Thursday, September 12, 2013

CRY UW Team in India - Project Visit Testimonies

“Before the trip, I knew that CRY India provides support to NGOs that work with children. This weekend, I truly learned the nature of that support. It seems that CRY looks for NGOs that harness three major forces: knowledge, of a child’s universal rights; solidarity, of a community so that many voices are empowered and not just one; and perseverance, to work tirelessly over the several years it takes to effect change. An NGO, with the personal and monetary support from CRY, injects these forces into a community like a vaccine to treat the diseases of injustice and dejected attitudes passed down through generations. As a Maharashtrian by background, I am proud to have witnessed the incredible strength in the people of this state to end a vicious cycle and help children reach their full potentials."
~Ashwin Karnik, University of Washington, Fourth-Year

“Volunteering for CRY at the University of Washington and reading all about CRY has always been such an amazing experience. However, we never truly understand how CRY works and where our efforts go. Being able to come to Latur and visit these villages has been such an eye-opening experience in understanding how CRY and KMVAGVS work to make such a difference in the lives of so many people. Despite growing up with little to no opportunities, these children have been given the chance to pursue their hopes and dreams through the intervention of KMVAGVS, and it is amazing to see how much of an impact this has had on their outlook on life. These children have been through so much, yet they never fail to have a smile on their face. It was wonderful to be able to experience their passion and enthusiasm for education and fighting for their rights and see how that passion continues to grow no matter what challenges they face.”
~Shireen Chawla, University of Washington Alum, B.A. Psychology

CRY UW Team in India - Latur Day 2

Saturday, September 7th - Latur, Day 2

Today’s focus was more on urban poverty projects (slums) that KMVAGVS supports.  The primary purpose of visiting the first slum was to focus on the poor conditions of the “anganwadi.” An anganwadi is a mid-day program meant to provide nourishment to children ages 0-6. Basic nutrients are given through bananas, lapsa (porridge), and occasionally eggs. This anganwadi was less than 50 square feet but was meant to hold over 20 children. Built with clay, cow dung, and bricks, this anganwadi was in poor condition due to seasonal rains (monsoons). Thanks to the intervention of KMVAGVS, the people of the slum have been empowered to stand up for their rights and have been sanctioned to build a new, more functional anganwadi.

At the next slum we visited, we were invited into the home of a member of the women’s empowerment group. The women explained to us the empty promises that political leaders make to them every year in hopes of securing their votes for the elections. Fortunately, this community was able to stand together to fight for its rights. So far they attained a block of toilets, some up-to-code housing units, and a water drainage system. They are fighting for much more so that their community can thrive, not just survive.
CRY UW with children of an anganwadi

We were then taken to meet the children’s group as they returned home from school. We learned that their strategies were tailored to their unique urban situation. A people forced to move here due to flooding in their village, they illegally occupy prime real estate that the government can whimsically take away from them at any moment. The children have rallied in the busy streets not only to spread awareness of their destitution to political leaders but also to gain visibility to other denizens of urban Latur, breaking down social barriers.

The day concluded with a surprise visit to a collective farming unit called Arnjkheda. This farming unit is a testament to the success of KMVAGVS’s interventions. We were welcomed to the village with a homegrown lunch from the people’s farm, as they were proud to share their accomplishments with us. After a yummy meal, the villagers described their struggle against the upper caste, who wanted to maintain their superiority over the farmers. The villagers, backed by KMVAGV, wanted to end this fight that had been going on for many generations so that their children would not have to continue facing the same struggles and instead focus on education. In fact, while the elders of the village remained in the farm to work for a living, their children were sent to a boarding school where their education can continue. KMVAGV has since stopped directly supporting Arnjkheda because of the farm’s self-reliance and sustainability as well as the fulfillment of the promise to their children.

All six of us had our own words to say about the visit to KMVAGVS and its projects. Tomorrow, we will share some of our quotes with you!

To learn more about KMVAGVS, visit the following links:

Monday, September 9, 2013

CRY UW India Trip 2013

Our CRY America University of Washington Action Center is currently in India and volunteering their time with CRY. Below is a summary of their first few days. Please take a moment to learn about their experience.

Wednesday, September 4th - Orientation Day

Today was our first official day with CRY India where we gained a complete overview of the objectives of the organization. At the orientation, we were introduced to one partner organization called Kalapandhari Magas Vargiya and Adivasi Gramin Vikas Sanstha (KMVAGVS), whose projects we would be visiting for the next two days in the villages of Latur.  KMVAGVS is an NGO that gained the support of CRY India in 1999 with its original purpose being to “Ensure Child Rights through Women’s Empowerment in the district of Latur near the border of Maharashtra.

September 5th-6th - Latur, Day 1

We travelled overnight by train and arrived early morning in an urban area of Latur. Today we visited the office of KMVAGVS, where we were greeted with warm hearts and warm chai by the staff and founder/leader B.P. Suryavanshi. Suryavanshi explained to us the motivation behind his organization. Despite his underprivileged childhood, he overcame the barriers ubiquitous to his situation and devoted his life to improving the prospects for impoverished children.

Our first visit of the day was to the local Primary Health Center (PHC) where we became acquainted with the lack of sanitation, space, staff, and equipment. Through our conversation with the only doctor serving the PHC, we saw that despite the many challenges of serving over 50 patients each day, he maintains optimism in this destitute situation. This PHC is supposed to provide vaccinations and a few other services, some of which are virtually discontinued due to insufficient support from the government. 

                                                      Bhalghat meeting among students in grades 6-10, led by Meena of KMVAGVS

Our second visit of the day took us through miles of winding, unpaved roads. After travelling through sugar cane fields for nearly an hour, we arrived at a primary school in a remote village. Despite being complete strangers, we were greeted enthusiastically by the students, ranging from grades 1 to 4. The school children were gracious enough to invite us to a session of their “Bhalghat” group. A Bhalghat meeting is a group of students who convene periodically to discuss how they can exercise their right to demand justice from the government in order to further overcome the obstacles they face.

The meeting was followed by a formal welcoming by the women leaders of the Banjaram tribe. We discussed the issues they faced, including domestic violence, social ostracism, and child labor. The community elders, musical artist volunteering for KMVAGVS, and the children performed several songs and skits portraying their triumphs over child-related injustices. By the end of the evening, we felt that the experience gave us an idea of how long it takes for an NGO (KMVAGVS) and a community in need to build a trusting relationship with each other, only after which real change can take place. This visit also clarified for us how the support from the partner CRY India empowers NGOs and communities to take action.