So much has happened in the last leg of our journey… Sheena and I ventured up into the foothills of the Himalayas and were greeted by snow-capped mountains, cold temperatures, warm smiles and much sweet chai.
We’ve just spent the last week being hosted by the Utterakhand Environmental Education Centre who facilitate women’s empowerment projects in many villages across the Kumaon Region of Utterakhand (Uttaranchal). On arrival at the organisation’s centre in Almora, we were greeted by 30 giggling and curious young women who were participating in a weekend-long workshop; the workshop was aimed at giving these your village woman a voice and expression of the issues that they face as women in their remote communities. Whilst many of these young women had never left their villages or socialised with girls from other castes, they showed an amazing candidness when speaking about the challenges that they face. Gender issues are hot on the agenda up here – well not everyone’s unfortunately. Woman are the glue to community and family life in the mountains. Many of their husbands leave the villages in search or work and many stay in the villages and face unemployment. The challenging social issues around male unemployment aren’t always evident on the street, but the women’s stories tell of a desperate state of affairs and the need for solutions is pressing.
The UEEC has supported women in villages to establish early childhood play groups (Balwadis) in dozens of remote villages, whole village women’s groups who make decisions for their local communities on pertinent issues. On visiting Sharma, Rhita Khula and Liti Dhoura villages we saw the Balwadis in action, shared songs with the children and went along to local women’s gatherings. The hospitality that was extended to us was very gracious. A particularly big thank you to Renu, Lalit, Kedadar for sharing the villages with us and Kimberlydavies (yes that is her name and she wasn’t on Neighbours) and Mena for the buffalo milk lassi.
There are too many wonderful things to say about the mountains and its people… so I’m going to have to resort to listing: so much learning about local issues, delicately woven woollen textiles, abundance of chai, hairy car rides on narrow mountain roads, landslides… many men… road cleared very quickly, a snow capped Nanda Devi (7800m) in the distance watching us like a sentinel, Kumaoni dancing, Tiddas’ Innane a regular feature when sharing songs… everyone like the ‘chiew!’ bit, generous hosts and lots of smiles.
Needless to say, we are very keen to return to these parts and next time, stay a little longer and participate in some projects:
- looking at possibilities of incorporating aquaponics into the aquaculture projects that are being established
- documenting the lives and issues of village women
- providing advice/support for counseling of men and families affected by alcohol abuse
- sharing ideas on learning activities for early childhood, play-based education
- sharing ideas on transformative education
- sharing ideas and resources on sexual health education, particularly in sexually transmitted infections
If any of these projects ring any bells for you, it’s your invitation to get involved.
So, Nazila has joined us and we are now in the gorgeous pink city that is Jaipur. We were in awe of the City Palace’s treasures today and tomorrow head off to the Tarun Bharat Sangh Ashram where we will be learning about the various water conservation and harvesting projects that are transforming people’s lives in the desert.
Until next time, namaste!