Our second annual trip took us far away: to the northern Indian state of Rajasthan. We partnered with the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) and visited six non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in two beautiful cities in Northwestern India Jodhpur and Udaipur. FSD partners with more than 300 community-based organizations on three continents to build networks and collaborate on community-driven approaches to development issues. The NGOs we visited support a variety of community initiatives ranging from education to women's empowerment to ecology.
October 12 to October 29
Sight-Seeing. We began our trip in the country's capital city of Delhi where we explored the rich history of this ancient land. Our travels took us next to one of the Seven Wonders of the World—the Taj Mahal (http://www.tajmahal.com/11/places/taj-mahal.htm). This is truly one of the most exquisite places on the planet. Our trip participants could not get enough of the fantastic view! We also made our way South to a natural wild-life preserve at Ranthambore and enjoyed a remote animal safari (but saw no tigers unfortunately).
After a long day of travel over bumpy roads, we made our way to the first city on the Giving Circle itinerary—Jodhpur. Sometimes referred to as the "Blue City" on the edge of the Thar desert, Jodhpur served as the backdrop to our week-long experience visiting three NGOs and exploring some magnificent historic sites.
Mine Labour Protection Campaign (http://www.mlpc.in/). Our first NGO visit was with the Mine Labour Protection Campaign. Its mission is to generate awareness among the mineworkers and help organize them to fight injustices that have been committed for generations. We traveled into the countryside and met in a modest local home with a women's Self-Help Group. Through interpreters, they proudly told us of some of their accomplishments. Among other things, they created a day-care center (in an adjacent room) for the children of the mine workers, so the youngsters would have a safe place to go during the day when both of their parents were working. Some food, education and healthcare are provided. From our visit, they sought funds to learn traditional embroidery and needlework techniques so the women could develop legitimate work alternatives to the oppressive conditions in the local mines.
Vikalp (http://vikalporgudr.blogspot.com/). The next day, we visited Vikalp Sansthan. Their vision is to forge a better world for the young women of Rajasthan. They work mainly with adolescent girls from the most impoverished areas of the region to give them access to education. Vikalp recently established a residential camp for 10 young girls and were seeking funds to increase the number of residents in the program. We had the opportunity to visit a safe-house, located in one of the city's slums, where we met some of the women who benefited from Vikalp's other programs. The women and girls we met were eager to share their personal stories with us so that we might gain a better understanding of the plight of women in India.
JNP+ (http://jnpplus.blogspot.com/). Our third NGO visit in Jodhpur was to Jodhpur Network for People Living with HIV. This organization was founded by Dinesh Joshi who has been a strong advocate for the needs and rights of those afflicted with HIV. JNP+ sought funds to connect HIV positive women and children with appropriate government agencies and programs. In addition to hearing the heart-wrenching personal stories of several beneficiaries of its programs, we were able to visit and tour an orphanage sponsored by JNP+. The children were wonderfully engaging—in addition to showing off their artwork, they performed an energetic and elaborate dance routine straight out of a Bollywood film for us.
More Sight-Seeing. The next day and half was spent exploring the local sights, including the imposing Meherangarh Fort (http://www.mehrangarh.org/) high above the city, where a colorful Folk Music Festival made the place come alive. Our fantastic FSD guide helped us shop for gifts and souvenirs at "non-tourist" prices. She also took us to a lavish wedding reception that gave us a marvelous glimpse into Indian society and customs.
Udaipur. We then headed South to Udaipur, a city with the well-deserved reputation as one of India's most beautiful cities. The trip participants thoroughly enjoyed the week-long stay in this gorgeous "City of Lakes". The first day was one of exploration. We split into groups one group visited the Jain Temple Complex in Ranakput while another toured museums and shopping areas along the lake-front.
Alert (http://users.skynet.be/fa985920/). Our first NGO visit of the week was to Alert Sansthan. Alert provides resources training to improve education in the rural areas outside Udaipur. They sought funds to create a resource center in a local village. After a presentation by the Alert board members, we visited two elementary schools where we were met by students with paper hats, green plant rings and the traditional bindi greeting. Students sang songs, danced or recited poems in Hindi for us. We were also able to talk with the local tribal elders who spoke of their pressing issues, while supporting Alert's mission to improve education in their small community.
FES (http://www.fes.org.in/). The following day was spent with the Foundation for Ecological Security. Their mission is to preserve the forests in Rajasthan and to educate communities on the benefits of sustainable agricultural practices. One of our most interesting experiences of the entire trip was an extended visit to a thriving farming village two and a half hours outside Udaipur. The villagers there had taken responsibility for the public land and wanted to rehabilitate the areas that have been destroyed by over-farming and deforestation. Two of the men sought sponsorship from FES to raise 20,000 saplings to be replanted in local forests. We were lucky enough to visit a family in an adobe farmhouse where they convert dung into bio-gas for clean home cooking!
Jatan (http://www.jatansansthan.org/). Our final NGO visit was with Jatan. Jatan is a grassroots NGO working to empower the youth of Rajasthan. Its programs range from women's empowerment and youth development to migration issues. Jatan sought funds to establish a women's Self-Help Group in an outlying area to teach the women embroidery. Women from a distant village travelled four hours to meet with us and express their ambitions. They hope to sell various types of cloth bags to local merchants to enhance the family income. After meeting with us, these women built their confidence and excitement by visiting a sewing plant that had evolved out of another successful self-help group.
Giving Circle Deliberations. Our last day in Udaipur was spent in discussion about how to allocate our group's limited funds among the six worthy organizations. After an intense morning session, we came to a consensus on how best to divide our fund pool among the NGOs. With that important business resolved, the rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the winding streets of the Udaipur, getting in some last minute shopping, and squeezing everything back into our suitcases for the long journey home! Our second annual trip most assuredly lived up to the high expectations we had set. We are especially indebted to our partner, the Foundation for Sustainable Development, for all its support, including introducing us to some very inspiring people in India. We won't forget them.
Reflections: The 2010 Traveling Giving Circle to Rajasthan, INDIA