Newsletter - November, 2011 - Part 1

Dear Friends,

Greetings from MGVS!

It is a joy, as it is always, to write to you and share news of progress here at MGVS. Your continued support has changed the lives of so many more marginalized families living in remote communities of Garhwal, this year, and we have included a few of the highlights in this newsletter for you.

This past year we suffered the loss of our mentor, MGVS Founder, Rev. R. C. Alter, when he passed away on the 19th of June. The foundation Rev. Alter laid for helping people with respect and understanding has shaped our work as well as our lives. We are so blessed to have been part of the vision and life of such a wonderful man and friend. We will always miss him. The honor of upholding Rev. Alter’s sincere aim to uplift those in need, in these parts of the Himalayas, together with all of you, is one that I find difficult to put into words.

If you are interested in learning more about our sustainable development program, please don’t hesitate to contact us. It will be our pleasure to send you a copy of our Annual Report and answer any questions. Please take note of our new address, as the MGVS Office has also moved this year, (after seventeen years!):
    Mussoorie Gramin Vikas Samiti,
    Springview, Landour,
    Mussoorie - 248179,
    Uttarakhand, India.

Our phone number and e-mail address remain the same:
    Ph: 0135-263-1437
    e-mail: mgvs1@vsnl.com

The MGVS Team joins me in wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

With kind regards,

Surender Singh
Coordinator, MGVS


Pravesh (l) and Beemal (r) of Suwakholi
at Kaplani School - Oct/11
On April 21st, 2010, Beemal Gaud of Village Suwakholi joined Kaplani School, along with his friend and interpreter, Pravesh Negi. Pravesh has been in school with Bimal since Kindergarten, making it possible for Beemal to study in seventh grade this year through the use of a sign language the two boys created in early childhood. By November 2010, Kaplani School staff arranged visits to three government disability camps and the Doon Hospital for Beemal, so that his family is now receiving a government pension of Rs. 300/- per month. Beemal’s academic performance is average, but he is able to read and write in both English and Hindi.

MGVS efforts to understand and improve the quality of life of disabled persons are also underway in the Naugun Patti area. Beginning in April, 2010, a total of sixty-six families with disabled persons, across fourteen villages, were interviewed at least twice. In December, 2010, MGVS Community Organizer, Dhirendra Rawat, and MGVS Health Staff, Raj Kumar, attended a workshop on Disability, organized by the Community Health Global Network - Himalayan Cluster, in Dehradun, where they had an opportunity to meet and share ideas and information with 40 other NGOs of Uttarakhand. Following the workshop, Dhirendra and Raj shared what they had learned about disability, govt. and non-govt. schemes with the rest of the MGVS team. From February to September of this year, the MGVS Staff then shared, and explained the contents of, a copy of a small information booklet (in Hindi), which MGVS had obtained from the Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun, with each of these sixty-six families, so that they are now aware of national as well as local government and some non-government schemes/services available to them. Follow-ups with each family are ongoing.


Village Gaer: Salochna Devi feeds her chickens - May/11
There are four people in the Das family: Chaepku Das and his wife Kanta Devi live together in Village Bayaar with their younger son who is in school; their elder son has left the valley in search of work. The Das family lives in a two room house with electricity, but no running water. MGVS had been working with Chaepku Das’ family to ensure that their documents are in order so that the family may access relevant govt. benefits for poor families, but this is not enough keep the family out of debt. So, Chaepku Das decided to start a poultry unit with MGVS  assistance in July, 2010 after he had attended an MGVS training, along with nine other poor farmers, on how to run a small scale  poultry business in June 2010. Chaepku and Kanta started out with 22 chicks. Four chicks died, but from the eighteen that survived, the family was able to sell 9 chickens and earn Rs. 1800/-. Chaepku and his wife then decided to put their earnings into three goats at Rs. 5500/-, and with Rs. 1000/- as a down payment they were able to arrange the purchase. Today the family is raising 9 chickens and their goats have multiplied to eight!      

Bhim Das and Salochna Devi have four small children, and they too live in a two room house, in Village Gaer. They decided to start a poultry unit with MGVS assistance in July, 2010, with 27 chicks. Seven chicks died, and from the twenty that survived, the family sold 11 chickens and earned Rs. 3025/-. Bhim Das was encouraged by the success of the business and so on November 2nd, 2010, he purchased 29 more chicks through a government scheme, at Rs. 15/- each. He  adjusted space for the new  chicks  in  the   poultry  house MGVS had helped him build, by fitting in wooden planksto make another storey: the chicks were placed above. In July, 2011 the business earned Rs. 6,200/-. Currently, Bhim Das is working on building another chicken house, and his family is eating the eggs laid by four hens. Salochna and Bhim have opened savings accounts for each of their children and they are depositing what they can each month. MGVS has also ensured that Mr. Bhim Das is accessing his right to 100 days employment through the MANREGA scheme. The poultry business is ideal for their family, says Salochna, who needs to stay close to home with the children when her husband is away at work.


Rev. Robert C. Alter
On Sunday morning, June 19th, 2011, MGVS Founder, Rev. Robert Alter, passed away in his sleep. Please join us in prayer for his wife, Mrs. Ellen Alter, and his children and grandchildren who have lost their loved one. A memorial service was held at St. Paul’s Church, Landour Cantt., in Mussoorie on 1st August 2011. 

MGVS is grateful for the moments we have had with Rev. Alter. He truly lived a full life, a life of meaning and giving, humility and such positive upliftment of the people around him. Villagers living in and around Mussoorie still remember Rev. Alter as “Paani Sahib” (Water Sahib) for the first MGVS project - the 3.5 km Patrani-Donk drinking water pipeline, completed under Rev. Alter’s leadership. The pipeline was laid with low-cost PVC pipes for   14   families  at  a  time   when   the   government refused to acknowledge that these families needed water  because their homes were so out of the way, until MGVS showed that it was possible to bring water to the area, in 1985. The pipeline has been repaired with GI pipes in many places since that time, and it continues to be functional today, with some of the original PVC piping intact.

During Rev. Alter’s fourteen years of leadership as Coordinator, he also implemented a holistic approach to development issues, including health, women self-help groups and women empowerment melas (fairs), organic (sustainable) farming and income generation and appropriate technology. He approached village problems, with the villagers, and the MGVS team, bringing about ever-innovative and effective results.

Rev. Alter is sure to live on in the family folklore of the rural people of this area, for many generations to come. The foundation he laid for helping people with respect and understanding has shaped our work and our lives. MGVS has been so blessed these past thirty years, to have been part of the life of such a wonderful man and friend. We will always miss him.

Rev. Alter’s Life and Achievements

1981 - MGVS is born: Rev. Robert Alter and CRSC friends
camp out together with villagers of
Chamasari to learn about village needs.
Rev. Alter was the youngest of four brothers. He was born in Srinagar, Kashmir in 1926 to American missionary parents, and he started living in a different part of the Himalayas, in Mussoorie, at age five. He graduated from Woodstock School in Mussoorie, in November, 1943, at the height of WWII. Rev. Alter managed to get passage on an American troop ship headed for the US  and  his  studies  continued  at  Westminster  College  in  new Wilmington, Pennsylvania in  July of  1944.

In 1948 Rev. Alter  returned to  Mussoorie where  he  married  Mrs. Ellen Alter,  who  was teaching English at  Woodstock  School  at  the  time,   and they  both  stayed  on to teach at the school until 1951. Rev. and Mrs. Alter then went to America for higher studies in 1952, where Rev. Alter attended Yale Divinity School, and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1955. From 1956-1965, Rev. and Mrs. Alter served in central Uttar Pradesh, where Rev. Alter started an economic development programme for village Christians. During this period, he also completed an M.A. in Rural Sociology from Cornell University in 1962.

Rev. Alter's book - "Water for Pabolee."
Cover shows Patrani-Donk pipeline
where it connects between the two villages.
Then, in 1966, Rev. Alter returned to Mussoorie once again when he was asked to be Business Manager at Woodstock School for one year. From 1968-1978, he also served the school as principal. Under his leadership, schooling Indian students was introduced.

In the Spring of 1981, Rev. and Mrs. Alter started working on an action outreach programme of the Christian Retreat and Study Centre, Rajpur Dehradun, which evolved into MGVS – Mussoorie Gramin Vikas Samiti (Mussoorie Village Development Society). Rev. Alter served MGVS as Coordinator for 14 years until 1995, when he retired to Wooster, Ohio, in the US. After his retirement he assisted MGVS with reporting, funding issues and visitor groups from time to time. In 2001, he completed Water for Pabolee, a book about his life and work with MGVS. He dedicated the book to the people of Chamasari and Kanda-Jhak; Chamasari was the first area in which MGVS worked.

Rev. Alter continued to visit MGVS and his home: Oakville, in Mussoorie, each year, up until a few months before his death. On April 26th, 2011, during his final visit, the City Board of Mussoorie honored Rev. Alter at his home in Mussoorie with an award for lifetime achievement. The citation included described the award as “honoring him for a life led with great dignity and selflessness, a life rich with God's grace and the blessings of nature - a life which has touched so many other lives, regardless of all man-made barriers of religion and caste and creed and [nationality] - truly. Bob Alter is a man of his time, a man of Mussoorie, a man of the universe.”

1985 - MGVS staff and villagers witness the fruit of the first MGVS endeavor: water in Patrani
Village. Rev. Alter explains the next developments of the Patrani-Donk drinking water
pipeline to the pradham (local village council chief) of the area.