Breaking the Bihari Stereotype: The Artisan

India is home to the world’s largest population of the poor, most of whom reside in the rural parts of the country where, overall, 70% of citizens continue to live. It is important to address poverty and basic needs, but Project Potential believes that mass urban migration and the breakup of rural communities should not be part of the solution. In fact, with rising pollution and 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities in India, it is important, more than ever, that we focus on sustainability from the ground up.

Thus, we aim to do two things simultaneously: to lessen the suffering that currently exists; but, to do it in a way that maintains India’s great environmental and cultural diversity. We believe that this change can only come through people themselves; no system—sustainable or otherwise—can be forced on people in a democracy. Instead, we need to invite people to learn the mindset and skills required to help people meet their basic needs for roti-kapda-makaan, care for the environment, and maintain their spirit of community. We currently train a cohort of 20 youth per year, and in parallel, we will provide related short-term training programs to several thousand other local people, including farmers, artisans, women, and children. 

Along with the investment in people, four years of experience have shown us that it is necessary to also invest in a place, which serves as our centre of learning and training, a model village to be emulated by others, and a community institution through which we can interact with the local people. With these goals in mind, our soon-to-be campus in rural Bihar is based on principles of sustainability, including natural and organic farming, natural building, and eco-sanitation, which are relevant to village life and livelihood. 

To understand the location and the skills of local artisans we must understand the bamboo industry; bamboo is globally a $7 billion dollar industry. It can be easily harvested in one to five years, absorbs carbon dioxide and releases 35% more oxygen when compared to other trees. India is the second largest producer of bamboo in the world, yet due to a fragmented market and supply chain, India continues to import 6.1 Million kg, valued at US$ 5.62 Million. Meanwhile, there are nearly two million bamboo artisans fading away in the country. Potential uses include handicrafts, bamboo shoots for consumption, construction, and industrial production and processing. [1, 2]

Surat is currently our leading bamboo artisan at Project Potential’s eArthshala campus. A local older man who has had immense experience in construction with diverse people in India. He has a commitment to learn and grow, for example you can often hear him say “every moment is an opportunity to learn.” He is spear-heading our eArthshala campus, and taking any opportunity to teach others about his bamboo techniques that is literally building our Project Potential place from the ground up.

Our commitment to him isn’t simply for job purposes but for a young organization such as ours in the development sector of India, our commitment is relational, empowering, inspirational, and long-lasting because we know he has immense potential and knowledge to pass down to his community.

I hope this video paints a bigger picture of who he is and how the entire team has supported him. 


References:

  1. “New Bamboo Industries and Pro-Poor Impacts: Lessons from China and Potential for Mekong Countries.” Fao.org, FAO of the UN. Accessed at: www.fao.org/docrep/010/ag131e/ag131e25.htm.
  2. Baksy, Aniket. The Bamboo Industry in India: Supplychain Structures, Challenges and Recommendations. 2013. Accessed at: ccsinternship.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/283_the-bamboo-industry-in-india_aniket-baksy1.pdf.

A first-generation American, born and raised in the South Bronx, New York, Esmeralda is a graduate of Reed College with a Bachelor’s in Linguistics and a minor in International Relations. A recipient of the Princeton in Asia fellowship, the Benjamin Gilman scholarship and the highly competitive Humanity in Action fellowship, Esmeralda has traveled to China for an intense language immersion program and to Amsterdam to study international human rights. Esmeralda recently worked for a social enterprise where she created immersive programs utilizing experiential education theories and activities in order to empower youth leaders of tomorrow in Indonesia, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Vietnam. She utilized her previous work as a Student Support Specialist where she used social work practices and methods to help at-risk youth find different successful life options and improving educational outcomes for diverse communities. She has experience in identifying and implementing community and system improvements, interventions, managing non-profit, and institutional partnerships. Esmeralda spends her time volunteering with numerous organizations by conducting and counseling people through HIV testing, conducting homeless youth advocacy, and tackling the education gap. Esmeralda is a compassionate and thoughtful humanitarian, she is a determined and collaborative leader who believes in justice, equity, respect, community, and hope. She believes in the exchange of ideas in order to connect communities, for growth and most importantly for learning. In her spare time, you can find her dancing, in the gym or hanging out with loved ones.

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