Future Generations II

Posted 27th September 2008 by David McGuinness

We arrived in Ziro and he brought me out to Hong, the largest tribal village in Asia to meet the Village Women Workers (VWWs). On entering the village I was ushered inside one of the village houses and greeted by about twenty Apatani women, all voluntary members of Future Generations, and a couple of men.

We sat around the walls and introduced ourselves. I started in Hindi but was soon forced into English as my Hindi was not up to the job. Jada, one of the senior members translated between English and Apatani and the other way around. The women started to take turns explaining how they had got involved with Future Generations and what they felt were the main benefits, both personally and for their communities. The first speaker talked of when she first got involved with Future Generations the other villagers used to mock her as she used to try to clean up the village, removing waste from the fields and rivers. They thought that this was the lowest of jobs and couldn’t understand why anyone would do this voluntarily. Much of the learning they received was also initially resisted by the community, such as allowing a baby to be weighed, which was considered bad luck and disclosing at what stage of pregnancy a to-be-mother was at. However, these and many other barriers have since been broken down and the women are now trusted by their communities. The women explained that they are proud of the work they do and the benefit their communities derived.

They all spoke very highly of Future Generations and told how much they appreciated the changes it had helped them to enact. Simple hygiene has improved, with water being boiled before being consumed, stagnant water not allowed to build up and mosquito nets being used. This has resulted in fewer epidemics, particularly in regard to malaria and dysentery. There have also been fewer issues regarding births, as the women now prepare properly for a birth and have learned what they need to do to take care of themselves before and after the birth. The benefits of immunisation had also been accepted and the women had learned to administer injections. Family planning was also becoming the norm and the women learned how to make simple home remedies for smaller ailments such as rehydration solutions for those suffering from diarrhoea. A register of births, deaths and illnesses is also now kept in each community allowing for better planning.

The women also explained that a Self-Help Group had been set up and each family contributed twenty rupees (about fifty US cents) a month which was put in a special bank account. The fund was then used as a form of micro-finance allowing people to start up small weaving projects, fish farms and vegetable gardens, with very low interest rates being charged. The fund was also used to help needy members of the community such as those who had a sick family member or whose house had burned down. The Self-Help Group also run a small craft stall in Ziro, the proceeds of which go back to the community fund.

One woman spoke with pride of how she had learned to read numbers, something that had proved very useful at the market and to write her name instead of signing with a thumb print. She said sometimes she couldn’t believe that it was herself who had written what she had, and that this small thing was like a ray of light. She compared being illiterate to being blind and now felt that she was learning to see. She then fetched a pen and paper and started to meticulously write her name. Three more ladies followed suit with such an air of pride and defiance. It was very moving and I began to realise that possibly the most important contribution of Future Generations was the belief and confidence that it had given these women, and many more like them and as well as their communities.

They were not shy about asking me questions either, some which I struggled to answer, such as what we did in my community (I could think of neighbourhood watch schemes!) and what I was hoping to do for them, and any advice I could give them. Later Dr. Kanno told me that only five or six years ago these women when meeting a guest used to sit in the corner as far from the guest as possible, and would only giggle when asked to speak. That much had certainly changed, and there was more than a little willingness to speak their minds!

We had dinner and then the ladies started to sing some songs and enjoy themselves. Apparently they were very keen for me to sing too, and after deflecting the attention once or twice it became clear I wasn’t going to be let leave without some sort of an attempt. So after an advance apology for my singing voice I sang (if that’s the word!) the Irish National Anthem and they very generously applauded. We arranged to go out to one of Future Generations children’s projects the following day and I somehow got roped into giving them a small talk on the environment. At least I wasn’t going to have to sing again, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be asking me a second time!

This blog is part of an Off-The-Beaten-Track Travel Diary. Click on the links below to navigate through this journey.

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