Newsletter - December, 2012

December 17, 2012

Dear Friends,

Greetings from MGVS!

It is our great pleasure to share the news of progress of MGVS efforts out here in the Himalayas in North India with all of you. With the collaboration of your support, we have come a long way, and looking back even just this past year, we are deeply grateful to you for your help, which has made changes in the lives of marginalized persons of this area possible. We have provided some of the highlight stories of the year in this newsletter for you. 

The main area of our development project continues to focus on fourteen villages of the Naugun Valley, located in a remote part of Tehri Garhwal, while MGVS Donk Primary School and MGVS Kaplani High School are still running well on the outskirts of Mussoorie. If you would like to learn more about the details of any aspect of our work, please write to us at mgvs1@vsnl.com  We welcome you to visit us here in India, to share our work with you in person as well.

On behalf of the MGVS team of teachers, community workers and volunteers, I would like to let you know that your continued support, mean so much to us. Thank you for your interest in our work and your prayers of encouragement.

We, all of us here, wish all of you the very best for 2013!

Yours faithfully,

Surender Singh
MGVS Coordinator

Health Awareness in Action

 MGVS Health Social Worker, Raj Kumar assists Govt Auxiliary Nurse Midwife, Mamta Kaushal, during a Mother Child Health Care Day in Jamni Village, in explaining the importance of proper nutrition, hygiene, and immunization.
MGVS Community Health Workers arranged a total of sixteen Mother Child Health Care Day events and three Mother Child Festivals this past year to improve villager awareness about the benefits of immunization, nutrition and hygiene, and to celebrate improved child health. Regular immunization is taking place and superstitions are fading as a result. Understanding the connection between flies and illness is also on the rise and toilet construction is increasing. Consistent awareness follow-ups with the government health workers and midwives of the area have also helped them bring the mother mortality rate down from 7 in 14 villages per year for 2009, to zero for this year.

Networking Saves a Life 

Pushpa Devi at home
MGVS efforts to establish a sustainable network between the three govt. nurses (ANM), seven government-appointed village health workers (ASHA), fifteen village midwives, school teachers of eighteen schools, the one doctor at the public health centre (PHC), seven village council chiefs, and the emergency vehicles and jeep taxi drivers of the Naugun Patti (valley) area, have been ongoing for over two years now. It was this network that saved Pushpa Devi’s life. Her midwife, Chanda Devi, had referred Pushpa’s high risk delivery case (involving extreme anaemia) to ANM Kaushal in July 2011, when she noticed that Pushpa was suffering from extreme anaemia. Dai Chanda Devi vaguely remembered that symptoms of swelling during pregnancy were not good from the five-day Dai (midwife) Hygienic Deliveries Training in March 2011, which you may remember reading about in last year’s newsletter. So she decided to check with the Government Nurse. ANM Kaushal made subsequent visits to check on Pushpa in her village, Jamni. It was during one of these visits, that ANM Kaushal then arranged for emergency transportation through a combination of vehicles, including the MGVS jeep, and Pushpa was rushed to the Public Health Centre. Thankfully, there was then enough time to request a couple of young boys from Class Eleven and Twleve at the Inter College in Naag Raja Dhaar to donate blood that matched with Pushpa Devi’s blood type. Pushpa delivered her baby normally three days later on 7th August 2011 – a sister to her two and a half year old brother.  Pushpa was amazed at the effort put out to save her life, and she thanked everyone.

Women Working Together to Increase Income and Reduce Workloads

Sunderi Devi was elected preseident of the Women Farmers Organic Cooperative in April.
In November 2011, MGVS helped six Self-Help-Group (SHG) women farmers of Village Vikol get started on working together to make life easier through the use of a hand-powered rice threshing machine, which saved them time. The twenty-one women of the SHG also took an interest in learning about PSB (photosynthetic bacteria) and organic farming methods from MGVS. Soon, more women from the SHG worked together to prepare, and sell, 38/40 bottles of Rhododendron Squash at Rs. 5,300/-, after and MGVS squash-making training in March of 2012. Today, eleven of these women have formed a Women Farmers Organic Cooperative, with a little more help from MGVS.  At first the women farmer members had plans in April, 2012, to earn together through apricot oil extraction and masala mixing machines, and they worked out electricity costs, located raw materials, and they set up a centre, and a joint cauliflower and eggplant seed nursery for a start. They also held their own election. However, in November 2012, they are now working on a wheat grinding business, which the Co-op farmers have decided would be a more reliable business. The women farmers are connecting with the farmers of the area to collect grains from the harvests in the spring. If their plan works, it will be a win-win situation for all the farmers of the valley: their grains will be milled locally and the women farmers cooperative will do the marketing outside the valley for an income that would have otherwise fed a middleman. The eleven members of the Co-op continue to encourage the other women of their SHG and the rest of the valley to join them and they are looking into other food processing ventures.

Enabling Persons Challenged by a Disability

Kumari Saru of Village Pokhri
The MGVS Team has been working carefully with sixty-six persons challenged with disability and their families across fourteen villages of the Naugun Valley since 2010. Through many meetings with these families, collection of detailed data, connections made with other NGOs and government offices and camps in the area and in Dehradun, MGVS is beginning to help these families access pensions they are entitled to and in some cases changes in quality of life are taking place, through toilet construction and an effort to connect disabled persons with their communities. Kumari Saru of Village Pokhri is a young girl who belongs to a very poor Harijan family. Kumari Saru also has polio. She was able to attend PS Pokhri where she completed 5th Grade, but she could not make the 2.5 km mountainous walk to Gaer HS. Her education was therefore discontinued 7 years ago. She remembers her school days fondly, saying that although she could not play games with the other students, the teacher and students were very helpful to her. She also says that she is happy the “Mussoorie Sanstha” (MGVS) has found her in her village, so that she can be involved in learning again. Kumari Saru says that at first she felt very shy, but meetings with MGVS Staff have encouraged her, and now she would like to find a way to continue her studies: “You people have changed my thinking, and I feel hope to do something with my life,” she said to MGVS IGP Trainer Mrs. Shashi Joshi. Kumari Saru has recently starting participating in a stitching program organized by MGVS 7th February 2012 onwards, 6 days a week, in her home. Trainer Anil of Gaer visits three times a week and MGVS Staff visits her house the other three days. “I can now do hemming and make button holes, and I enjoy learning about stitching,” says Kumari Saru, “because one day I won’t be dependent on others. I will earn an income.”

Women Empowerment Fair

Pramukh, Mrs. Rajni Sajwaan speaks at the Women Empowerment Mela in May.
From April, 2011 to January, 2012, MGVS had assisted with holding many village meetings to organize an empowerment fair for women, with four pradhans (village council chiefs) and fifteen SHG (Self-Help-Group) officers, but progress was slow. Meetings are tricky things in the village setting, as everyone seems to have animals or farm work to tend to. It does not help that the villages of the Naugun Valley are so scattered. However, seven more meetings took place and a Mela (Fair) Committee was formed on 21/Mar/12 under the chairmanship of woman pradhan Mrs. Barna Devi, with 40 members: 27 women & 13 men from 11 villages of the area (3 out of 5 committee officers are women). Letterhead was also created and used to help arrange the event and local politicians were thereby also invited to what was in the end a grand success.

On the 20th of May, 2012, approximately one thousand villagers from the valley and the surrounding areas, attended the Women Empowerment Mela in the remote valley. Many families and schools participated. Government officers operated two stalls at the fair as well. Thauldhar Block Pramukh (Head Chief), Mrs. Rajni Sajwaan, was chief guest and the previous Pramukh, Mr. Jyot S. Bisht, attended the event as a special guest. The mela was the largest community event held in the valley til date. The community was encouraged to own the process all the way, and this may have been why all seven pradhans of the area jointly contributed Rs. 7,000/- toward financing the mela! Local Block officers were surprised at the organizational skills of the people of the Naugun Valley, and soon after the mela, the Veterinarian doctor for the area, finally made a visit to check on the animals in the villages and provide training on goat and livestock care, after multiple requests over two years.

Income Generation Projects Bring an End to Poverty

Sugam Das in his shop
In July, 2011, Sugam Das of Bayar was assisted by MGVS in starting up a Tailoring/Barber Income Generation Project (IGP) in centrally located Naag Raja Dhaar in the Naugun Valley as part of the IGP program for the poorest families that helped eight other families with goat businesses and one family with opening up a Drum-making Steel/Tin shop, this year. Sugam had lost his ability to earn when the shop keeper he was renting from, decided to “renovate” his shop, but then never allowed Sugam to return. With a little bit of social networking, MGVS was able to help Sugam start up his business again in a different location. MGVS also provided him with one pedal sewing machine, two stands, one board for cutting, a chair, barber accessories and one Interlock (Pico) Machine. As a result, from September 2011, to March, 2012, Sugam Das has earned at least Rs. 2000/- to Rs. 2500/- per month from barber work and tailoring school uniforms for the local schools etc. over and above the shop rent of Rs. 400/- per month. The first major changes he made to his lifestyle then came with the double-burner table-top gas stove he purchased and pipefitting he invested in to bring water from the village tap to his doorstep.

Natural Liquid Fertilizers are Doubling Yields

From April to September of 2011, natural Liquid Fertilizer and PSB (photo-snythetic bacteria) trainings were provided on five farms in Lalori, Ghaon Malla and Ghaon Talla villages in one agricultural pocket of the valley where pesticides and chemical fertilizers are also being used. PSB training and follow-ups were also provided in Village Vikol. A total of 32 girls, 85 women and 30 men participated in the trainings and follow-ups. A handful of villagers of the area took the training on as an experiment and continued to connect with MGVS right up to November 2011 with questions and reports on progress. The liquid fertilizer was made from cow-dung & cow urine, bitter grasses, walnut leaves and veggie peals etc. and water. Training on organic farming methods was also provided during farm demonstrations.

Liquid Fertilizer Training in Lalori Village provided by MGVS Coordinator
In July, 2011, the liquid fertilizer was ready in Lalori and it was used by six women farmers on their rice field: in November, 2011, Vimla Devi’s rice was of excellent quality with an increase of twice as much in production. Vimla Devi then prepared another batch of liquid fertilizer, and she continues to use it. Her son, Harish Kotari, has since become interested in growing organic Japanese Rice (similar to a local Garhwali rice) after witnessing the results of his mother’s efforts and hearing about the benefits of organic farming at the Women Empowerment Mela on 20/May/12 from MGVS and Special Guest, Block Pramukh, Mr. Jyot Singh Bisht. Mahavir S. Budan of Village Vikol claims that he has been farming for 10 years and that this year his potato production increased threefold after using PSB. Sunderi Devi, president of the Women Farmers Organic Co-op in Vikol, also used PSB on her rice and found an increase in production from 20 kg to 30 kg. Three other villagers in Vikol have also been using PSB as an effective spray against pests where needed.

Adolescent Total Health

Gender Training with 9th & 11th Class at Naag Raja Dhaar
From 21/Jul/11-22/Sept/11, a total of five participatory Q & A Reproductive Health & HIV/AIDS/STDs follow-up workshops were held in the two high schools and one Inter College: 243 adolescents (97 girls & 146 boys) participated. Discussion was encouraged. The MGVS Adolescent Total Health program focuses on the dynamic connection between the physical health of a teenage/pre-teen girl and boy and their emotional and social well-being. Therefore, MGVS also provided six Gender Training Workshops in the three schools above up to March 2012: 218 adolescent children (109 girls & 119 boys) took part. MGVS also provided opportunities to girls to increase family income this past year through beautician trainings, sewing and knitting centres, which may create income one day. In December, 2012, computer training has also started. These trainings are designed to increase a girl’s pride in herself. An interesting outcome of the gender and health workshops were questions related to determination of sex of the fetus. Students began to ask why the mother is blamed when a girl is born when she is not in control of the biology of fertilization. In February 2012, MGVS interviewed boys and girls of the area at random, and consistently found the boys were very serious in their responses about encouraging girls to study and that they have stopped teasing them. Instead they are helping them to study when they miss school.

Kaplani School Furthers Education Dreams 

Seven Kaplani School Graduates join MGVS scholarship programs for further studies
Ten more students of Kaplani School passed their final Board examinations this year in June (2012) making a total of forty-nine students who have acquired the Tenth Grade Certificate since 2008 when Kaplani School started teaching students up to Grade Ten. Sixteen of these students are studying at the university level now. In July, MGVS initiated a scholarship program for seven Kaplani  School   graduates,  who sincerely wanted  to  further  their  studies  but did  not  have  the financial  support  to  go on.  Four of these students are girls. Currently fift-nine students are enrolled at Kaplani School.

Kaplani School Gains Recognition 

In June, 2012, Kaplani School acquired permanent government recognition for classes up to the Eighth Grade, and MGVS has since applied for permanent government recognition for Classes Nine and Ten. A formal inspection of the school campus is also complete and the Chief Education Officer of Dehradun has sent his recommendation to the state office in Ramnagar for final approval. We are praying the process will be complete soon and that Kaplani School will then be able to provide our own students with transfer certificates. We are assuming that the Heidi Parker Memorial Building, which Mr. Robin Parker so generously gifted to the community, will help us to meet government criteria. Words cannot describe the hope Mr. Parker’s contribution has brought to Kaplani School students in this regard.

Class 7 students participate in English skits directed by students from N. Ireland
Grade Six students from Woodstock School and Kaplani School, who had engaged in a debate on climate change last year, joined together during the monsoon in a tree planting activity at Kaplani School.  However, the highlight of this year’s cross-cultural experience for the students at Kaplani School was a moving skit exercise, which Kaplani School students   from all grade levels performed in English, as part of a three-week long educational program with senior students from Northern Ireland through the NGO, Saphara. Finally, we’d like to share the happy news with you of a different kind of recognition: two students from Kaplani School: Aman Bisht in 6th Grade and Priyanka Bisht in 7th Grade, were selected last week, from within the local Raipur Block,  to compete at the Dehradun District level in a National Science & Poetry & Drawing Competition.