Tuesday, July 29, 2008

When Newsmakers Become Part of News

The additional support given by Social Welfare Institute for the education of tribal children got on to the national news through the English National Daily "The Times of India", which also runs a TV channel in the name of Times Now. The accolade from the newspaper in its edition of 22 July 2008, page 3, was very encouraging to all of us. A copy of it can be viewed in the picture.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Preparing for Flood

There is a threat of heavy floods in the Districts of Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur. The District Administrations are gearing up to face any natural calamity. The Inter Agency Group, the umbrella organization of the INGOs working in West Bengal is scheduled to meet on 25 July 2008. At the request of ABCD Secretary and IAG Convenor, Fr. I.P. Sarto, Puthumai A. Nazarene, was asked to prepare a Presentation on current situation and a brief analysis for discussion among members. You click on the picture and download the entire presentation.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Erosion Threatens to Wipe Out Villages

I regret to inform you that the banks of the Ganges have given way to fresh erosion in Manickchowk Block of Malda district, leading to 150 families losing their homes and their land on which their home stood.(Population of 900). The erosion began from the morning of Sunday 20 July after the Ganges swelled up due to heavy rainfall in all its catchment areas. The river has changed its course by about 50 meters to its left, on the north / east in 24 hours. The worst affected areas are the Domahat and its surroundings within the Manickchowk G.P of the Manickchowk Block, in Malda district West Bengal. By the morning of 20 July, the erosion had slowed down. I visited the villages on 21 July afternoon (along with Fr. Prabodh Ekka). People have set up temporary shelters away from the river, although about 30 families are living within 20 meters from the river, as they do not have anywhere to go. According to media reports, at least 70 houses have been totally washed away. Even people whose houses are up to 75 meters from the current position of the river have already voluntarily destroyed their homes and have set themselves on temporary shelters made of tarpaulins (plastic sheets).

The people who had one or two trees at the courtyard have cut down the trees to sell cheaply in order to survive. We also saw women wailing over the situation of their houses as they were trying to still settle down within the tents made of tarpaulin sheets. All people had tarpaulin sheets, although it was not adequate. Importantly, the children were all playing in the dirty and muddy water that had gathered along the temporary shelters, exposing themselves to various ailments. Besides, there was absolutely no sign of any sanitary facility. It will be too dangerous and it is too steep for people to go down into the Ganges for anal cleansing. So, they may have to do with the water collected around their shelters due to the rain that has been mercilessly pouring each day. I also inquired if the children are going to school. And the people said "yes". There is a Government primary school close by.

Finally, there is a danger of further breach at a distance of 100 meters if the water continues to rise, as the river has dangerously got too close to the approach road. We saw that the Government has arranged for some boulders to be thrown into the river in order to contain erosion. But it is going to be a very long drawn battle, as the approach roads are in very bad shape after the rains and the erosion.

As for any relief measures : the families are dependent on daily labour as there is no cultivable land in the vicinity, and many of them work in the mango orchards that are away from the village. But, due to erosion, and the need for setting up temporary shelter, many men have not gone for work. However, they said that they will return to work soon, if there is not much rain. The dangers involved are in terms of people taking heavy loans to maintain families and fear of diarrheal outbreak. So, we would propose the following : Assistance in setting up of temporary toilets with basic facilities. To do some awareness on diarrhea and other water borne / vector borne diseases. Make ORS and bleaching powder available in sufficient quantity. To arrange for testing of the ground water quality in the affected area.

Stop Press : Reports of more erosion along the river Fulahar are coming from other parts of Malda district, specially from Bhaluka and Uttar Bhakuria. I shall visit these places with Ms. Bimala Baru (a Staff of SWI), and Ms. Meghan and Ms. Jamie, of Western Washington University.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tribal Students get Scholarships for Higher Education

Social Welfare Institute has given away scholarships worth over 325,000 for 300 tribal students studying in colleges and higher secondary schools in the three districts of Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur. Speaking on the occasion at a function arranged at the organization the Raiganj Municipality Chairman Mayor Mr. Mohit Sengupta appreciated the NGO for doing wonderful service to the poor people specially in terms of health and education. The Director of the NGO, Puthumai A. Nazarene, pointed out that the service rendered, though is minuscule, can change the lives of many young boys and girls. The program was also attended by a group of five students from Western Washington University, Seattle, U.S.A. (In the picture : Mr. Mohit Sengupta giving away the Scholarship; Fr. Puthumai, making the announcement at the background.)

The organization had done a scrutiny of applications based on the need element, such as orphan children and children from most backward families getting preference over others. Among the 300 students, 178 are girl children; and 75 students among the 300 study in Catholic Mission supported schools, and other beneficiaries come from Government colleges and schools. The Finance Support was contributed by Gruppo India, Italy and Social Welfare Institute, Raiganj

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ear-rings for Goats and Pigs !

Social Welfare Institute is creating history here, in Kumarganj Block of South Dinajpur District! Since the beginning of 2008 we have been working very closely on an experimental basis with 25 select Self Help Groups (besides the 2000 +) groups that we are linked to. We had also arranged for Rs. 100,000 to support these groups through Caritas India. A Working Committee was formed in Feb 2008 with various stakeholders put into it. In March and April the groups were assisted for preparing "economic development projects", along with a clear "Cost Benefit Analysis" and "Knowledge on Break-Even" (Capital Recovery), besides discussions on "Marketing". Seven groups were chosen finally for accessing finance. The Projects were purely based on the principles of Partnership : the group had to place at least 40% of the project, which came from their savings lying idle as "Bank Savings", and the rest of the money ranging between 40% - 60 % was provided by SWI / Caritas India. Bank and Nabard officials supported us in creating impeccable Deed Agreements and other relevant documents. On 16 May, the groups received money into their Bank Accounts through Bank Deposits, and SWI received back the money through "Advance Cheques" on terms and conditions agreed upon.

To be brief, one important thing took place : since livestock rearing is always considered a "risky" business in rural setting, we had insisted on the benefits of Insurance for the goats and pigs that the group members would own. National Insurance Corporation(NIC), cooperated with us. As soon the goats and pigs were purchased, they were checked by the NIC and were all given an ear-ring as a mark of that they are insured! It is so nice to see so many goats and pigs in the villages going around with these NIC provided ear-rings! Already a pig has died.... and the woman Angela Mardi is not worried about it. She has already asked for the claim : Rs. 3000 for the young one! Makes good business sense, indeed! Welcome all of you to see the Goats and Pigs with Ear-rings, and the small revolution that is set in motion!! We need your Support on this More in order to expand it further!!!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

UNICEF and Partners Visit Raiganj

Three Staff of Unicef led by Ms. Parnasri Ray Choudhury, (Emergency Officer at UNICEF Kolkata office), and 27 other partner staff of Unicef belonging to various organizations involved in Community Based Disaster Preparedness visited Raiganj for an exposure visit and a detailed planning session. On 23 June they arrived at Malda and then were taken to Harishchandrapur II Block for a field visit. Later, they were put up at our training centre from 23 evening till 25 evening. The discussions were in relation to understanding the concept of Disaster Preparedness, Participatory Learning and Action (PLA), preparing tools for PLA in the current context, strengthening Vulnerability & Capacity Analysis in a rural setting, besides other issues relating to the program of UNICEF. Social Welfare Institute, with support from UNICEF, DIP-ECHO and the Ministry of Civil Defense, Government of West Bengal works on Community Based Disaster Preparedness in 95 Gram Sansads covering about 140,000 population.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Nightless Night

12 June 2008: I woke up early, packed my things, had my breakfast with the Jesuits, and bid good bye to them. Then I reached my room, and kept reading, "How did they do it?", a book that I had brought from Erin's home. This book was destined to become my companion throughout my travel back home. Shannon picked me at 11.15 and and dropped me at the airport. That was when I forgot to handover the book to her. (It is better that I had this book!) The Lufthansa flight from Seattle was quite crowded, and left at 2.15 as scheduled. Flying over north of Canada, through Greenland, and north of Iceland, without ever seeing sunset, we landed at 9.30 a.m. on 13 June in Frankfurt. As my flight was at 10.30 at night, I had the whole day with me. I spent some time in traveling to the city centre.... but, as luck would have it, it started raining. And I rushed back to the airport, and I spent the rest of the day in reading the same book. The night travel from Seattle had left me tired. And leaving Frankfurt at 10.30, I reached Dubai at 7.30 a.m, after a 6.30 mts flight. I could feel, my body is aching. My next flight flight to Kolkata was in the afternoon. I walked several times through the corridors of Dubai Airport, and left Dubai at 2.30 p.m, to arrive in Kolkata late in the evening. Believe me, I could feel for the first time in a month, my body itching.... as the dust of Kolkata touched my body. I spent the night and next day in Kolkata, and left for Raiganj by the evening train so that I can arrive in Raiganj on 16th June morning.

Final Moments

The hours are coming to a close. I am getting ready to leave back home. On 11th June Shannon and I traveled to the Office of Senator Maria Campwell. The tall federal building at Seattle was strictly beyond the control of normal people and we had to prove our identities and reason before we went through the scanners. The Staff were very welcoming... although I was not so sure about their cooperation. But they guided us in such a way that we can proceed further on the issue of food support for the poor children here in India.

It was also my final evening in Seattle. Dinner was arranged at the family of Andrea. Her Mom, Dad and Brother along with Andrea had prepared some delicious dinner for us. It was so nice that Jeremiah and Devin joined us along with Scott, Erin, Steve, Sean and Shannon. We had a very long dinner and said farewell to one another. It was a moment of joy and pain at the same time. How much these people have done for me over the last ten days! Each of them went beyond their capacity to support me. Thank You Friends!