Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Millets . . . The Journey Continues

After, we moved on from NJH, we were quite at a loss to find out what we could do regarding the work we started with millets. At Kachhwa, we found out that there was no finger millet. However, there was quite a lot of pearl millet all around. And the interesting fact was that very similar to finger millet, the cultivation and use of pearl millet was also on the decline. 

On asking questions to the locals, we found out the following - 

1. It is easy to grow. It does not need much water. Which means that there is no additional investment for arranging irrigation facilities. 
2. Many knew that it was good for health. Very few knew that it was rich in Iron. 
3. Most of the traditional delicacies made out of pearl millet was long forgotten. Of note was the 'Bajri laddoo'. I'm still searching for someone who could make it for us. 

However, there were challenges - 

a. The cereal could not be kept for too long. One had to finish it within 6-8 months of harvest. 
b. If it was ground to flour, it could not be kept in the open for long.
c. There is a very negative feeling about the food item as it is commonly eaten by the poor. 

Well, it is harvest time now. It is not difficult to get the flour or the cereal. At 14 INR per kilogram, it is really cheap and like most of the other millets, it swells up as it is high in fibre and you need lesser volumes to quell your hunger. 

So, we tried out some recipes .. .. ..

Here are the snaps - - - 

Pearl Millet Cake

Bajra Idli

Bajra Dosai
Looking forward on how we can take this forward. Ideas are very much welcome . . . 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Empowered . . .

Adult literacy programs have played a major role in empowering communities, especially women. I remember my school days when the adult literacy program was in its pinnacle in Kerala.  For some reason, it is quite some time since I’ve heard about adult literacy campaigns.

At Kachhwa Christian Hospital, we have an adult literacy program catering to women from the nearby villages. A small group . . . but the impact this effort has brought to their families is massive.

Couple of weeks back, we had the ‘graduation ceremony’ of the first batch of the adult literacy classes.

Urmila, Malti, Nirmala, Urmila, Savita, Chunni, Kanti and Susheela with their certificates.
Standing behind is Mrs. Surekha
One of the students, Mrs. Chunni narrated how she was regularly cheated when she went for shopping. The shop-keepers used to quote more than the Maximum Retail Price printed on the purchased item. After she learnt to read, she narrated about an incident where she took the shop-keeper to task for quoting higher price for an item that she had purchased.

It was not without a remorse that the shopkeeper said,’ So, you’ve learnt to read?’

Again Chunni’s daughter narrated how she used to cheat on her mother regarding completing her home work. Now, that Chunni knows to read and write, there is more discipline in her daughter’s studies.

We had recently been discussing about expanding the program. As of now, the program happens in the hospital campus. A teacher can teach a maximum of 6 people for about 4 hours a day. Considering that the students are adults, they are not able to come for more than 2 or 3 times a week.

The adult literacy program is being led by Mrs. Surekha Kamble, a teacher from Maharashtra. Surekha, who has a masters in science and  a bachelors in education. Although she has ten years of teaching experience in schools, she finds it quite satisfying when she realises the impact she had brought about in the families of these women.

Dr. Raju Abraham, evaluating a adult literacy class.
The next batch has since started. Please pray for the efforts being put in by Mrs. Surekha and her team of teachers, Arti, Priti, Poonam and Guddoos. It is not easy. Considering into the fact that none of these ladies have been exposed to any sort of education, they need personalised care.Considering the intensive coaching that is required, we are not able to take more than 10 students in a batch.

We need more teachers like Mrs. Surekha who would be able to spend their careers in bringing about beacons of hope to many families. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finger Millet - A Disabled Friendly Crop

This is a guest post written by Ms. Rachel Belda Raj. Rachel serves as Project Manager of the project on Community Based Rehabilitation for the Disabled in NJH.

Working with vulnerable groups for their rehabilitation and empowerment is a challenging task and then there are People with Disabilities (PWDs) who often are the most vulnerable, trapped in the cycle of poverty and disability. The rehabilitation process is time consuming as it involves both helping them discover opportunities as well as facilitate a change in their thought process. In the process of our working with PWDs, disabled friendly opportunities are rare as society is a long way from main streaming. A change in attitude may occur but without the right opportunities, they are not fully rehabilitated, unless they create the opportunities themselves.

Here is an account of a created opportunity towards rehabilitation.

Like most rural communities, agriculture is the main source of income for our community part of the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Project for PWDs. Unfortunately the area we work in is a drought prone area affecting the main source and for most people the only source of income or food. The PWDs also find themselves most vulnerable as their mobility impairments affect their agriculture as well. Surprisingly, this issue has been a recent one as for generations, this area has been a drought prone area but people have survived by cultivating drought resistant crops. But with the green revolution and introduction of cash crops, traditional drought resistant crops were abandoned. Now, with the climate change issues and lack of rainfall, the community finds itself vulnerable as neither they have irrigation facilities or timely rain for the cash crops nor the traditional knowledge of drought resistant crops.

The Community Based Adaptation Project had discovered the long forgotten drought resistant crops of the area especially finger millet which had been part of the community. They are now working to promote Finger Millets both for its drought resistance as well its nutritional content aiming to tackle poverty and mal nutrition.

As a spill over effect of the project work, the PWDs in the CBR Project area had also heard about the work to promote finger millet. Both out of curiosity and desperation, they enquired about finger millet. Most of them had idea as their ancestors had grown and consumed in their homes. As predicted, the lack of rain fall left most of the fields barren. Meanwhile, the CBA project had arranged a training regarding drought resistant crops at Satbarwa, the block headquarters.

The PWDs from the village Patna were encouraged to attend so they would get an idea of Finger millet and its benefits. The meeting was facilitated by Prof. Haider from Birsa Agriculture University, Ranchi. As they presented fascinating facts about Finger Millet, the PWDs were convinced to at least give it a try. As in the end of the meeting seeds were sold at nominal prices, almost 18 PWDs bought about 200gms to cultivate.

The Finger Millet was cultivated and unlike many other crops, this doesn’t need much effort or regular supervision. This was beneficial to most PWDs as they most of them had mobility impairments and were dependant on other people for agriculture. This crop reduced their dependency as there was hardly any effort involved. Of course, regular care of the crop would definitely give higher yields.

When Professor Haider visited the region last week, one of the fields he visited was that of Mr. Manoj who had done cultivation of madwa in one plot of land. He was elated on seeing the yield. In fact, Professor Haider was also taken aback at how finger millet farming has become a boon to a disabled farmer.

The team at Manoj's field . . . 

Prof. Haider interacting with Mr. Manoj . . . 
They now look forward to the harvest. Cultivation of finger millets has not only ensured them some source of food and income but also re kindled hope for the future.