June 03, 2011
Martha's First Entry. The Journey, Adjustment Period, Settling in and Looking Ahead.
Hello all, and greetings from Punjab, India!
I have been meaning to write in this blog for some time now, and it's about time I sat down to get it all out. Having received the Summer in South Asia grant, my project and mission has been to research and understand better how micro-finance is used a as a tool for women empowerment in rural Punjab as well as how 'micro-finance' is perceived in the area.
Specifically, since I, like Julia, am spending my time here with a sustainable development NGO called EduCARE India, the vast majority of what I am learning concerns how this NGO's micro-finance program has changed over time and why.
Coming to EduCARE, my understanding was that I would be helping a team to develop and test out a newer 'model' for their micro-finance operations. I assumed that I would be observing a Micro-finance institution at work, more or less. Since I have been here, however, I have learned that micro-finance is a loaded term even among NGOs. Rather than actually observing micro-banking or lending at work, I am instead coming to understand the struggle that development organizations face in determining whether to hop on board 'micro-finance' train and how exactly to do it.
To start this blog out, I'll write a little bit about what my over-all experience coming and living in Punjab has been so far. Specifically, I want to hit our trip here, our living conditions and diet, the people, transportation, and how I plan to continue with the fellowship project given my schedule here.
Julia and I flew from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Wednesday night (May 18th) and arrived in New Delhi's Indira Gandhi Airport the morning of Friday May 20th. In between was about an 8 hour layover in the Munich Airport. It's pretty incredible how much time we spent in airports. I kept remarking what nice places airports are. They are very 'chill' with many dining options and plenty of interesting people to watch. But spending 12 hours in the international terminal of the Indira Gandhi Airport waiting for a bus-ride to Jalandhar was a bit much. The highlight was befriending a few chauffeur-type Indian gentlemen who joined Julia and I as we were playing cards. They taught us a game called "Flash". Finally once we were on the nine-hour bus-ride to Jalandhar, Punjabi Bhangra music blasted out the entire journey. Julia had already gone deaf from rock concerts, but I was forced to wear ear-plugs despite the fact that the music was very good.
Once we moved in to a house with several other EduCARE 'interns' on the outskirts of the town of Adampur, it was time to experience living in Punjab. First of all, the temperature has generally stayed over 100 degrees (F) for most of every day. Second of all, Punjab is one of the most conservative states in India which means that women must always have shoulders covered and legs covered. We can maybe get away with wearing a pair of capris every once and a while. Third of all, no air conditioning, limited water supply, and having to drink only bottled water for the first week all made adjustment quite an ordeal the first several days. I managed to avoid extreme sickness, but after having a vegetable kabob (it wasn't what you think) on the second day, I felt quite nauseous the following morning.
Since then, I have adapted pretty decently. I've purchased some traditional, loose, green Punjabi pants, have started to boil water for myself in the mornings and add some green tea, and have come to even enjoy bathing with the bucket and cup that Zilka told us all about. The heat continues to keep my appetite at bay, but each day, it's easy to get bananas, samosas, vegetables, naan, or chapatis very cheaply right by the Centre where I spend most of each week-day.
The people here are very friendly and considerate. Punjabis speak, yup, Punjabi, and the vast majority practice the Sikh religion. In brief, this is a relatively recently formed religion (15th cent.). It is mono-theistic, probably a bit more similar to Islam than Hinduism. Like most religions, it's main values are faith and justice. About 75% of the world's Sikhs live in the state of Punjab, but it is one of the world's fastest growing religions. I am really looking forward to learning much more about it while I'm here, just like I'm looking forward to mastering more of the Punjabi language. Julia and I are living in an small village called Sotla, which is a maze of narrow cobblestone roads and Indian homes, which are incredibly open and airy. Most of our house, for example, is basically an outdoor patio and open terrace plus enclosed bedrooms. The Sikh morning (4am) and evening prayers literally blast through the air into our home. In Sikhism, sound and music are considered the best way to approach the divine and the loudspeaker prayers encourage personal meditation on the meditation of God and dispel negative thoughts.
Transportation here has been a surprising joy. Indian buses may drive crazily, but they are endearing in many ways. First of all, the buses are always late. Inside the bus, decoration is gaudy, the music is obnoxious, the outfits of everyone on the bus are colorful, and the scenery is always interesting. Fellow travelers smile and help you understand where to get off for your stop. Oh, and the fare is incredibly inexpensive as well as reimbursed by EduCARE.
Finally, as far as continuing my fellowship project, my next step is to have a meeting with a woman in EduCARE who has already done a great deal of research into Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in the villages around here. SHGs have been the most successful form of micro-finance and women empowerment in India. The basic idea is that a group of about 10 women come together to talk about their livelihoods and how to improve them. The micro-finance element comes in when they become a savings group, each contributing a very small amount on usually a monthly basis. Saved funds can then be lent out for emergency purposes or business ventures, given the agreement and approval of the entire group. There is much more to be said about it, but I will leave that for next time.
Posted by jomartha at June 3, 2011 02:30 PM