Thursday 30 June 2011

Spin a web, catch a chicken!

P6290104I had a trip to nearby Koraput with Mr P yesterday to meet with fellow VSO volunteer Gina who is working with us on the Shakti website project. I did the existing website last year just to explore possibilities and to stimulate the thought process about what is required of a website for Shakti, but I am not a designer or programmer. So we have enlisted the assistance of Communication Specialist Gina to help us redesign our site. This was our first meeting to discuss how the project would work, review requirements and plan timelines.
Our 3 1/2 – 4 hr trip to koraput began later than our intended 6AM start as Mr P had been out at Kasipur block for the past 2 days, got back late the previous night after a very wet drive. Consequently Kishan our driver had to wash down the 4x4 vehicle prior to setting off. This is not a cosmetic exercise, but a safety one as the wheels were caked in thick reddish claying mud. A couple of years back a 4x4 hired by Shakti was overturned after slipping and sliding in the rainy season mud – thankfully no one was injured but retrieving the vehicle from such a remote area was a logistical nightmare!
Our drive to Koraput was uneventful except for our pit stop for breakfast which was a fast eat of bura – a deep fried dough made from 75-80% black gram flour and 20-25% ground rice flour, plus seasoning and spices dependent on the establishment – it is one of the few Indian breakfast dishes I like. These were the best bura I have ever tasted! Freshly made for us, hot out of the wok, tasty but not too chilli spicy.
The road itself is in the process of being rebuilt – actually it is not nearly as bad as the Rayagada – Vizag road, but it is regularly closed and impassable in the rainy season. This happens at one spot where the road crosses a river. The old bridge is actually only about 2 years old, but shoddy workmanship, corruption resulting in the use of poor quality materials has meant it is already broken and unusable. The new bridge construction is underway but seems to be stalled. The route across is one of those concrete ford driveways. It was dry when we crossed but I can see why the road gets closed so often.
A trip to Koraput is always welcome. It is a good opportunity for an exchange of unobtainables - for me she and Corey had supplies of tuna, pasta and muesli from Amar’s shop, and I brought barley from Rayagada, which surprisingly they have never been able to get in Koraput. Also Koraput is some 2000ft higher than Rayagada and consequently consistently about 8 C cooler than here. It was a lovely cool day - I'm definitely acclimatising when 28-30C seems cool! 
After lunch we drove off to the Poultry Farm at Sunabeda. This is way off road, along dirt tracks of deep rich rust coloured earth into the Koraput Hills. Termite mounds everywhere. bright acid greens of rice planting. A very colourful landscape. Cool and wet and accordingly lush!
P6290094      P6290093  P6290103
Our reason for going there was to make arrangements to buy 2000 chicks at the end of July for one of our livelihoods projects in Kashipur block.  I was delighted to get the opportunity to see round the place and was pleasantly surprised – good conditions, clean, strict adherence to disease control mechanisms ( we had to dip feet into every  building). The breeding birds and chicks are kept in separate buildings, with the chicks being separated according to age – 4 day old 7 and 9 day old chicks were there during our visit. They were in clean conditions, lots of space, ready supply of feed and water. We also saw the egg  incubator. I went away optimistic that the chicks delivered would becoming from goo healthy stock, be themselves healthy and well nourished and provide our project beneficiaries with a good starting supply of chicken for breeding, for eggs and for meat. People like to buy these “country” chicken varieties which are considered more tasty.
P6290102A chick costs around 17 Rupees, plus about 2 rupees for transport. feeding is locally available and at little cost. After 2 months at about 2Kg weight  the chickens can be sold for meat which retails here at between 170-200 Rupees per Kg, a bit more than the 140 Rps I pay for the standard chicken bred. A nice little earner for the Kasipur women.

Friday 10 June 2011

The Good of Small Things

It is the little things that can mean a lot.
Small thing No. 1
When you go visit someone in the UK for  the first you go equipped with their address, telephone number in case you get lost, some directions on how to get there by car, bus or whatever, and you may even resort to being helped en route by a satnav. Every house has either a number, a name, or both. Each street has a name. Most streets have street name signs – even the lane I live on has two name signs – one at each end of the lane. Each village/town has a name sign. So finding a house, even without a map should be possible.
Here once you have got a village to find out where a particular family lives you must ask – no street names (sometimes there is only one street), no house numbers, no house names. What distinguishes one family’s home from another?
P5230013 As a small part of its community work with local village organisations Shakti staff have been motivating for house name plaques. Made from plastic to be resistant to the effects if climate, animals and insects, these will be fixed to the house wall. Nice to have yes, but they serve a purpose too. Far too often when a survey is being done, be it by the  government or other agency, people are missed off the register. This happens because the official comes from town in office hours to a village deserted of its men and women folk who are off working in the fields or forest. The only folks left in the village the very young and the very old. So the official asks the old person who lives where, and what ever other questions he needs to have answered. Layer on top of an elderly person’s unreliable memory, the linguistics difference, the fact that everyone has multiple names – good name, nickname, short form name etc and confusion abounds. That’s why a NGO’s household surveys are more reliable as they work with the villagers to record them. The result can be  that people in the village miss out of government schemes and entitlements. A name plate will at least mean the correct name is registered  in the survey.
But an even more important aspect of these name plates will be the sense of pride and raised self esteem it gives a villager. Often illiterate or semi literate, they have only seen house names on “important” people’s houses eg the doctor, now they too have one. 160 Rupees per plate (including a small contribution of 10 Rupees per household), 10 Rupees to fix, 170 Rupees well spent.
Small thing No. 2
Everywhere there is a drive for transparency – personally I hate how this word is used – if something is transparent you can see through it, if something is visible it is there to be seen – so in my book it should be visibility of due process, visibility of delivery that we are requiring. As it is its transparency of process, transparency of delivery. How do you prove to a donor that an education program to empower villagers to write their own name has delivered? 
In and of itself writing your name may be a good thing, joined up with being able to sign your attendance at a meeting, sign for you receipt of payment for work done, for receipt of your rice quota, sign on your saving bank record and the empowering domino effect can be seen to be underway.
Shakti staff have been working with village women’s self help groups on a number of themes including programmes for water, sanitation and hygiene, livelihood security, mother and child health, land rights, participation in local government bodies (PRIs). One of the small components of which is a programme aimed at empowering woman to sign their names. So how do you prove to the donor that someone can now sign their name? Answer - Postcards! Every woman signs their card and the cards are delivered to the donor.
The other side of the small component is the praise for the women who can sign – a small prize upon being able to sign your name is given, in this case bangles. Indian woman love bangles and every one wears a great many. These can be very expansive items, but for the majority of woman the daily bangle is a cheap, highly coloured, decorative, plastic bangle.

Photo courtesy of (Desktop Wallpaper and other royalty-free images and photos from India)

 Small thing No. 3
With so many different programmes happening in the villages, eg government schemes to deliver rice, NREGS work entitlements as well as NGO implemented programmes, and people’s memory being very selective it is easy to forget who got what when. Answer  - a “Beneficiaries Information Booklet” complete with blank record card and some really useful information  eg a list of the various Government Departments with an explanation of which department is responsible for what, a list of names and telephone numbers of who to contact in case of flood, who to contact about Health issues, who to contact about livestock vaccination etc. A bit like the local area directories that local government and district councils give out in the UK but with the record card aspect added in. Every household will get one, and it will become a very important document, a proof of delivery and receipt to mirror the programme ledgers. It may sound a bit bureaucratic but it works.

I think  these little things are a really good aspect of Shakti’s way of working. It is these little things that people remember because they are personal. It is these little things that praise, reward, encourage and sustain involvement, participation and enthusiasm for the long term. They are the stepping stones, the small goals, along the achievement path which can often appear long and circuitous. Shakti’s bye-line is catalysing sustainable development and these little things go a long way to ensuring the big picture happens, lasts and doesn’t fade away. Well done to everyone involved.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Recipe ramble – pasta in almond and apricot sauce

My fellow volunteer Corey who is based in Koraput came to visit over the past few days to help set up our LAN in the office. He bought with him a bunch of requested goodies from Omar’s shop in Koraput – tins of tuna, olive oil, walnuts, almonds, apricots, pasta – all things I can’t get here in Rayagada.
Today, after a particularly frustrating day, full of equipment failures, power  and internet outages, when all the work you must complete requires the internet :( , I felt like I needed a treat for lunch. What to choose? So many temptations! Ok so why not mix some of the temptations together?  Hence recipe invention time.


a handful of pasta – penne, bows, twists etc.
one onion – chopped
4-5 dried apricots, chopped into halves or quarters
small handful of almonds, ground.
a spoonful of cream


Cook the pasta in a good stock. I used chicken stock. When the pasta is cooked there should be almost no liquid left
Add the chopped apricots to the cooking pasta so they they imbibe the stock.
Gently fry the chopped onion in a little ghee until the onion is soft.  Add to the cooked pasta.
Take off the heat and stir in a couple of spoonfuls of the ground almonds, and the cream.
Serves 1.

Taste verdict

Lovely! If you are missing creamy sauces and delicate flavours, this is a real treat