Lets hope todays result was just as positive.
The volunteers have also introduced 10 minute meditation sessions at the end of the mornings sport sessions. Not an easy challenge with 80 boys but seems to be going down a treat!
Finally Elen has found her sports calling in life, frisbee!!
This is perhaps the biggest thing I’m happy about. All those months trying to get the equipment out of customs and now its finally here being used everyday.
BIG BIG thank you once again to Mithra for your time and patience in helping to get this here!!
The sessions last between 45-60 mins, 2 groups back to back. They’re definitely improving their fitness but most of all its like a comedy club! Its literally 45 minutes of giggling as they try to do each exercise.
I’m really pleased that we’re now getting the girls involved too. Its taken a few sessions but they’re started to ignore the boys and enjoy it.
It hasn’t all been hard work the last few weeks. I can proudly say that I’ve also managed to corrupt these volunteers too on a recent weekend trip to Kochi. It seems the Keralan Government want to stop people drinking so have shut all the bars!! This must be a recent thing as I’d promised the guys that I knew of at least two ok bars to have a beer. Feeling under pressure to deliver what I’d promised,we had a bit of a random ‘pub crawl’ via a rickshaw to a restaurant that had ‘secret mojito’, what can only be described as someones front roomwhere beer was served in coffee mugs and finally a normal place where we played game after game of a very competitive game of ‘alternative snap’.
Beer in coffee mugs
In technology news, despite not having WiFi for over a week (apparently because of the rain) Vi-Ability India is now on Facebook!
And after a few very late nights the Silo India website is 99% complete www.siloindia.org
All in all things are going well here. Its not without its challenges and everyday there’s some frustration about something but I think we can honestly say that the volunteers are truly making a difference and having a lasting impact. It’s certainly a pleasure working with them everyday!