I can only begin with an apology, for the delay in posting. As usual, I am very consumed by my lifestyle and find it difficult to stop and reflect. Shamefully, this post is a re-crafting of a presentation that I made to the other fellows in this program. It does although provide a “genuine glimpse” into the life I lead.
As I slow the pace of my mind to make sense of the past three and a half months, I am overwhelmed. My past fifteen weeks can be summed up in three words:Detachment, Wisdom and Solidarity. I will constantly draw our attention back to these key areas of insight for me.
But first I will explain in brief about the organization that I work with. This will provide some necessary context for a truly “genuine glimpse”.
Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty
According to the World Bank “India’s fifth largest state, Andhra Pradesh (with an estimated population of 80 million) stands at the cusp of change. The per capita income of its citizens has been growing at a rate higher than the national average and its poverty rate has declined faster than the rest of India. However, persistent droughts, farmers’ distress, and lackluster performance in health and education sectors pose considerable challenge to the state.”
Within this context, I became very interested in the work of Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty or SERP as I will refer to it from now on. As an autonomous body, it implements a micro-credit based rural development program under the Department of Rural Development, Government of Andhra Pradesh. It was initiated for the purpose of “upscaling” the quality and quantity of SHGs which were first initiated in the late 70s.
In AP, SHGs are the conduit through which micro-credit is routed to the poor. According to SERP’s 2011 December Monthly report there are currently “11,412,578 (or 11.4lakh) members in 1,027,930 Self-Help Groups (SHGs) exclusively for women in all 22 districts.” As of today, SHG members have a total Savings of R3600.02 Crores and Corpus of Rs.3600.02 Crores. (December Monthly Report 2011 http://www.serp.ap.gov.in/SHG/files/ReportsGeneral/IKP_Progress_Report1.htm)
Health and Disability in SERP
I work in two of the seventeen Units of SERP.
The majority of my time is spent with the Inclusive Development for Persons with Disability Unit which focuses on enhancing livelihood, functioning, and community-integration of PWDs and their families by organizing 306,448 persons with disabilities into 33,398 exclusive SHGs. Being that the services are community managed, it is seen as a pioneering model for the implementation of Community-Based Rehabilitation promoted by the WHO. Further, it has successfully generated an electronic record of all the PWDs in the state with demographic information and their level of disability to better allocate resources .
Given my background in public health, some of my time is also shared with the Health and Nutrition Unit.
The major goal of the Health & Nutrition strategy is to operate in a convergent mode with the central governement departments by looking at gaps in the existing public health & nutrition services. This includes public health capacity building at the village and district level, fixed Health and Nutrition days, community kitchen gardens and community-managed Nutrition Day Care Centers. The impact of perinatal and neonatal outcomes among the members attending Nutrition Day Care Centers shows 94% safe deliveries, no low birth weight baby and no maternal, infant & neonatal deaths occurring in 13663 deliveries of the members enrolled at 4201 nutrition centers.
My Functional Role
My daily functional role can be divided into three elements (a) management support for training and quality improvement (b) technical support for implementation of programming and (c) research support for scientific writing and evaluation.
In the next six months, I will attempt to coalesce my divergent experiences in both the Disability and Health Units by spearheading the development of a program on child growth (height and weight) and development milestones (motor, sensory and cognitive). The dynamic and often piecemeal nature of my work with the past three and half months will likely prove useful to preliminarily implement this program throughout the state.
Reflections on Detachment, Wisdom and Solidarity
The most energizing and inspiring thing about the work so far has been the ability to see first hand the impact of a public health and social welfare program from the perspective of the grassroots, mid-level administration and upper-level administration. I will share a short story about my experience at the grassroots level to illustrate this point. Pay close attention to those the themes of detachment, solidarity and wisdom.
Under the shade of a hut, I sat with a family which felt much like my own. Venkatamma (pseudonym) and her husband, who were of a schedule tribe background, sat beside me explaining her experience with the community-run nutrition-cum-day-care center. While having her first child she regularly attended the Center where she received subsidized wholesome nutritious meals for two years paying R10 for each meal. She was explaining that the quality of food had declined and therefore she stopped going. It was then that her sister, Lakshmi, walked into the group of huts that we were sitting in between. While Venkatamma was not a part of the a local self-help group her sister Lakshmi was. In solidarity with both women I encouraged them to use the SHG process to strengthen their own Center. With great vigor Lakshmi took my words and strengthened them with her wisdom of SHG processes. She questioned her sister for not speaking to the local SHG Health-Subcomittee which was responsible for overlooking the quality of the Center. Lakshmi ensured her sister that these processes are always spoken about in the Village level meetings, so to ensure the internal sustainability of the centers. Venkatamma’s husband cheered his sister-in-law in support. Just as I was walking away the local Health-Subcommitte members came by. I encouraged Lakshmi to bring up these concerns with them on her sister’s behalf. After a brief exchange between all the women, I was once again alone with the two sisters. Although they courageously spoke about the need for better food, they expressed concern that their voice would be of less importance because they were of scheduled tribe background while the center was run by women in the village who were scheduled caste. Attempting to detach by myself from the sting, I walked away say the few words of encouragement I could give in Telugu “the only way for change is little by little, let us progress this way”.
Insight into elements of detachment, wisdom and solidarity within these three levels of human resources have indefinitely increased my understand of how government development programs can and do function. Further, given that over three fourths of development funding comes from the government, it seems critical to my overall understanding of under-resourced communities of India.
Life Outside of Work
Although a majority of my time is spent working, including their darn awful Saturdays – I have appreciated the tranquility of my flat with Aliza, the warm meals from my aunts and the diversity of economic and religious backgrounds that I see in Hyderabad.
The experiences that have energized me the most outside of the office is interacting with the local Baha’i communities of Andhra Pradesh. It has been invigorating learning about the diverse people of this state in such an intimate way. Baha’i gatherings that I have attended have been relatively informal, creating a space for causal and organic relationship building. Because I travel to various parts of the state for work, I have also gotten a chance to meet multiple communities in a short period of time. Being that religious culture (with varying degrees of superstition) can be a bottleneck at times in development work, it was interesting to interact with some people who were using it to socially mobilize communities for change.
A great illustration of this is my friendship with a woman in her later 20s who recently became Baha’i. She is the coordinator for Junior Youth Group work in the state, where youth from various religious and non-religious backgrounds participate in personal as well as community development activities. She was able to train youth in her community to run their own Junior Youth Groups so that the work was internally sustainable. It was interesting to juxtapose a spiritual approach to development with a more material or economic approach at my office. These interactions often encourage me to be detached from the development agenda that we promote in our organization. It also provides a time to reflect on the effectiveness of the approaches that we take, so that I am always innovating with the organization rather then blindly ascribing to their theories.
In conclusion, I very much look forward to the coming months. I am excited about my role in the advancement of society and early await to learn more about my strengthens and weaknesses when serving humanity.
I could have selected many words to describe the learning from these past months, but detachment, wisdom and solidarity have a unique place in my heart. The action areas that I have listed below require these three characteristics to a great extent. I look forward to applying them to action areas.
Although a true “look forward” will require another post, I have determined some action areas I hope to strengthen in the next six months.
(A) thoughtful prioritization
(B) relationship strengthening
(C) effective planning.
I hope that focusing on these areas will not only help me but those around me.
More then writing this post, I look forward to hearing your perspective on my experiences. It would be great if you could post a small experience/learning about the three areas of focus that I have listed above.
My love to you,