Friday, July 29, 2011

The RUHSA effect

It is so lovely to be back. RUHSA is the equivalent of a little place in the country for me. Unfortunately, its a little place in another country so its not possible to nip here for the odd weekend, but whenever I imagine solitude and peace to achieve clear thinking away from the hustle & bustle of normality, I imagine sitting in this dear, bare room, with the throaty bird calls and constant chattering of insects embalming my ears. Ironically, it is less quiet than the equally gorgeous place I live normally, but of course there is only one room to manage, no washing up and no daily minutiae to interrupt continuity of thought.
Arriving late wednesday evening after a brief and monsoony visit to the swimming pool, Immanuel’s replacement, Vinodh, greeted me. Immanuel, sadly & unexpectedly died last September. Unexpectedly, because although he was almost moribund from obesity, he did not have any obvious, pressing health issues, but from all accounts, a minor illness became overwhelmingly difficult for his poor beleaguered body to deal with and his heart gave out. His death left a huge hole in RUHSA’s fabric, both literally and figuratively. He had been here since the very beginning and knew each contour of the warp & weft of RUHSA. He was the oil that greased the machinery. We had our problems, there’s no doubt. Having spent so much time here on my first visit, my deferential guest status transformed into something more meaningful and I think he found me intrusive and tricky & I found him to be controlling and sometimes obstructive. I had several run ins with his henchmen who could make my life quite difficult, but Immanuel was essentially a good and kind man, who’s entire life was RUHSA and he served RUHSA with his whole heart and he was loved my many. His passing was a sad, sad time for RUHSA.
His replacement was only appointed 3 weeks ago and has the look of someone who is not quite sure of the magnitude of the mouthful he has bitten off, but he is very pleasant and seems to have a quiet certainty about him, which will serve him well in his new role. His wife & daughter are an unusual accessory in this post, but charming non the less. He is very young and as Rita said, will grow in the job. Personally, I think it is an incredibly exciting position to have, RUHSA is in a new ascendancy and has the potential to become an extraordinary place once again after its years in the wilderness.
Yesterday, in between the frequent conversations about how I managed to reduce so so much (UK medicine? Special diet? - more of those conversations later, they deserve a chapter of their own) there was much to take in since my last visit. Already conversations about how to further develop the elderly welfare centres have been animated and voluble. At the moment there are 100 beneficiaries, in four different centres all of which have slightly different models, having evolved each time a new one was set up. I thought there were going to be two in one village but in fact they have merged and there is one centre with 40 participants instead of the more usual 25. Similarly, there is a joint centre with Bishopstown kindergarten to which 10 attend. By the way THE WELL HAS BEEN DUG (only last week, but borewell in place nonetheless. Water was reached at 265m) Last year the monsoon was a good one after 4 years of drought so no water had to be bought for the whole of last year, and hopefully, this year the monsoon will keep the water table topped up, easing up the pressures of increasing global food prices for the local villagers. 
It looks like we are in the process of developing a fully sustainable elderly care model, which, after 5 years, is thrilling. I learnt some fascinating local politics yesterday. It seems that there is no means of recouping money lost to the poor. Local law states that if a poor person owes money from a government or NGO loan, there is no legal method of getting the money back. Which is great for those with so little, but of course, makes creating a dialogue with trustworthy partners a little harder if there are only carrots & no sticks on the table. However, RUHSAs reputation & relationship with the local community is so highly valued that engagement with schemes is high and honesty - in some form - prevails. The clearest example being when the goats went missing presumed consumed at the second elderly centre, Rita felt strongly that they ought to have some responsibility for this “stealing” although one can see that if you are so deprived a free goat is manna from heaven, but of course it comes attached to a longer term benefit. Since she said that they ought to pay for the goats, money in small amounts to recoup that loss has come steadily trickling in from every single person. Not a huge flood, but a clear intent to redress the balance. One can argue that when people have so little, asking for repayment is unfair, however, I agree with Rita, that the most important commodity for both the present and the future, which is more than a single goat can offer, is a trusting relationship and this needs to be preciously guarded. It naturally fits right in with my fundamental philosophy which is that anything is possible, just don’t take the piss. This has implications for setting up any project, because it implies that the most important fundamental is the relationship, but how can you start with a relationship, something which takes the longest time to develop. It completely undermines any attempts to develop system introduction of projects, because the foundation of those projects, if not evolved from existing relationships, will be based on sand not rock. Of course, the one person I would love to discuss this with is dad. He’d find it so interesting.

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