Friday, November 14, 2008

In between sipping tea

Only recently have I accumulated enough hours of electricity to sort out what I'm supposed to be doing on the work front and for whom. Antodaya supports people of the kutia-Khond tribe based in the Dangarla Mountains. Living in extremely isolated villages – many only accessible on foot - their over-riding problem is food security. Despite plentiful rain and reasonable soil quality, most people only manage to feed themselves for 6 months of the year. Reasons include exploitation (to buy food during the lean periods, land is mortgaged to moneylenders who then take its entire crop as repayment); culture (festivals and practices revolve around a single harvest although the land could support two); and deforestation. In addition, only 10% of children attend the free schools – they are needed to work in the fields; there is only one small hospital in the area and not enough local health workers to go round – death from dysentery and malaria is common; and, unaware of their rights, they make rich pickings for the moneylenders and local administrators. Antodaya's successes in addressing these problems include a canal-construction project providing about 20 villages with clean drinking water and for irrigation; introducing alternative crops to make people less reliant on the forests for additional food; and education about their rights has made them less dependent on the moneylenders - a few years ago, Dillip spent 6 months in hospital following an attack by a group of moneylenders unhappy with his activities.
My main role seems to be writing funding proposals. This involves taking ideas for new projects and packaging them in a way that will convince funders of the merits of the proposed venture. So far, I've applied for funding from the Bill Gates Foundation (malaria prevention), the Renewable Energy Consortium (electricity generators powered by cow-dung) and the Orissa Tribal Livelihoods Programme (creating orchards to provide a year-round income) – still waiting to hear back on all of them though. Because India's passion for putting everything in triplicate made a seamless transition into the electronic age at Antodaya, finding the relevant information on the office computer can be a long tortuous process. In an attempt to improve this, I'm also creating a database which involves teaching myself how to programme Microsoft Access as well as collating and ordering the information. I really like the kind of stuff Antodaya does because it produces tangible results, I just hope the work I do, in between sipping tea, will introduce them to more rigorous processes which will lead to increased funding for the numerous ideas they have for improving the lot of the Dangarla kutia-Khonds.

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