Keryn Banks, a member of the Christian Aid Scotland team, recently travelled to India to visit our Scottish Government-funded Inclusive Economic Development project there. She reports back on her trip.
After arriving in Delhi I travelled to Gopalpur, in Odisha state, where Cyclone Phailin, one of the strongest cyclones to hit India in living memory, made landfall in October 2013.
The cyclone destroyed communities up to 50km inland. Homes and businesses were destroyed, crops and animals lost, and access to water and basic services severely disrupted.
More than 12 million people were affected. Christian Aid, through our partner VICALP, has helped more than 116,000 people over the last year in the worst-affected and most isolated areas.
During my three days in Gopalpur, I heard from two Christian Aid partners, VICALP and CCD. They work primarily in two villages, targeting tribal and Adivasi communities, focusing especially on women.
The project I visited aims to set up backyard and kitchen gardens for the women, introducing them to different varieties of vegetables to improve their families' nutrition and provide a source of income from the surplus produce.
The project is also working with local farmers to establish farmers' groups and link them with buyers in the marketplace to establish market linkages that enable the farmers to sell their produce at a fairer price and to grow what is in demand.
Two producer companies have already been established and 20 turmeric demonstration plots have been planted with the aim of harvesting and selling turmeric collectively to an established buyer.
The partners had invited some of the community to meet me, which was a real honour as they had travelled such a long distance overnight by bus to reach us. I got the chance to speak to the women individually later in the day and they were eager to tell me their experiences.
One particular woman, who was featured heavily in the presentations, was keen to speak to me. Her name is Namunit Pradhan and she is around 58 years old. She wasn’t entirely sure of her age and the other women were making estimated guesses as well!
Namunit is a tribal woman – a dalit. Dalits are separate from the caste system of India and for that reason have been discriminated against. They live in remote parts of the country and are often isolated and excluded.
Namunit's tribal tattoos were remarkable to look at and are a cultural reference to her tribe. They were originally introduced to make the women unattractive so they wouldn't be stolen away.
For that reason these women are sometimes known as 'untouchables' and have suffered years of discrimination and oppression.
Namunit has a backyard garden which was developed with the help of VICALP. She was also introduced to producing organic pesticide that she can then use on her garden as well as sell to other farmers.
She has bought five chickens from the project at a cost of 60 rupees each (around 65p). One of her chickens has died so she is now rearing four with the intention of collecting the eggs. The eggs are a source of additional protein in her diet as well as being a source of income when sold.
When they grow big enough, Namunit intends to sell the chickens at the local market. A chicken that has grown to four kilograms in weight can be worth as much as 240 rupees (around £2.59).
One of the things that struck me as she was speaking was that she was so happy. That was the word she used the most to express how the project had impacted her life. She was happy.
It seemed to me that the project has given her a sense of dignity and pride. She has pride in her garden and her ability to raise chickens and start a small business.
She has the respect of her neighbours who are all eager to join the project and have registered their interest for the next round of planting.
And she has become a model community member, featuring in the partners' presentations, being chosen to come to our meeting, and was very confident and vocal during the presentation. This is something that would never have happened previously.
This project has given women like Namunit, and the others I met, a voice. It has given them respect and elevated their position within their community. They are now active members, earning money and providing an improved diet for their families.
Find out more about our work in India.
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