Sistri Village

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Sistri Village began in 2013, as an orphanage for mentally and physically challenged children. The Founder Karthik, had difficulties in the beginning getting the children admitted in Indian public schools. The ones who did were often ignored by both teachers and students therefore remained idle for days on end. The teachers lacked the patience or training for special education to give these children and the other children were often afraid of them.

Karthik didn’t like that his children were idle, he said that it created bad energy and aggressive behavior within the child.

Indian culture has a great believe in re-encartnation, a disability is a re-birth of a person cursed by the gods and therefore the family shuns or abandons these children. Some of these children get locked up by their families to hid them from the society.

He sought out vocational training, certificate courses and when they grew in adulthood, he worked with local businesses to get job opportunities for them. He faced many challenges one been local businesses in need of labor, would make up lame excuses to avoid hiring Sistri Village members. He then overcame this barrier by initially placing his students in missionary based institutions and slowly as the community began to see a transformation, they slowly accepted to hire some of his students.

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However, a majority of his students work and live at Sistri village. He began vegetable gardening as a form of Green Therapy for his members. He believes that nature heals and restores balance to mental retardation. Sistri Village members have continually shown improvement in their mental and physical state. Medical volunteers come over to offer free medical treatment and physiotherapy sessions for the members. Mental and Psychical challenges are very different from Celbral Parlsey, Autism, and Down Syndrome require accurate diagnosis to begin a succeful therapy treatment.

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Sistri Village members earn a living from their work on the farm, by selling fruits and vegetables. They also rear a lot animals for sustenance use and for sale. Sistri members all have daily chores but work out of their own volition, work is never forced on any member. Keeping busy through work is also a form of therapy that creates a meaningful routine that members can look forward to. Sistri members are contributing to the society instead of a hand out thus significantly increasing self-esteem. The Capacity Building efforts of Sistri Village have enabled its members to make a productive contribution to the society.

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In the past, they received donations from the government and organisations like Rotary International Club. They have managed to donate desk, chairs and help build part of the new administration block. However, for day to day running of the farm they rely on a mix of proceeds from farm sales and support from the Tamil Nadu government.

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Living a meaningful life that’s the mission of Sistri village and the stigma of disability has slowly been lifted within the community. Families are now more accepting and engaging with mentally and physically challenged members of their community.

Eternal Divers Presentation

 

cropped-logo-eternal.jpg Eternal Divers

https://eternaldivers.com/

Eternal Divers is based just outside of the Auroville on the Bay of Bengal. The first thing we noticed as we approached the location is the beauty of the house, Eternity. Situated on the beach and surrounded by bush and sand, Eternity features a large, open patio that connects to the home and office of Jonas and Tracy of Eternal Drivers. Zeus, their grand Rottweiler greeted us with kisses and just a little bit of fur and slobber. The dog lovers amongst us were thrilled to meet him but we get situated quickly and open our hearts and ears to listen to “Joni” explain the mission of Eternal Divers and the issues that his team, Tracy and he are passionate about.

When Eternal divers first began, it was just another diving company and they wondered how to set themselves apart and make better use of their skills, talents and location. How to be a sustainable business and spread environmental concern and solutions is paramount for them. Yoni discussed something that caught his attention called “ghost nets” which are extremely concerning. A ghost net is a fishing net that has (most likely) become caught on something which makes it impossible for a fisherman to free it or has escaped the control of the fisherman and can’t be reeled back on to the boat. It is left behind, unattended and unchecked forever as it collects, catches and kills without consideration. In addition to the ghost nets, sewage, overfishing and erosion are all concerns for Joni and Tracy and their team. Joni told us that there is a visible line of sewage and ocean water and to help us understand just how detrimental ghost nets can be, he explained that ghost nets cause about 20, 000 US dollars loss per year. Nearby, a ghost net was discovered that had over 30 sharks caught in it and had been floating for what an estimated three years. Of course, nothing in a ghost net can be salvaged for food. It is just a true waste of resources.

Eternal Divers was enraged at the finding and asked us to consider what a tragedy this is when we reflect on the beauty and majesty of all the sea has to offer us. The pointless loss of life and the pollution caused by humans is unacceptable. Naturally, Eternal Divers found a way to expand the teaching and education of scuba and diving to the fisherman and villagers themselves to help them understand how precious their resources were and how carelessness could hurt their livelihood more than they had ever comprehend before.

We learned from them that what they are most proud of and would really like to continue, improve upon and increase the reach of is the education of the fisherman and villagers. Too many humans take the sea and all she has to offer for granted. What lies below the surface… or more importantly what is being harmed and killed off below the surface is unknown until we dive down and see for ourselves. All the incredible colorful life, both flora and fauna, are unseen, under-appreciated and unprotected. It is only through the education and the collaboration with locals that behavior change can occur. Seeing the deep for oneself may be the only way for many to understand what is at risk.

Within global communications, behavior change is the most challenging of all the goals. Behavior change, as in this instance, little to no money can be gained through the education of the locals. In fact, Eternal Divers may find that time and money are lost in their efforts; however, they feel that what India and the earth may gain is far more important if the sea and its life can be preserved through this tactic. The benefits of behavior change are often long-term rewards that seem less important in the moment. For example, a fisherman may be more concerned with how much money he can earn this week, as opposed to the concept that he may not be able to earn any money in a few years if the fish are either overfished or die off because of pollution.

Eternal Divers needs funding to help support the education of the locals, a strategic creative plan and social media revamping/attention, as well as social media viral campaign. I felt very strongly about joining their team and helping. The ocean and all the life in it and that it gives is incredibly important to me. Choosing my NGO was tough when I had to compare Eternal Divers to Marc’s Café, where I had so many ideas from the start, but I’ve loved hearing all about it from my classmate, Beatrice.

 

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Mason listens to the Eternal Divers presentation.

UNESCO World Radio Day 2016

By Lory Martinez

Before coming to AUP, I worked as the news director of my college radio station. I spent my undergraduate years editing and producing radio stories and eventually interned in public radio. I had developed skills in radio production, which for many of my friends, was a useless dying medium. I was told countless times that people prefer visual media, and that maybe I should crossover to video since Youtube was taking over. While slightly true, I always felt like radio still had value.  

And when my friends back home started listening to Sarah Koeing’s “Serial,” I was excited to see  the resurgence in appreciation for audio production. But you see, appreciation for radio comes and goes with the changing times. Gone are the days where it is the first and only source of information in many households, at least in the United States.

However, in many developing countries, it is precisely this “dying medium” that reigns. And it is a medium with such versatility that it can be installed and broadcast just about anywhere.

Tamil Nadu is home to more community radio stations than any other state in India. And up until now there was no real protocol for radio to be used in times of disaster.

This year, the annual monsoon season caused unprecedented flooding in Chennai, Cuddalore and Pondicherry.

With the help of the government, a team of community radio organizers put together an emergency radio station to broadcast in FM to the Cuddalore district during and after the floods. They created an open helpline for people to send their information to the relief workers via the station.

I worked on a panel discussion on the success of this Emergency Radio Station for UNESCO World Radio Day 2016 featuring community members and government officials, who worked together to save lives during the floods. The theme this year is Radio in times of Emergency and Disaster, highlighting the use of radio as a lifesaving medium of communication during and after natural disasters all over the world.

You’ll find the track below. 

Listen Live all day February 13 on the World Radio Day 2016 site

And for those of you who can’t wait to listen to other amazing stories about radio to be broadcast around the world, check out the Soundcloud.

Special Thanks to the Auroville Radio Team and to the good folks over at the Cuddalore Station who helped make this happen.

Internal economy of Auroville

eco economy

Auroville attempts to distance itself from the conventional sense of economics by having implemented their own debit card system. The Aurocard, as it is named, serves to eliminate the use of cash in everyday life transactions. The philosophy behind it seems to be that by eliminating the use of cash and thereby reducing the negative visual/psychological impacts that money can bring. The way it works is that you visit Auroville’s financial center to charge your card whenever you need it. This money can then be used at any of the enterprises that are a part of Auroville. For the Indian people I am sure that this has it’s positive impacts. But for me as a foreigner visiting Auroville, the use of the Aurocard essentially just replaces the card I use back home.

To further distance itself from the conventional economy, Auroville has a few cooperatives to encourage a deeper sense of community. One is in the form of a sort of supermarket store where people who want to be a part of parallel/alternative economic system contributes a certain amount on a monthly. This enables members to shop entirely for free without ever seeing a price tag on anything. It works by encouraging and building on a recognition of needs before greeds/desires,. This means that people that are a part of the cooperation shifts their thinking more towards a needs based economy. People are also encouraged to contribute by donating excess products for others to consume.

It is an interesting social experiment of sorts where conventional consumerism is questioned by actually initiating reflection on the origin for the different products that comes from your own community. It makes one think more carefully about the production process and that you actually contribute your money towards your own community. This was a very interesting initiative that contrasts with the intense consumerism culture back at home where most people don’t think that much about the origin of the things that they buy. Perhaps there will bemore similar initiatives all over the world to bring us back to a point where we no longer over-use the resources which are far from contributing to a sustainable future.

//Joel Hellström

Linnaeus University Sweden

Creche Visits and Microfinance Insights – Welcome to My Days at PSDF!

Indra Muthu – Creche Teacher and Self-Help Group Leader

Indra Muthu – Creche Teacher and Self-Help Group Leader

I am nearing the end of my internship with The People’s Social Development Foundation (PSDF) and have had an incredible experience. PSDF works to improve the socio-economic welfare of the Dalit community and women in the rural and slum villages surrounding the city of Pondicherry through awareness programs, childcare support services, disaster relief, family counseling, micro-credit entrepreneurship programs, and vocational training.

My favorite day of my internship thus far included site visits to 3 of the crèches (daycare/ pre-primary education centers) that PSDF runs in coordination with the Government of India’s Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme. The Rajiv Ghandi National Crèche Scheme For the Children of Working Mothers was started by the Government of India (GOI) in recognition of the “failure  to meet the needs of working mothers” in need of “quality substitute care for their young children while they are at work.” As free, public education is not provided for Indian children until they reach 4 years of age, families unable to afford private daycare fees must care for their young children on their own until they can begin school. Most of the children’s parents work as day laborers in factories, and while this provides generally consistent work, wages are very low, between 80-100 rupees day (approx. $1.30-1.62), and no benefits are provided. If both parents are able to bring in these wages consistently, the family can cover its basic shelter, food and clothing costs, but face difficulty any time a large or unexpected expense comes up, such as school tuition or sickness. Mothers who have to take care of children are unable to work at the factories as they provide no childcare services, thus imposing a great amount of financial stress on these families. Even if the child remains at home with their mother or another relative, it is rare for them to receive the kind of educational attention provided at the crèches, as many families are illiterate and/or do not speak English. Children thus enter school with little prior experience in reading or educational activity, making it easy for them to fall behind quickly.

I headed out to the crèches in the hopes of gathering lots of information and individual stories about the children in the crèches in order to assist my grant-writing and fundraising for PSDF and was able to gather quite a bit of good material even if it wasn’t what I was expecting!_MG_3322

I did not anticipate that so many of the crèche teachers would be involved in or lead PSDF Micro-Credit Self Help Groups (SHGs) as well as teach in the crèches. I was struck by how both of the women that I interviewed more intensively really focused in on the social/non-economic impact of the SHGs and microfinance plans. I kept pushing questions about how/if microfinance had raised their living standards and what kind of income micro businesses generated in relation to other jobs – but after awhile my translator Segar laughingly told me that this topic didn’t seem to be what they were most interested in. Instead, the women kept telling him about the support system that the SHG had created for them.

Standing with Creche Teachers who are also SHG Members

Standing with Creche Teachers who are also SHG Members

Instead of simply grouping together in order to be able to have access to loans, PSDF requires its SHGs to save on their own through monthly contributions (usually 50-100 rupees) by each member. The women talked about how having this pool of savings took away their fear that even a small misfortune, such as a family member falling ill, could wreak havoc on their family financially. All of the women understand that misfortune could hit anyone of them, and thus know that even if their savings are going to help someone else in the immediate term, in the long term it is also providing security for them. Furthermore, the women told me about the strong bond that the SHG creates. For example, one told how in her group they are “each other’s biggest cheerleaders” and that if one woman opens a microbusiness, the group all comes on the first day to be her first customers. They then make sure to wear/show the products they bought around the village and surrounding villages, as a form of free advertising by word of mouth. The sari she was wearing that day was made by a member of her SHG, and she said that she drops that fact into conversation as much as possible to get the word out. Furthermore, through the education and awareness programs that PSDF conducts each month with the SHGs, the women bond even more by talking about issues that are often taboo, such as menstruation, domestic violence, dowry issues, and child abuse. The women see that they are not alone in their problems and can brainstorm ways to help each other or encourage each other to bring large issues to the Family Counseling Center at PSDF.

Listening to the children sing and recite in English - very impressive for only 1-3 years old!

Listening to the children sing and recite in English – very impressive for only 1-3 years old!

I did not expect that my main takeaway from these visits would be learning so much about how microfinance participants view the value of the assistance that microfinance provides them! It is a good lesson for me that while economic empowerment and a raising of one’s monetary standard is important in the context of impoverished peoples, “non-economic” empowerment is also extremely important and perhaps even more important to some, as these women indicated. This provides an important counter to the connotation that often comes with the term “non-economic empowerment” in the development community that denotes that this is somehow a lesser achievement than economic empowerment. I’m thankful that the women resisted the way my line of questioning/interviewing was going and instead shared what they really cared about – it’s difficult to be sensitive to that on my own when going through a translator, so I feel lucky to have gained this insight despite my preconceived notions about how microfinance worked. In the words of Radna Gandhi Madhi, a PSDF Self-Help Group Leader and Crèche Volunteer Helper, “Microfinance goes beyond improving one’s economic position, for me it is even more about the social effect of coming together.”

If you are interested in learning more about PSDF’s Crèche Program and how you can help them, please click here to be taken to their website. PSDF is currently conducting a 1 month “Crèche for Success” fundraiser to raise money to reopen 5 crèches that have been closed in the past 2 years due to lack of funds, leaving 125 children without free care and education during the day. $14 and 5 minutes of your time is all it takes to cover 2 children’s basic educational costs for an entire year! Thanks in advance for your interest and generosity!!

Anna Wiersma – American University of Paris

Investigating the Impact of Microfinance and Social Enterprises in Auroville

As a student whose primary interests lie in economic and social policy in the developing world, it isn’t too surprising that microfinance has captured my interest, just as it captured the interest of the development community worldwide. Yet, an increasing body of research finds little evidence that microfinance actually helps to lift its recipients out of poverty. Aneel Karnani’s article “Microfinance Misses Its Mark” provides a helpful example to help explain where scholars see microfinance falling short:

“Consider these two alternative scenarios: (1) A microfinancier lends $200 to each of 500 women so that each can buy a sewing machine and set up her own sewing microenterprise, or (2) a traditional financier lends $100,000 to one savvy entrepreneur and helps her set up a garment manufacturing business that employs 500 people. In the first case, the women must make enough money to pay off their usually high-interest loans while competing with each other in exactly the same market niche. Meanwhile the garment manufacturing business can exploit economies of scale and use modern manufacturing processes and organizational techniques to enrich not only its owners, but also its workers.”

Thus, this type of critique leads scholars to see microfinance as a tool that elevates the standard of living of those in poverty, without necessarily drawing them out of poverty, by giving them access to credit that they would not be able to obtain otherwise, due to their lack of collateral and the small loan amounts. Yet, the very small scale of these micro-funded activities is not conducive to actual poverty alleviation; instead, creation of stable jobs is necessary.

Therefore, I was particularly interested in seeing microfinance in action in Auroville, and have been presented with multiple opportunities to do so over the past 10 days. In our visits to different microfinance and social enterprise organizations in and around Auroville, I was fascinated to see this critique being embraced in innovative ways.

WellPaper doesn’t simply form groups of women to receive loans, it provides a structured training in the making of high quality products from recycled materials. Instead of sending the women out to create their own individual crafting enterprises, WellPaper acts as a collective buyer for the women, who can work individually or in teams to fill the orders that WellPaper receives. This provides reasonably steady employment for the women, though there are busy and slow order periods, and allows WellPaper to sell and market its products all over India and abroad.

The Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG) has touched the lives of over 4000 women through microloans and women’s groups and, while continuing to expand their microcredit programs, is investing more and more efforts in opening business lines that provide stable jobs that build on the skills that their loan recipients have acquired. They now have lines selling environmentally friendly feminine protection, clothing and jewelry all over India. Thus enterprise development is building upon initial microfinance and education efforts.

Naturellement goes even farther than providing stable jobs; indeed, its founder argues that this is not enough, and that educating her employees on personal finance and providing a community in which the women can discuss issues such as domestic violence is also necessary.

The People’s Social Development Foundation (PSDF) does focus on self-employment micro-enterprises, and the effects of this do indeed seem to tend more towards “softening the blow” of poverty rather than alleviating it. However, this is not to say that this is not useful. PSDF’s microfinance efforts have made great gains in freeing families from crippling debt to local moneylenders and empowering women in non-economic ways, through providing counseling and social forums to discuss domestic violence and women’s political and communal leadership.

PSDF conducts awareness programs and group counseling in the 47 villages that it works in, as well as providing microloans.

PSDF conducts awareness programs and group counseling in the 47 villages that it works in, as well as providing microloans.

Thus, while it is important to take critiques of microfinance into account, criticizing microfinance’s ability to alleviate poverty does not mean that microfinance is a completely ineffective tool. Opening large enterprises that provide stable jobs is not always feasible in the short-term, especially in rural areas that are not attractive to investors due to a lack of skilled workers.
Indeed, both AVAG and PSDF note that, while the microfinance approach may not pull its recipients out of poverty, when coupled with education initiatives, it provides a basis for further quality of life improvement in future generations and a stronger foundation for present and future skills acquisition, thus creating a more attractive environment for larger, traditional investors in the future. These organizations see less children being taken out of school to work and less interest and trust in financing from moneylenders.

Auroville has thus demonstrated to me how both microfinance and enterprise building can be used as a package to empower and alleviate the poverty of developing communities. There is rarely a true “silver bullet” in development; rather, development practitioners need to draw from a toolkit of multiple tools, depending on the specific situation at hand. While the Auroville context, from my observations, provides further evidence that microfinance is not necessarily the best tool for rapid poverty alleviation, and the power of enterprise building and job creation to do so instead, it also demonstrates the power of microfinance coupled with social and economic education to lay a foundation for skills acquisition and women’s non-economic empowerment, which may ultimately create a more conducive environment for larger scale job creation in the future.

Stay tuned as I begin my work with the People’s Social Development Foundation for these next two weeks and explore this topic and the power and shortfalls of microfinance in more detail!

– Anna Wiersma, American University of Paris – MPPA (Master of Public Policy and International Affairs)

Sources for further information on the “Microfinance Critique”:

Banerjee, A. V., & Duflo, E. (2006, October). The Economic Lives of the Poor. .

Karnani, A. (2007, Summer). Microfinance Misses Its Mark. Standord Social Innovation Review. Retrieved December 29, 2013, from http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/microfinance_misses_its_mark/

Panagariya, A. (2010, December 17). Does Microfinance Reduce Poverty? An Analysis of India’s Crisis. Brookings. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2010/12/17-india-panagariya#