part two - Berhampur village
Hello, Geraldine here, with my second update from my trip to India.
What a change of scenery from London. I am just back from a site visit in Berhampur village on Chilika Lake. Covering 425 sq miles (1,100 sq km), the Chilika lagoon is the largest brackish water lake in Asia. Chilika is separated from the Bay of Bengal by a sandy ridge, with just a narrow channel connecting to the sea.
The village is exposed to briny water on one side, with high seas and cyclones from the Bay of Bengal on the other side. It is environmentally vulnerable.
In October 2013, the village was very badly hit by Cyclone Phailin. It was the second strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit India. Our project there started in June 2012 and had been going on for more than a year when the cyclone hit the coast. It had a devastating impact – thousands of coconut trees were uprooted, fishing nets were washed out to sea and boats were damaged, the new compost pits and kitchen gardens were completely destroyed. JRP reacted immediately by submitting an emergency appeal to Jeevika Trust, their UK partner, who turned to the innocent foundation for support. The innocent foundation was able to release £10,250 to help them re-build. Knowing all of this, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got off the boat to visit the village.
We were welcomed there by Renu (pronounced ‘Ray-noo’), a short, determined lady who manages the project and is highly respected in the village.
Renu is on the right here.
She was surrounded by women from a self-help group which had directly benefited from the project. They were very proud to show us what they had done to make a living. And they should be proud. Together they have formed self-help groups of 15-20 members. They have put their savings together to enable some members to start a livelihood activity. JRP, the local charity which we support through Jeevika Trust, has trained them on how to make the most of their natural resources and given them some funds to start activities.
Some of them have started cultivating crabs and prawns. It is a very profitable activity.
Others have started to make and use natural vermicompost on their crops to improve their harvests. Vermicomposting is the process of composting using a mixture of food waste. Villagers use cow faeces, mix it with vegetable peelings, and add a kilogram of worms. Vermicompost acts as a natural nutrient-rich fertiliser and soil conditioner – perfect for the villagers to use on their crops.
Some members of the self-help group have also started looking after goats for milk.
Some cultivate cashew nuts, others bananas or coconuts.
People are now benefitting from smokeless chulhas. These stoves are replacing the old ones, which create smoke women inhale whilst cooking, leading to respiratory problems like tuberculosis.
Latrines have also been built in the village.
It was very interesting to learn about all the activities the villagers have tackled. I was particularly impressed to see all these results given the cyclone was only a matter of months ago. It shows an incredible amount of resilience. I am hoping all the coconut and banana trees they have planted will serve as a natural wind barrier next time.
Whilst out there, we stayed in a guesthouse on the lake, and were the only guests there. Well, not exactly. In my room, there were cockroaches, grasshoppers, spiders and big ants. I started by being really afraid which the locals didn’t really understand: “cockroaches are not harmful”, they kept saying. Surag, the Indian who was accompanying us, had found a centipede at his door which was harmful - their bites can be very painful. Unfortunately my mosquito net was too small to be used and I had forgotten my cotton sleeping bag liner. So I put on my eye mask and my earplugs, and went out like a light. I woke up covered in bites, but having slept like a baby.
This is actually the day-to-day life of all villagers. The comfort of their thatched homes is limited, and, unlike the guest house, they don’t have electricity or running water. They go to the well to wash themselves and use the new latrines which JRP, along with Orissa state government, have recently built. And yet they had huge smiles on their faces. As Manu, the director of the charity told me this morning, ‘a smile is the most important asset for an Indian’.
I am very thankful to the women of Berhampur for welcoming me so warmly and being so hospitable.