In December, a visit was held for the current volunteers at Seva Mandir to see the work that the organisation carries out in other fields. Around 7 of the volunteers, who all work in different departments of Seva Mandir went to the Jhadol block (to the West of Udaipur) where they observed examples of various projects in operation.
Below is a brief account from British volunteer Oliver – who is working on a project which involves field testing new, improved cookstoves which will be distributed amongst villages in Rajasthan.
Our first stop was a pre-school (Balwadi) that Seva Mandir funds. We arrived and there were about 30 children who initially all looked absolutely terrified by us. We spoke to the teacher who had been working there for the past 13 years. She said that initially the children attended school in a very dirty state but that she spoke to the parents and explained that this was not good enough and that they should clean and care for their children better. She also explained that some of the children were malnourished in the beginning but the school supplies food for the children, which is fortified with extra vitamins that has helped to address the problem.
Thanks to Seva Mandir the children in this village now have the opportunity to start learning from an early age and all go on to formal education.
Afterwards we visited a school Seva Mandir is involved with which catered for children at levels A,B and C. As we arrived all the children were in lessons and it was fantastic to see all these children so enthusiastic and engrossed in what their teachers were teaching them. One teacher explained that they also use games for learning and demonstrated this for us. He set up some plastic bottles which all had numbers on them just like pins in a bowling ally and the children threw a tennis ball at the bottles. Whichever bottles were knocked over would then become a mathematical sum for the children to work out.
A fantastic way of learning yet so simple. I thought that maybe some teachers back home could take some advice from these guys.
After this we set off to look at some of the watershed work that Seva Mandir had been involved with. We went to these huge hills which were covered in shrubbery and trees. This was common land in the villages, and Seva Mandir helped to organise the villagers to all be involved in looking after it. Normally the land would dry out and be bare, but the local villagers with the help of Seva Mandir built water harvesting structures to help slow the rainfall, as well as contour trenches that fills with water to help water soak into the ground and reach the roots of the plants.
We also had a look at a local dam or anicut that Seva Mandir had built in 1988. This was amazing to see. We arrived at this huge lake that was just incredible to look at. Before the building of the dam this would have been a big dry bit of land. Now, roughly 145 families can enjoy the benefits as this lake helps water infiltrate into the ground, supplying wells and providing water to all the local crops by irrigation. It was a scorching hot day yet here sat this huge lake. It truly was astonishing to see and showed me how important the watershed work Seva Mandir carries out actually is.
Our next stop was to visit a huge well in Dhala village. Seva Mandir supported the building of a boundary wall for the well, making it safer and reducing contamination, and a water tank was also built to pump water into from the well. They the villagers were taught how to chlorinate the water.
As we were discussing how the tank was built and the problems the villagers used to face before the clean water was supplied, I noticed a young child probably around 10 years old holding a water canister in the distance. He looked like he was on his way to fill the canister but was scared as all these people were standing around talking and looking all important. I smiled at him and waved him over. He then put his canister on the floor, turned the tap on and started to fill it up. While the water was running he started to wash his hands over the canister, which meant that all the drinking water he was collecting wouldn’t be clean. Just as I was thinking of going over to tell the kid, one of the villagers went over, grabbed his pot and emptied it on the floor. Then he put it back under the tap and explained to the child that he shouldn’t wash his hands while filling up drinking water. It was great to see that they understood about keeping the water clean and were taking responsibility of the projects Seva Mandir had carried out.
The last visit on the day’s itinerary was another pre-school, or Balwadi, that Seva Mandir fund all of the learning materials for and pay the salary for the teacher. We walked into the classroom and spoke to the teacher who cares for 20 children on average. Again we heard how normally the children would just be sitting at home doing nothing until they were old enough to help out on the farm. Apparently some of the children again were highly malnourished before attending the school but were fed as much as needed to be provided with all the vitamins required. Since attending the school all the health issues had dissapeared and the children were leaning the basics that many people take for granted.
It was great to see these young children all with huge grins on their faces and so happy to be learning and playing. It was a great day and I felt privileged to be apart of it.