Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Greetings from GRAAM

I am working on my project with EDI under the supervision of Dr. Basavaraju and Dr. Siddappa in the Grassroots Research And Advocacy Movement (GRAAM) office. My task is to create various documents (study briefs, policy briefs, and fact sheets) which GRAAM can use to advocate for better inclusion of people with disabilities (PWD) into the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) to the Karnataka State Government. MNREGA guarantees 100 days of paid work to eligible rural households whose adult members volunteer to do ecologically-focused manual labor projects. The act intends to provide supplemental wages to poor rural families, by encouraging them to self-identify as jobseekers. The theory is that MNREGA will result in rural economic growth and also increased democratic governance, as the village leaders play a major role in implementing the work projects.

Due to a variety of socio-cultural factors, people with disabilities are among the most economically vulnerable, especially in rural areas. GRAAM recently conducted a pilot study in the Kolar District of Karnataka to see if PWD are able to benefit from MNREGA jobs, and if not, what barriers to participation exist. Nearly 454 PWD were surveyed, along with their family members and village leaders, so GRAAM has a wealth of data to interpret. The team is working on publishing a full research report, but also needs concise documents to present to policymakers to improve conditions for PWD. This is where my attention is focused. 

I am very happy to be working with the GRAAM team. I am inspired by the intentionality of focusing on rural economic development—especially for people with disabilities— as a humanitarian, poverty alleviation endeavor. By contributing to these documents for policy advocacy, I feel that I may be able to help affect positive change. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Hullahalli Primary Healthcare Center Field Visit

By Alexandra W. ILR'17 & GH Minor and Irene T, GH'16

Rachel, GH Minor
On Tuesday, we had the opportunity to visit a primary health center in Hullahalli. After a bumpy journey through the scenic landscape outside of Mysore, we were welcomed by the community health workers, doctors, and other staff members of the center. We were kindly given a tour of the facilities, including outpatient care rooms, pregnancy recovery rooms, and the operating room. Some highlights of the tour included speaking to a pathologist in the laboratory, and looking at a recently prepared tuberculosis slide under a microscope. 
Global health minors, left to right, Rachel, Amanda H. (ILR), Alexandra (ILR), Irene, and Ankur.
We also saw the delivery room, where a wall displayed an organized chart concerning the age, pregnancy history, and other relevant factors of women expecting to deliver in the near future.
With informational posters lining the walls and stocked pharmacy shelves, it was clear how the facilities of this center provide necessary services for the community. At the end of the tour, we were able to speak to community health workers who work directly with residents of the area and travel to their homes. These women provide basic health services, with specific focus on maternal health. One thing that we found impressive were the prepared pregnancy kits that the government provides to all new mothers, which are stocked with helpful items such as diapers, soap and blankets. 
Post delivery kit given to low-income mothers.
The physicians were also excited to announce the upgrade of this primary health center to a newly constructed community health center in Hullahalli. We were so grateful for the hospitality of the workers who provided us with a wonderful interactive experience and the engaging opportunity to learn more about health care in India.
Clinic doctors and nurses with the GSL team.
The Global Health team with the clinic nursing staff.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Coorg Coffee Plantation & Dubare Elephant Camp

The last few days in India have been incredible, to put it very simply. We have been bonding as a group as we engage in VIIS’s fascinating courses and gain exposure to various cultural sights within the Mysore area. Our trip to Coorg was no exception.  The day started off beautiful - sunny as always. As we made our way through the windy roads leading up to a coffee plantation high in the hills of Coorg, we took in the colorful scenery. The plantation visit was a great way to gain some insight into some of the working conditions that exist in the coffee industry here. The owner and staff were very hospitable and open with us. As soon as we arrived delicious cookies, fresh oranges, and bananas were brought out for us to try. We even got to try coconut water – all directly from the plantation!

The owner discussed the current issues he faces. The plantation operates with workers living on the premises in provided housing. If workers have children, their travel and textbook expenses are paid for as an incentive to stay here. He mentioned that he is facing labor shortages at peak times of the year. Many workers come from the north, and cannot place their children in local schools because of the language barrier, since each region speaks in a different tongue. Many of these individuals tend to leave after the season ends, looking for other work - usually in urban areas.

Lisa '16 (left) and Victoria '16 (right) with two of the plantation workers.
The owner also mentioned alcoholism being an issue. Some workers qualify to purchase grain at a lower price, due to the introduction of the National Food Security Act. Since the rations are relatively large for only one rupee, recipients often choose to work less, eat the rice provided, and use their remaining money to buy alcohol. We were fortunate to gain some insight from two dedicated women workers. I was very surprised to hear that one of the challenging tasks they do is climbing trees to get chili peppers! In fact, due to a shortage of male workers, the women have been taking on tasks that were traditionally for males. After we finished snacking and learning, we boarded onto a jeep to explore the plantation. The ride was bumpy, leaving us all in laughter along the way, but the view from the top was worth it. I felt as if we had been transported to South America, surrounded by lush forests, hundreds of coffee plants and wooded mountain peaks.

After our trip to the plantation, we were all eager to head over to the Dubare Elephant Camp before it closed. It was a risk worth taking, for as soon as we arrived, we were all in awe. We hopped on a boat and crossed the smooth river, finally arriving at the camp. The camp had no high fences or barriers, for they are not necessary. The numerous elephants, cows, dogs, goats, and sheep roamed freely in the wide-open space. We admired the elephants as they slowly walked around, even getting a chance to feed one named Goppi!

Victoria '16 feeding Goppi.

For me, leaving the camp was the most memorable moment of this trip so far. The sun began to set over the river. Children were playing in the shallow pools of the rocks, people were swimming, while others went rafting. Surprising us all, the elephants (their feet no longer chained) walked down to the river and began to relish in it’s coolness. We were in for a treat! They bathed happily, some playfully spraying nearby rafts. Cows and bulls slowly trekked into the water also, until only their head remained at the surface, swimming across the river together. The scene truly captured the essence of India’s unique culture – carefree and natural. The people live at ease with the world around them. I know in America, I would not be allowed to witness such beautiful interactions. As cliché as it sounds, we often forget to slow down and appreciate what is around us in America.

I am incredibly thankful for this day trip, for it taught me lessons that were directly related to ILR as well as cultural ones that I would never be able to truly understand through a course or textbook. I have gained life lessons and memories that will stay with me as I continue growing. I am very humbled to be a part of the GSL team and incredibly thankful to SVYM and ILR for providing us with these amazing opportunities. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

First week in Mysore

(my flight map from Texas to Dubai--15 hours!)

It has been an amazing week. For me, our first few days here felt like one incredibly long day. I left home Wednesday morning, and (between long flights, a long layover, and the time difference) arrived on Friday morning. I managed to stay awake for most some of Friday and the weekend was so jam packed full of activities that my nap Friday was the only one I have had!

(in class before a group meeting)
On Monday we started classes, and they have been truly fantastic. I feel incredibly lucky to be here and have the opportunity to participate in such a great program. I had long been looking forward to our gender course, since I have a pre-existing interest, and it has not disappointed in the slightest. Our professor, Dr. Shanthi, speaks with such passion! It is a great experience to have coursework here relate directly to what I learned in my classes back at Cornell. I am drawing so many parallels between the gender issues in India and the United States; it is incredible to discover how similar the issues are in the two countries.
I am really looking forward to continuing our classes and eventually heading to my project site in Hyderabad. It is such a beautiful feeling to realize that I am halfway around the world from my country, and yet there are so many parallels between the two cultures and so many universal aspects of the human experience. I can't wait to see what I learn next.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Welcome to the 2014 ILR GSL India Blog!

 By Amanda H.

The ILR SVYM Global Service Learning Program is officially underway.  Once everyone arrived in Mysore on Friday, May 30, 2014 it was clear that our exhaustion from traveling would be difficult to shake.  But by Saturday everyone was rested and excited for our orientation at SVYM.  We arrived at the institute at around 10am and it was already sweltering outside.  Luckily we were distracted from the heat when the SVYM team came out to greet us and welcomed the group with beautiful jasmine flower necklaces (they smell heavenly) and a special prayer.  The staff was so friendly and excited to see us.  It was very apparent that Cornell University and the ILR School hold a special place at SVYM.

We received a tour of SVYM including the Vivekananda Institute of Indian Studies as well as the Vivekananda Institute for Leadership Development.  I think we were all in awe by the inspirational quotes that decorate every wall of the building.  It became clear that SVYM is a place for higher learning as well as personal growth.  We were then invited to watch a documentary about SVYM that highlighted its accomplishments over the last 25 years as well as current projects that the organization is working on.  Madam Sindhu Suresh presented to the group following the documentary.  Her message was clear: our work with SVYM would not be without its challenges but there would be always be support from her team to make this experience as meaningful as possible.

The ILR Team
GSL Team Jess and Britt
The Global Health Team

To culminate our orientation, we had a candle lighting ceremony that honored Swami Vivekananda’s values as portrayed through SVYM.  The candles represented the knowledge that we would gain throughout our time in India.  This small ceremony was a great way to wrap up the afternoon.