From the Himalayas to University City

Hi CASI followers,

I hope you all had a fantastic summer and enjoyed reading the abundance of adventure packed CASI student blogs!

I have had a whirlwind of a start to my junior year, it seems like light years ago that I boarded a plane in New Delhi heading back to the United States. There was not a lot of time for reflecting after I first came back, or giving way to culture shock because my household was to entertain around 20 guests a week after my arrival! The first couple of days were composed of house hold chores, and food shopping. Then I was off to Penn for the start of the Penn Field Hockey 2013 preseason, while juggling field hockey, classes and the start of OCR has been hard to make time to just stop and think…

When I do have a chance to reflect I often ask myself, “did I really go to India this summer,” or was it just a dream? Did I really wear kurtas and salwars, as well as eat food with only my right for two and a half months? The experience seems almost mythical. If this is my first blog post you are reading I’m sure you are wondering what I am talking about! I was working with three other Penn students at an NGO called the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG) in the Kumaon Region of Uttarakhand, India for ten weeks this summer.

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This is a view of Kasiyalekh from my first homestay.

I focused in two areas during my stay with CHIRAG, working closely with a for-profit store called Kumaun Grameen Udyog (KGU), which sells goods made by local women villagers. All profits made by the business are reinvested back into various CHIRAG efforts ranging from their regional hospital to their local schools. The store sells beautifully hand woven garments, shawls, stoles, and scarves created by a local weaving center; toys, hats, gloves, and tea cozies made by local knitting groups; and chutneys, spreads, apricot oil, and apricot scrub made from local fruit cooperatives. I worked on various projects for KGU, but the main projects involved computerizing KGU’s inventory and sales system, which was at the time done completely by hand; creating and running a financial breakeven analysis on a potential café they were looking to install in one of the local shops, revamping the text, design, and layout of their website, and R&D on potential products and locations to sell goods.

I had an unbelievable experience working with KGU, it caused me to view business in a completely new way than I had been approaching it my first two years at Wharton. My freshman and sophomore years I think of myself as going through the motions and trying to get by in core classes such as finance and accounting without actually understanding why the content I was learning was important to my future. This internship made me realize the information I learn in college is extremely useful and applicable to real life! Paying attention in Finance 100 and Accounting 101 will work wonders down the road! The skills learned in those classes will forever be helpful for various internship opportunities, for me they were helpful this summer when I was asked to consult various financial opportunities, and to help develop a sales/inventory system for KGU.

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Me with the some other CHIRAG interns, and my KGU boss Anurag!

The second part of my internship was life changing on a more personal level. I was able to conduct my own research and give a presentation at the end of my stay to CHIRAG officials in which I gave feedback and suggestions from my observations. I developed a survey focusing on the sustainability of Self Help Groups (SHGs), and women’s empowerment through SHGs, which I administered through the help of an amazing Chirag employee, Lata ji, who became like a mother to me while I was in India. I conducted 5 group interviews with SHGs in the Kumaon Region, and 7 individual interviews with 6 Killaur residents (including the Gram Pradan) and 1 with the Treasurer of Mahila Jagrati, Buribana SHG.

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A SHG meeting in Buribana, Mahila Jagrati is pictured here recording the payments of various members.

If there is anything I will take away from my experience in India it is the Self Help Group meetings I attended during my stay. I had read about women villagers pooling their money together to allow for one another to buy goods they would not have otherwise been able to afford, but I never thought I would witness this event in the flesh. In addition, the stories they would tell me about their daily lives were almost unfathomable to me. The women of the Kumaon region are true heroines. They wake up at 4:30am, collect fodder for their animals, milk their cows, get the children ready for school, go down to the road to pump water for the family all before they make breakfast often for a family composed of ten or more inhabitants!

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The Sunkiya SHG president.

One of the most memorable stories for me was when the government was looking to build a liquor store in a village and the local women were able to put a stop to the construction by collaborating creating a scene. They went to the site and protested as well as spoke with the government official. Due to their protests they were able to keep a bad omen away from their village. To begin to see the depth of the impact of this story you must understand that twenty five years ago women were not even allowed out of the property, sometimes the house in India. Women were not even allowed to answer the door, but had to get a man to speak to whomever was present. Some parts of India have come a long way since then and this is only one of the multitude of stories I heard about women’s empowerment.

If you would like to see my findings more in depth attached is the presentation I gave while at CHIRAG

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I apologize for the lengthiness of my last blog post, but I could continue to write on and on about my experiences in India. While in India I was living in the moment, going day by day trying to appreciate every second of the unbelievable opportunity I had, but to throw a cliché saying out there, “you don’t know what you have until it is gone,” the weather, the amazing people and colleagues, and the internship I had was truly remarkable. I am really glad I chose to participate in the CASI program and I would highly recommend it to any Penn student who is reading this blog post and the slightest bit interested!

It has been a great summer and I look forward to staying involved with CASI!

Dhanyavaad and Namasté

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The view from one of my daily hikes at sunset.

UTTARAKHAND DISASTER: AN APPEAL FOR HELP

Being back in the US now I realize how privileged I am. I do not have to worry about whether I will have the basic necessities to live; the people in the foothills of the Himalayas have to live their lives one day at a time. They do not know what the next day will bring; whether they will have clean water, food, or a roof over their heads.

People had always told me coming back to the US would be harder than going to India. They said the reverse culture shock is sometimes unbearable and now I can see why. Within the first two days of coming home I went to Costco with my mom… there is no way to describe the rush of feelings I had when I looked around that warehouse. It was like I was seeing a mega grocery store for the first time. How do we have so much, when some places have so little? How are our fruits literally three times the size of fruits in India? The site of a store that could feed two or three villages for at least a year with its contents was mind boggling.

I understand most of you reading this blog are broke college students, but after the story below you will hopefully be willing to make some donation; even $10 can make a difference in someones life.

Dear CASI Friends,

As you are probably aware I along with Jason, Nathalie, and Shobana worked in the Uttarakhand region of India this summer for a local NGO called the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG). During our time spent in the region we experienced the heavy rains of the monsoon season, while we were not immediately effected by the flooding and major landslides which occurred the villagers and colleagues we worked with every day were. Shobana mentioned in one of her earlier blog posts the immensity of the Uttarakhand floods all over the region; as of now the death told has reached an overwhelming 6,000 people who have been killed by floods, cloudbursts and landslides.

Within Kumaun region of Uttarakhand where we were located, villages in Pithoragarh and Munsiyari district had been affected by the disaster the most. As a result on the 4th of July, a six member team from Chirag visited some of the villages in Pithoragarh to take stock of the situation:

Many villages located on the banks of the river Kali and Gori have been washed away completely or partially. Villagers, who managed to escape with nothing except the clothes they wore, have lost their agricultural fields, cattle, homes etc. Many are currently living out of makeshift tents provided by the Government

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Large sections of the roads have simply collapsed. Some villages can now be reached only on foot via forest trails. Other villages that lie on the other side of the river cannot be accessed by road at all.

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The effects of the devastation will be felt for a long time. People will have to pick up the pieces and start anew. Fields that their ancestors cultivated have disappeared; other moveable and non-moveable assets have been washed away.

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Chirag has identified at least two villages, including Ghattabgar and Nayabast, in Pithoragarh district that it intends to support having rendered 27 families completely homeless. Chirag has already provided some immediate relief to those families in Ghattabgar and Nayabast having supplied:

  1. Tarpaulin and plastic sheets
  2. Umbrellas and poncho
  3. Basic medicines (fever, diarrhea, ORS) and medical supplies (disinfectants, bandages/gauge)
  4. Clothes especially for women and children
  5. Torches
  6. Cooking utensils and stove
  7. Books, stationary for school going children

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Once immediate relief has been supplied Chirag will look to set up a Rehabilitation Program in Ghattabgar and Nayabast by collaborating with the residents of the villages to identify ways in which they can rebuild their lives. These programs could include sustainable livelihood options (agriculture, animal husbandry etc), community health programme, management of natural resources etc.

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Click Here To Donate: www.give2asia.org/chirag

In the remark section for the transaction, please write “For Disaster Relief Work” to ensure that your donation is utilized for the purpose it is intended. Donations will be used exclusively for the purpose of buying relief material.

Feeling Like A Local

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A picture of me playing Simon Say with a young girl in Gajaar village.

While sitting in the Chirag office trying to figure out what I am going to write for one of my last blog posts I cannot help but think wow how time has flown by. With only six days left to my ten week internship in the beautiful mountainous region of Kumaon, Uttarakhand, I am experiencing a sea of emotions filled with sentimental thoughts of saying farewells to great friendships I have developed and leaving behind what has been my home for the past two and a half months… but there is also this alluring magnetism to the idea of returning to family and friends as well as the comforts and familiarities of the US.

Coming into this internship I did not know what to expect. I knew it would be something new, something completely different than anything I had ever experienced before, but I had no conception of what it would be that I would take away from my time in India. I think the greatest memories and lessons I have learned have come from the people, from the relationships I have developed with my colleagues at Chirag, and the local villagers in Kumaon. It is one thing to know a village, or a city like the back of your hand, being able to walk the streets without a map, and having a local tea shop you always go to; but it is another to be able to walk down the road, or through a local village and have people in cars and on motor bikes stopping to say hi to you, or women calling down from houses along the road inviting you in because you are a familiar face. You are no longer an obnoxious tourist, but a local, a friend.

This Tuesday was Harela, a holiday celebrated only in the state of Uttarakhand, it is a time to pray for a bountiful and rich harvest for the next year. All members of the region do not work on this Tuesday and stay at home with their family cooking delicious Kumaon delicacies and relaxing. Through my micro-finance work with Lata-ji, an employee of Chirag who is in charge of all micro-finance activities, I have become very close with her and she thinks of me more as a daughter than a colleague. She invited me over to her house to celebrate Harela. I brought Jason along with me; unfortunately Nathalie and Shobana could not come because they have a big workshop to prepare for this Thursday and Friday, the 18th and 19th. I will not steal their thunder, but I am going to brag for them a little bit about their projects because what they are doing is really cool! Nathalie and Shobana are giving presentations to the Chirag health team about their findings and suggestions on water borne diseases and STDs from surveying people at health camps and Ashua workers. They are working with translators to translate their presentations and handouts for the workshop.

At Lata jis we had a delicious breakfast, where Jason and I learned how to make the famous chai tea everyone drinks multiple times through out the day. And we also learned how to make sweets special to the Harela holiday, bad and pua. I am not sure how Indians stay so thin because they eat a lot of deep fried food!

 It is great to have such a close relationship with Lata ji because I learn so much about the region; she has been working for Chirag for 18 years and is able to recount many stories of Chirag’s impact on the hills. One of the stories that really sticks with me is how about 20 years ago, before Chirag, women had no power at home and in the community. They were not even allowed to leave the house; if someone came to the door and knocked they would have to get a man to answer the door because it was not acceptable for them to step outside to see who the visitor was. Many leaps and gains have been made since then with women now working in local businesses, starting their own businesses, forming self help groups, and even changing the type of dress they wear from the traditional sari. A lot of her stories have influenced my conclusions about my own research on women’s empowerment through micro-finance.

The warmth and kindness of the people I have met on this trip rivals few and far between. It will certainly be hard to say my good byes, but until then I will enjoy every moment. Lata ji has invited me and the other interns to go to her house to make cake, a rare find in the hills of Uttarakhand because most people do not own ovens! :)

Microfinance

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In my last post I mentioned the work I am doing for KGU, but due to the average attention span of a blog reader I thought it would be best to save my tails about the rest of my work with Chirag for a different post…

To give a little bit of background Micro-finance is the broad term used to describe micro-credit, and micro-loans, which are given out by self help groups. Self help groups (SHG) are groups of villagers (primarily 7-14 women) who pool their money together so members can buy things they would not normally be able to afford with their current income and savings status. The borrower then has to pay back the loan in monthly installments with interest. Chirag is affiliated with 149 Self Help Groups, with 1600 members; there is a total of 50,64,514 rupees of savings and 23,25,704 rupees in interloans dispersed through out the SHGs.

Recently I have started working with Lata ji, a woman at Chirag who heads the micro-finance initiatives in the region. I have been observing her work for the past two weeks trying to learn as much as I can about micro-finance in general and her role as a facilitator of microfinance for Chirag. I find it so intriguing and fascinating that villagers can empower themselves through a system as simple as pooling their money together. I was able to sit in on a 3-day micro-finance workshop held at Chirag where around 35 people came to learn about how to create, sustain, and facilitate micro-finance groups throughout India. While most of the discussion was in Kumani and Hindi the power points were in English so I was able to understand the main points they were discussing! Also they did a lot of mock self help group exercises where half of the members would sit in the middle of the room and create fake scenarios using beans as substitutes for rupees. It was great to see the developments that are being made in the micro-finance area and how Chirag as well as other NGOs are going about implementing and facilitating the process. There were a couple of key elements the workshop directors introduced as imperative for Self Help Groups to succeed: the need to interloan frequently, active facilitation, a consistent system for saving, member participation, high motivation for lending, and a high level of transparency. On the second day I got to attend an actual self help group meeting in a close by village called Chatola. It was great to see the dynamic and actual procession of a meeting.

What I am hoping to do through my observations and participation in the micro-finance program at Chirag is conduct a survey, questioning members of self help groups about their experiences with gender empowerment and sustainability since joining the SHG. I am hoping this will give some insight into new ways Chirag can improve their facilitation and education programs surrounding SHGs. Sustainability and Gender Empowerment are two key problems associated with microfinance. This is my first time trying to conduct any type of research so it will be a huge learning experience, but hopefully in the end it will provide Chirag with some useful information!

Here is a picture of the workshop I attended two weeks ago, as you can see there are no chairs…all meetings were conducted on the floor… very uncomfortable!

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Here are pictures from two SHGs I have been to:Image

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Until next time!

Alex

My Café

Hi CASI followers! So internet is temporarily back, but will probably still be pretty unreliable because monsoon season is approaching… During the monsoons it downpours for days on end, last week there was heavy rain for 3 ½ days straight, from Friday until Monday morning. At first I did not realize how big of a deal the monsoons would be for this region, but their impact is almost immeasurable. The monsoons make or break whether local farmers have a good or bad harvest of their crops. The rain and wind causes the fruit to fall off the trees, and the flooding effects the vegetables. In addition, most of the village houses are made out of mud and brick so often times if they are old, houses will collapse, or experience severe leakages. But above all the landslides are the biggest problem; they can isolate entire villages by cutting off the main road, and they make it nearly impossible for work to go about as usual. For example this weekend Jason, Nathalie, Shobana and I went to a village called Ranikhet and it took us 4 ½ hours instead of 3 because we had to go on an alternate route due to landslides. I am not telling you all of this info to scare you, or make you think its not safe here because it is! We have an excellent place to stay and are privileged to be living in modernized structures, but what we are seeing and what the region we are living in is experiencing is so different than any type of natural phenomenon I have been in.

Okay enough about the climate! I haven’t been able to update you all on the projects I am working on for Chirag. So originally I was only working on computerizing the inventory system for KGU, but a couple of other projects have popped up as well. The inventory system is very challenging and I have enlisted the help of a man named Gutam, who has worked for Google for a number of years and if very good at programing. Originally we were looking to make the inventory system in excel so it could be used without internet, but the amount of formulas that are necessary to report the inventory for 3 different shops is nearly impossible to write. We are still working on the excel system, but also researching possible software to download and implement in the shops.

Along with the inventory project I have also been functioning as a marketing intern for the KGU website, I went through and updated text, as well as pictures and the layout of the website. With Gutam’s technical skills and my business analytics we make a pretty good team! The new website will be up and running soon, if you want to see the old one here is the link: http://www.kilmora.in/ (p.s. if you want anything from the shop let me know and ill get you a shawl, or scarf, or stole! They are so pretty and really cheap for being hand woven, a stole is 850 ruppees, which is close to $14 USD). In my previous post I am wearing one of the Kilmora stoles in the picture of me in Nanital if you want an idea of what they look like :).

KGU also has this side project where they are looking to build a café in the back of one of their Kilmora shops. Right now Anurag (my boss), Keith (a professor from the University of Washington), and I are working on the project. They are collecting the cost data such as electricals, kitchen equipment, ingredients, etc; and I was collecting the number of footfalls the shop had per day. From here we are looking to do some financial analysis to see if the café would be profitable and what prices to mark their items. I really like working on this project because it has made me respect and understand why I have to take some of the boring and monotonous classes in Wharton such as finance and accounting. If I ever want to take part in starting a business, or having my own business I will have to know the fundamentals. It is great to be able to apply what I have learned in the classroom to real life situations because it allows me to see that what I am learning will have an impact on my life later on. I am not just learning formulas to do well on a test, but to do well in my future working career.

To end here is a picture of Nathalie, Jason, Shobana and I helping to build tables for the Chirag school. They will use these tables for their arts and crafts classes. We knocked down an old building and used the bricks to make the tables. To hold the bricks together we took dirt and water and really got into it, using our hands to lay on the dirt and then pile up the bricks. It was a great experience because this is how a lot of the houses are made in the village, so we got an insight into the local culture, as well as an opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the Chirag school!

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The tables will not be too tall, only a foot or so off of the ground because the children will sit on mats on the floor to use the tables. One thing that is hard to adjust to in India is the lack of chairs used for meetings, schooling, and workshops. All big events are conducted without chairs; people just sit on the floor. You see old men and women sitting perfectly still with their legs crossed, and then you see the interns squirming, trying to find a way to sit comfortably. My hips and body were not made to sit in a cross-legged position; it is physically impossible, but when you have to sit on the ground for hours on end you have to get creative about new ways to compose yourself without looking like a complete fool!

Shopping in Nainital and my hike to Sitla

After my first full week of work it was nice to get away for a day and
a half. Jason, Shobana, Nathalie, Shagun and I took a trip to a nearby
city called Nainital. We had a great time shopping in the Tibetan
market and trying all kinds of Indian food, hopefully there will be
many more weekends to follow like such! I was also very excited about
going to Nainital because I was able to pick up another field hockey
stick so I can teach the interns at Chirag how to play! I am a
co-captain of the Penn field hockey team and unfortunately there are
no local teams in the hilly region where I am located so I do not have
a league to play in; but I have still been able to practice stick
skill work! Now, with the addition of another stick I will be able to
teach/play with some of the employees and interns of Chirag. I am also
working to keep in shape for the fall season and since there are no
fields around for typical conditioning I have to find other ways.
There is a nature trail hike to a neighboring village called Sitla; it
takes about 45 minutes to hike, but I have recently been running up
the trail and my goal is to be able to run up the complete trail
without stopping. On my first run up it felt more like torture than
anything else! Due to the high elevation I am at right now and the
dryness of the air my body is not used to running in this type of
climate, but with every run I can feel it getting a little bit easier!

(Pic 1)
Picture of me in Nainital

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I was afraid safety would be an issue for working out in India
because they have a very different mentality over here. The average
person never “works out;” they are working in the fields all day so
they would never have the time. Also, the locals do not see a point to
exerting more energy than they have to; it just calls for more food
and water, which is not plentiful in this region. Seeing someone
running down the street certainly turns a lot of heads, but I have
found some awesome running partners! Jason, one of the other Penn
interns at Chirag likes to go running so we try to run together up the
Sitla trail every other morning.  A lot of local dogs like to run with
me too! Devrani, a stray dog adopted by Chirag about three years ago,
is one of the three dogs who have come running with me. She keeps me
motivated, always running ahead and looking back so I am always
pushing to go faster, and I feel safe running with her on the trail
because I have seen her be very protective of the Chirag employees and
interns.

(Pic 2) A picture of me and Devrani, the dog that has been adopted by
Chirag, after one of our runs.

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(Pic 3) This is the bridge that led to the ancient temple on our walk to Almora.

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My experience in northern India so far has been wonderful because
every day brings a new challenge and a new learning curve. I feel like
I am learning so much not only about my studies, but about life in
general from the farmers and civilians I am surrounded by. I have also
just found out I will be doing another home stay next week in a
village about an hour walk from Chirag called Chatola! I can’t wait to
see how this home stay compares to my first.

Until next time!
Alexandra

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P.s. Here is a picture of my first view of the Himalayas, I think
their beauty speaks for themselves, words are not necessary!

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Being Immersed from the Get-Go

Hi CASI followers! I hope you are all doing well and enjoying your summers! If you feel like the Chirag interns have been a little under represented on the blog we have been without internet for at least two weeks! If this post goes through I am an extremely lucky person! Hopefully internet will be up and running soon; I am using one of the employees hot spots from his phone to send this. A lot has happened since I last wrote… I will try to keep this blog post as short as possible and include lots of pictures!

So my homestay was quite the experience! I reached Chirag, the ngo I am working for this summer, on Monday May 20th and was sent to a home stay for six days, from Thursday, May 23rd to Wednesday, May 29th. At first it seemed like a fairly daunting task to be facing by myself: living with a family of twenty-one members, of which only two members spoke very little English; with no phone, electricity, or running water for six days, but by the end I made some great friends and learned a lot about the culture of the hills region in India!

I was definitely overwhelmed on the first day I arrived at my home stay because of two factors. Number one the language barrier; it was the biggest hurdle to overcome because the mother and daughter-in-law were the two members of the family who were around the most and they did not speak any English. It caused me to have to learn some basic Hindi words and phrases fast such as food (khana), boiled water (ubla hua paani), thank you (dania vad), I am going to Kasiyalekh (mai Kasiyalekh ja rahi hun) and other such phrases. In addition, there was, in my opinion, an abnormal amount of flies in and around the house; that took some getting used to. It got to the point where I was okay with flies being on any part of my body except for my face, there were just too many to try and fend them all off, especially when you were eating. Below is a picture of the house I stayed in during my home stay (panoramic view), and the room I shared with the youngest daughter, Pooja, who was 23.

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Once I was able to accept that these two factors would be a part of my life while I was at the home stay my remaining time there was a blast! I learned so much about the agricultural lifestyle because I was living it. The family would go to sleep around 10pm and wake up at 4:30am; they would start their day by collecting fodder to feed the animals, milking the cows, collecting water from the pump by the road, cooking breakfast, and then heading up the hillside to start harvesting their crops. While I was there the family was harvesting their wheat (gahoon) crops. I was lucky enough to get to help in the process! Once the women collected the wheat the entire family would sit on the porch and pound the wheat on the ground to collect the kernels. They would then sort the kernels from the wheat stocks and the kernels would be sold in the market; the whole process would take around two days to complete per section of wheat brought down from the hillside. I helped the family with the pounding of the stocks to collect all of the kernels. It is a very tedious and time consuming process and certainly gave me more respect for the amount of work the women and men have to put in to provide for the family. After the women let me help them with the wheat they were more keen on letting me complete other tasks…often it was more a form of entertainment for them rather than a help because I was not as efficient or skilled as them!

I helped everyday to carry water up the hillside to the household. There was a communal pump for the village next to the road where everyone would go to get their drinking water. I was only able to carry a bucket half the size of the other women on my head and even then I had difficulty not spilling it all over myself! It is amazing how they are able to balance jugs of water on their head and then walk/hike up a hillside at least six times a day! The women also let me try to make chapattis; chapattis are the flat, round bread that is eaten with most meals. The chapattis were made from scratch before every meal and I would often sit in the kitchen and watch the women make them. It looks simple enough to do, but wow I was wrong. Not only was my chapatti not circular (it ended up having more of an oval shape), but the woman had made at least three more chapattis by the time I had made one. After that experience I left the dough making to the experts, but helped out wherever else I could!

Below is a picture of my host mother, Contie, carrying a bucket full of water on her head. They would walk around with the jugs on their head as if it was nothing, but in reality they weigh a ton and are really hard to even lift off the ground!

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This is a picture of Koumla, the daughter-in-law, who was the best at making chapattis, and me attempting to help in the kitchen cooking dinner!

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After the first couple of days where I explored the region and helped out at my home stay I visited the Chirag office in Kasiyalekh. Chirag has remote offices in surrounding villages where various activities take place and Kasiyalekh was the perfect fit for me because of the project I have decided to work on while I am here. I will be working with Kumaun Grameen Udyog (KGU), an organization started by Chirag. Chirag is a non-for-profit organization, but KGU is a for profit firm who feeds all of its profits back into Chirag health and education programs. KGU has created a shop called Kilmora, which sells all local goods made from efforts spearheaded by Chirag. There are garments, shawls, stoles, and scarves created by a local weaving center; toys, hats, gloves, and tea cozies made by local knitting groups; and chutneys, spreads, apricot oil, and apricot scrub made from local fruit cooperatives. I will be working with KGU on various fronts, but the most pressing matter is their operations management system. As of right now their entire inventory as well as sales and delivery processes are done by hand, which is very inefficient and causes for a lot of unnecessary duplication of information. I am going to computerize the system by creating excel documents, which the employees and administration can utilize, and also hold a training program for the employees to learn how to use the new system. I am very excited for this project because I will get to utilize a lot of skills I have pick up from Wharton classes, and I will get to learn about the cultural differences which cause businesses to run differently in India than in the US.

Here are some pictures of the weaving center, apricot product process and a knitting group in Kasiyalekh.

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Immersed from the get-go

     Hi CASI followers! I hope you are all doing well and enjoying your
summers! A lot has happened since I last wrote…
 
So my first homestay was quite the experience! I reached Chirag, the
ngo I am working for this summer, on Monday May 20th and was sent to a
home stay for six days, from Thursday, May 23rd to Wednesday, May
29th. At first it seemed like a fairly daunting task to be facing by
myself: living with a family of twenty-one members, of which only two
members spoke very little English; with no phone, electricity, or
running water for six days, but by the end I made some great friends
and learned a lot about the culture of the hills region in India!
  
 I was definitely overwhelmed on the first day I arrived at my
home stay because of two factors. Number one the language barrier; it
was the biggest hurdle to overcome because the mother and
daughter-in-law were the two members of the family who were around the
most and they did not speak any English. It caused me to have to learn
some basic Hindi words and phrases fast such as food (khana), boiled
water (ubla hua paani), thank you (dania vad), I am going to
Kasiyalekh (mai Kasiyalekh ja rahi hun) and other such phrases. In
addition, there was, in my opinion, an abnormal amount of flies in and
around the house; that took some getting used to. It got to the point
where I was okay with flies being on any part of my body except for my
face, there were just too many to try and fend them all off,
especially when you were eating
 
.If I had internet there would be a picture of the house I stayed in and the youngest daughter, Poojah, 23, making dinnerPic 1 Pic 2

Once I was able to accept that these two factors would be a part of my
life while I was at the home stay my remaining time there was a blast!
I learned so much about the agricultural lifestyle because I was
living it. The family would go to sleep around 10pm and wake up at
4:30am; they would start their day by collecting fodder to feed the
animals, milking the cows, collecting water from the pump by the road,
cooking breakfast, and then heading up the hillside to start
harvesting their crops. While I was there the family was harvesting
their wheat (gahoon) crops. I was lucky enough to get to help in the
process! Once the women collected the wheat the entire family would
sit on the porch and pound the wheat on the ground to collect the
kernels. They would then sort the kernels from the wheat stocks and
the kernels would be sold in the market; the whole process would take
around two days to complete per section of wheat brought down from the
hillside. I helped the family with the pounding of the stocks to
collect all of the kernels. It is a very tedious and time consuming
process and certainly gave me more respect for the amount of work the
women and men have to put in to provide for the family. After the
women let me help them with the wheat they were more keen on letting
me complete other tasks…often it was more a form of entertainment for
them rather than a help because I was not as efficient or skilled as
them!
     I helped everyday to carry water up the hillside to the
household. There was a communal pump for the village next to the road
where everyone would go to get their drinking water. I was only able
to carry a bucket half the size of the other women on my head and even
then I had difficulty not spilling it all over myself! It is amazing
how they are able to balance jugs of water on their head and then
walk/hike up a hillside at least six times a day! The women also let
me try to make chapattis; chapattis are the flat, round bread that is
eaten with most meals. The chapattis were made from scratch before
every meal and I would often sit in the kitchen and watch the women
make them. It looks simple enough to do, but wow I was wrong. Not only
was my chapatti not circular (it ended up having more of an oval
shape), but the woman had made at least three more chapattis by the
time I had made one. After that experience I left the dough making to
the experts, but helped out wherever else I could!

 
Here is a picture of me helping to cook dinner one night!

    After the first couple of days where I explored the region and
helped out at my home stay I visited the Chirag office in Kasiyalekh.
Chirag has remote offices in surrounding villages where various
activities take place and Kasiyalekh was the perfect fit for me
because of the project I have decided to work on while I am here. I
will be working with Kumaun Grameen Udyog  (KGU), an organization
started by Chirag. Chirag is a non-for-profit organization, but KGU is
a for profit firm who feeds all of its profits back into Chirag health
and education programs. KGU has created a shop called Kilmora, which
sells all local goods made from efforts spearheaded by Chirag. There
are garments, shawls, stoles, and scarves created by a local weaving
center; toys, hats, gloves, and tea cozies made by local knitting
groups; and chutneys, spreads, apricot oil, and apricot scrub made
from local fruit cooperatives. I will be working with KGU on various
fronts, but the most pressing matter is their operations management
system. As of right now their entire inventory as well as sales and
delivery processes are done by hand, which is very inefficient and
causes for a lot of unnecessary duplication of information. I am going
to computerize the system by creating excel documents, which the
employees and administration can utilize, and also hold a training
program for the employees to learn how to use the new system. I am
very excited for this project because I will get to utilize a lot of
skills I have pick up from Wharton classes, and I will get to learn
about the cultural differences which cause businesses to run
differently in India than in the US.

Here are some pictures of the weaving center, apricot product process
and a knitting group in Kasiyalekh.
 (Pic 5) (Pic6) (Pic 7)

 
 
 

Internet Problems

Hi all!

If you feel like the CHIRAG interns have been quite on the CASI blog it’s because our NGO has been without internet for a little over two weeks! We have been trying to upload our posts/pictures to the blog, but with no success. We have minimal access to internet through internet sticks and employee’s cell phone hotspots, but at most we can usually just open emails, not even reply or send emails back. (if this post goes through it will be a miracle!) Just wanted to keep everyone updated and know that as soon as internet is back we will be telling you all about our adventures!

While not being able to connect to the outside world is a sure problem it really allows us to observe how Chirag is able to function even without the basic necessities of a typical American company. If internet were down at a company in the states surely chaos would break out and minimal work would be completed, but here it is as if nothing major has happened. The only people who are annoyed by the problem are the foreign interns (us). For a little preview to our long awaited blog posts I will let you know that yesterday we were able to see the Himalayas because the sky was so clear! Apparently you are considered to have good luck if you get to see the mountains before the month of September. In the summer months the climate creates a hazy, overcast aura that does not allow for good site seeing, but yesterday after a couple of hours of rain the clouds cleared and there they were. Words cannot describe how magnificent the view is; it is truly sublime. (I hope that hooked you b/c I will surely be putting a picture of them in my next post :)

Alex

My stay in Delhi and the trip to CHIRAG

     Hello all! I have not been in India even a week, but my plane flight from Brussels to New Delhi feels like such a long time ago. So much has happened since my first blog post. Arriving in Delhi I do not know what I was expecting, but what I experienced was an immediate culture shock! I knew the culture and way of life was very different in India and through CASI and mentors I had received some training about the regions and areas I would be visiting, but there are just some things you cannot prepare for.

     For example, on my drive from the airport to the hotel at 2:30am I was nervous my taxi driver was half asleep because he was driving in the middle of the high way completely ignoring the blatantly obvious dashed white lines on the road; after a couple of minutes I realized everyone of the road was doing the same. In India it seems like the rules of the road are more like guidelines. In addition, honking is a lot more prevalent; every time a driver passes a car, or a pedestrian on the road they honk, often multiple times. It is almost like an informal mode of communication between drivers, where as in the US honking is rarely used, and only when the other driver has done something wrong.

     My stay in Delhi was short, but very memorable. I got to see lots of sights such as the Red Fort, Akshardham Temple, India Gate, Jama Masjid as well as explore the endless supply of street markets and shops. We went to Janpath Market, Hauz Khas Village, Khan Market, and Lajpat Nagar Central Market. It was quite an experience to try bartering and bargaining with the shop keepers. In big cities in India it is customary to bargain down the price of goods, especially because they like to hike the price up for tourists! Shobana and I bought Kurtas and other traditional Indian clothes to wear at our NGO and for our stay in Delhi. It is very important for women to travel with others and to cover up when they go out. Attached is a picture of Shobana and I sitting at the bus terminal in Delhi in traditional Indian garments.

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     Delhi was not only a great experience because of the sights and markets we got to visit, but because of the travel complications thrown our way… Originally we were supposed to take a train to our NGO, CHIRAG, but unfortunately our tickets were not able to be confirmed due to the high demand for transportation in the summer months. Instead Jason, Shobana, and I were sent on a whirlwind adventure to find an alternative way to get to the foothills of the Himalayas. After two trips to the bus station (which can be described as something very close to apocalyptic chaos), lots of back and forth texts/emails with Aparna, and traditional Indian bartering we were able to secure three tickets on an overnight nine hour bus ride to Nainital. From there a driver met us and took us on another two hour car ride to our NGO. We had finally arrived!!!

     CHIRAG, the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group, is an NGO that looks to better the villages and communities in the Uttarakhand region of India through Education, Health Care, Natural Resource Management, and Livelihood support. Inside of these four main focuses there are various branches which focus on more specific problems within each region. For example inside of Natural resource management CHIRAG looks to improve soil and water conservation, community forestry, fodder development and spring recharge.

    When I first stepped out of the car to look at the place I would call my home for the next 10 weeks I was taken aback by the sublime view. CHIRAG is situated in a valley in the foothills of the Himalayas. I have attached a picture, but words as well as images cannot describe the breathtaking beauty of the place I am in. It is like a mountainous region you see in photographs and dream of visiting, but do not think actually exists. The mountains cannot be seen too well in this picture because right now there are some controlled forest fires in the area. One of the big agricultural pulls of the region is the sap from pine trees, they collect the sap and sell it to be made into turpentine. To extract more sap the farmers create small forest fires, it causes the trees to “sweat” out the sap.

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     Over the past couple of days Jason, Shobana and I have been exploring and getting ourselves affiliated with the organization. We have been going on lots of hikes to the near by villages such as Sitla and Rita. In addition, we have been meeting employees and other interns at CHIRAG as of now there are three other girl interns, and four other boy interns aside from our small Penn group. They are from all over India, as well as Canada, and some German and French interns are expected to come within the next couple of days.

      Over the next couple of days Jason, Shobana and I will be looking into what project inside of CHIRAG we would like to work on while we are here for the next couple of weeks. Also, starting tomorrow we will be doing a home stay, which means we will each be paired with a family in a close by village and living with them for the next seven days. I am very excited for the experience and cannot wait to see the traditions and customs of an agricultural family in India. Hopefully someone in the family speaks a little bit of English!

Talk to you all in a week!

Alex

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A view of the Jama Masjid from inside its central square

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A drive by view of Akshardham Temple, you cannot take pictures once inside.