Monday, 16 November 2015

4 Curries and No Toilets!

‘It’s a different world’, I said. ‘No it isn’t’, said Tim, ‘It’s the same world – we are One World.’

Now I am back in a manse that has no less than 4 toilets, I am reflecting on my visit to Jharkhand, in India, where only 20% of people have access to a toilet of any kind!

Life for women is particularly difficult. I saw men relieving themselves by the side of the road and squatting in fields, but the women are only allowed to go out of the house to use the fields as a toilet first thing in the morning, and after dark at night. Not only do they have to train themselves not to go to the toilet during the day, but going into the fields in the dark leaves them vulnerable to sexual assault.  Sorry - too much information – but toilets loom large when you haven’t got them!!

I flew to Ranchi with Tim Baker, from All We Can, to see the work of the Srijan Foundation. All We Can is supporting a project to empower women among the ‘Scheduled Tribes’, who rate even lower than the Dalits.  One of the ways women are being supported is through Self-Help Groups (SHGs), and I met some of the women from the SHGs who were standing for local elections.  It is fascinating to discover that men are interested in large projects like road building, while women are interested in more community based projects, like – you guessed it – toilets!

Other issues the women were concerned about were child marriage, gender violence, growing alcoholism, and education for girls.
In one village I helped prepare a ‘feast’, and stirred the pan of curry on a clay stove, with my eyes stinging from the wood smoke.  

Curry, usually vegetarian, as meat is not available to the poor, was definitely the staple diet, and on one day I actually had four curries, including curry for breakfast!

Many of the families are dependent on illegal coal mining to feed themselves, and one of my most abiding, and haunting, images will be the cycle pushers – men with vests blackened with sweat and coal, trousers pulled above the knee, straining every sinew as they push cycles laden with 10-20 bags of coal to sell in Ranchi, a journey of 40km which takes them a day and a half.  The only solution is to develop alternative sources of income, and Srijan is helping women, through the SHGs, to set up co-operative goateries, piggeries, poultry and vegetable growing.

Reducing women’s drudgery is another aim, and I was delighted to see simple tools that really make a difference to women’s lives and well-being.  The women laughed at me when I couldn’t work out how to use a corn-on-the-cob stripper.  They showed me how quickly this simple tool worked, and pointed to their thumbs and forefingers, indicating how painful it was to do this work by hand.   
I have been so privileged to experience something of the lives of women whose opportunities and prospects are so incredibly different to mine.  It was saddening to know that for them, life outside the village is an unattainable dream, but moving to see that for their daughters, thanks to All We Can, there is real hope of change.

I have so much more to tell you – you will have to ask me to come and talk about it!

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