Getting Oriented

Now that I’ve spent a few days at the Kendra (which translates to ‘center’ and is the informal name for the SPS campus where we live with about 30 other SPS employees and interns), I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on the daily routine. Our days are most easily parceled out by meals times. Everyone eats breakfast in ‘the mess’ [hall] beginning sometime in the 8-9am window and then heads off to their daily activities. Around 1pm there is a break for lunch, which is eaten in the mess or from a pre-packed tiffin (a lunch box packed by the cooks). Around 4:30pm there is an optional chai break to space out the afternoon, and then finally from 8 or 9pm onwards we all eat dinner together in the mess or on the back patio if it’s cool enough.

Between these routine meals we interns have been receiving orientation sessions for each of SPS’s many programs. On Thursday we were given a thorough tour of the Kendra then we met with two of the founders and talked about the origins of SPS, which began over two decades ago. On Friday we finally ventured off the Kendra for the first time to visit a few nearby project sites in the neighboring village of Neemkheda to learn more about SPS’s watershed, agriculture, poultry, and clothing company programs. I have included my notebook entry about our visits below; feel free to read/skim it or simply look at the pictures attached on the photostream link (no promises on writing quality though, I copied it straight from my notebook!).

Overall the adjustment to life in India has been one of ups and downs. The sweltering days (it was 113 degrees the day we landed in Indore) are not something to be taken lightly; I don’t think I’ve stopped sweating since I’ve arrived! Additionally, learning to take bucket showers, dealing with frequent power outages and fickle wifi, and finding baby lizards just about everywhere are definitely taking some getting used to. On the other hand, eating amazing homemade Indian food three times a day (+ afternoon chai breaks!), wearing only super comfortable Indian clothing from Kumbaya, and getting to know the friendly, intelligent people who work for SPS have all been wonderful new experiences. Each day thus far has been chalk full of learning, both formally through our orientation sessions and informally as we chat over meals. I can’t wait to continue this learning process and start working on my project in the coming weeks! Until next time!

Also if you feel so inclined to see more pictures check out my photostream:

**Unfortunately due to spotty Internet this post has been delayed a few days from when I wrote it Saturday (5/21), so please ignore any date/time inconsistencies!


Friday 5/20 Site Visits:


  • We first visited the site of the first and largest dam SPS has helped to construct. The dam is currently almost empty as it hasn’t rained in months; however it will soon fill up when the monsoons arrive sometime next month. This dam was built in 2007 after almost 4 years of planning. Engineers helped to determine the most effective location for the dam within the entire catchment area. Ultimately the present location was chosen as it is close to a village called Neemkheda and is atop sandstone, which holds water adequately (as opposed to other rocks like dolomite which is under the downstream village) thus the dam can effectively recharge the groundwater in the area. However, although choosing the physical location and determining the best way to build the dam took time; the largest hurdle was determining how to properly allocate the costs and benefits of the dam.
  • It was decided that the villagers were to cover 10% of the costs of construction, thus the people had to decide who would pay what. Ultimately it was decided that the people living closest, thus benefiting the most would pay more and the people living further away would pay less. The people were able to pay in free labor, donation of materials, or cash. An even larger problem was what to do with the 7 families who lived on the area where the dam was proposed to be built. Luckily the people eventually agreed to be relocated to a nearby area. However, in the end the largest cost of the dam construction was relocating these families.
  • Once all of the planning was completed, the physical dam only took 45 days to build!
  • Before the dam was created most people in the area were only able to grow one crop per year as they only had adequate water during the monsoon. Now, with the added groundwater that the dam provides, essentially all the people in the area are able to grow at least two crops per year; a huge increase in productivity and income! In measurable terms the dam has increased the land able to support a second crop by 800%.


  • After visiting the dam we toured around the attached poultry and agriculture area. This areas is used as a trial/demonstration/teaching grounds to try new crops and teach the people of the area more about integrated agriculture. There are two chicken coops where chicks are raised until they are of size to be sold in the market. The coops serve as a teaching facility to show others that raising chickens can be a successful and practical income generating activity. The coop shed, equipment, feed, and chicks have been grouped into a loan product for Self Help Group members for $14,000 rupees (~$210); a very reasonable rate.
  • Beyond the coops, the area has a nursery that is currently growing plants to be distributed to local farmers for very cheap rates, new plant species planted as trials for the region, and a demonstration area to teach agriculture techniques such as:
    • planting herbs around trees to ensure income for the time before the tree fruits
    • planting easily degradable, nitrogen-fixing plants around the perimeter of a field to act as a barrier as well as to provide nutrients
    • how to create a slurry of cow dung, urine and water to make an easily absorbable natural fertilizer



  • We then visited a pomegranate farm run by three villagers who are brothers that is also used as an example of SPS’s promoted techniques. The farm has drip irrigation systems throughout that were purchased with the help of Self Help Group loans and government subsidies. The farm shows many of the techniques SPS teaches, such as the cow dung slurry process, in practice.
  • After the pomegranate farm we visited another trial field run by SPS associated farmers where we saw compost bins, and many different plants such as green lentils and eggplants being grown!



  • Finally we visited the original Kumbaya workshop. Kumbaya is the clothing and crafts brand run by SPS. It was started as a way to give women employment opportunities outside of the home. Sadly, soon after the workshop was first built it was burnt to the ground by the men of the village who felt threatened by having women leaving the home and working for the first time. Luckily, a few months after it was burnt down, the people of the village who realized the potential of the factory rebuilt it and it has been in operation ever since.
  • The workshop also functions as a training center. Any woman can apply to come in and receive 3 months of free training. After the three months are over she can either decide to stay and work for the brand and receive additional training, or leave and hopefully work from home with her new skills. The center currently employs 35 women whom are each guaranteed at least 300 days of work per year. The women are paid for each piece they produce; at a rate decided by the women themselves. Unfortunately due to space capacity Kumbaya cannot take every single woman who wants to learn, thus they have a simple application process in which they determine who needs it most. Thus, first priority is given to people with disabilities who could not work in the fields, second is given to women who are in households that have no other source of income generation, and third is given to women who show a lot of desire and interest. Kumbaya products are sold in shops all over India as well as internationally. One of the first large orders actually went to a shop in Los Angeles, USA!



About Geneva Gondak

I am a rising junior in the College of Arts & Sciences majoring in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Policy & Application. This summer I will be interning at Samaj Pragati Sahayog in Bagli, Madhya Pradesh.