Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Inventive solutions

After I wrote yesterday, we spent the afternoon going to another village where there is to be an EWC and after that we re-visited the lady in Ranipet who set up her own school for children with learning difficulties . Over here, it is difficult to listen to, but they still call it mental retardation, or MR. It is a strange thing, because ultimately they are just words, but they sound very hard and unyielding to me; however, a more progressive, aware and experienced woman would be hard to find than Mrs Catherine, who, as you may remember from my visit in January http://belons.blogspot.com/2010/01/plump-delicious-models.html set the school up as a result of there being no help available at all for her son who developed developmental arrest after meningitis. She knows more about MR/LD than most people and has an exemplary attitude towards it and as such it softens the blow, but it still takes some getting used to. I will fill you in about that trip in a later post, but first news of the other EWCs.

At the beginning of the afternoon at Rajapuram, we held a village meeting to discuss the finer points of the 4th EWC. It is a very poor village and the local community requested that an EWC be started. During an earlier meeting, some interns performed social mapping with the villagers and identified 40 extremely disadvantaged elderly people. Unfortunately, this is not a village with a RUHSA building, but interestingly, there is a building that the locals are offering free to enable the centre to run. It's capacity is only 20 so the group of possible participants had to be further divided into poor and very poor. No-one in the village wanted to exclude anyone whom they identified, but as the constraints dictated, eventually they whittled the group down to 20. Another complication is that there are two SHGs in the village and they both want to run the centre. In addition, where were the women going to cook the food as the volunteered room was just that, a room, with nothing else. Today was simply supposed to be a meeting to finalise the details and decide which of the groups should be the ones to run it.

As we are in India and therefore used to expecting the unepected, the meeting took an interesting turn. Neither SHG wanted to give up the chance to run the centre and no-one wanted to prevent 20 people from attending. Is there a place big enough for 40 in the village? I asked. No. The undulating chat rolled backwards and forwards between the RUHSA staff and the villagers. Where will they cook? I wondered. It transpired that an unusual solution was evolving through the discussion. There was no single room big enough, but the villagers offered not one, not two, not three but four rooms for the project. 2 rooms for the participants and 2 kitchens to do the cooking, enabling 2 parallel centres to start, meaning that no-one need be left out and both SHGs are able to provide the service. The most gripping part of the whole meeting was when Mathew told me that the reason the SHGs were so keen to start an EWC was that their community had been asking them what they were contributing to the community. Self help groups, which are a well-established, government recognised scheme to empower women and enable them to form small businesses are perceived by the community as an asset. Perhaps, they are considered to be "lucky" and therefore expected to give something back. I don't know whether this village is unusual in this; interestingly, it is a predominantly Christian village and therefore there may be different cultural expectations, but none-the-less, in all the areas we have worked in, the SHGs have all been keen to come forward to run the centres, but I attributed that to the financial benefits, but it would appear that there may be something more subtle at play. What an amazing mobilisation of resources and what a way to deliver community welfare.

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