Being in India was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about Indian culture.
Madhu and Manu, the founders of our local charity partner JRP, did everything to help me to feel at home here, as did their children Pratyush and Issa.
I was there at the time of the Hindu festival of Holi. It's a carnival of colour, celebrating the victory of Good over Evil.
It is a bank holiday in India and there definitely was a festive atmosphere in the streets. People buy colour powders and cover their loved ones with these powders, wishing them a happy Holi. Here I am getting involved.
Even dogs took part in Holi.
During my stay in India, I also enjoyed a day off to go and visit the Sun temple in Konark.
Built in the 13th Century to honour the Sun God, Surya, it’s full of erotic sculptures, celebrating the joys of life. It was all a bit of a surprise, to say the least. Apparently, all these sculptures were built to increase birth rates at the time. I wonder if the UK government would ever adopt similar policies now? Konark, with its saucy sculptures, is now a UNESCO Heritage Site.
According to my guide, this was meant to represent 24 hours in the life of an Indian.
I would definitely recommend a visit to Konark if you're in the area.
I'll write again soon.
part three – goat farming in the wake of cyclone Phailin
While I was there I met Sukanti, one of the hundred or so women who have benefitted from the project. Here she is with her son, and a friend:
Sukanti earns a living by farming goats. So when Cyclone Phailin hit the Orissa coast in October 2013 and killed eight of her 11 goats, it was a disaster. The Cyclone was the second strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit India. 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. Some of that money made it possible for Sukanti to get five new goats.
It has also meant that Sukanti has been able to look after the goats and feed them. Vets come in regularly to vaccinate the goats and ensure they are in good shape, and she can sell goats after a year, which is a very lucrative business: 1kg of goat meat is sold 400 Rupees (£4). It's a family affair, as her children also help to look after the goats, something they enjoy.
“The children both go to school," Sukanti told me. "Our first priority is to have them educated so they have a better life. Not a single child in this village will be found not educated.”
She carried on: “I expect my son to be a police officer. I want him to hang all the weapons on his chest.” I found out that this is a reference to popular Hindi films, in which police officers fight against villains. Police officers wear weapons in their coat, on their chest, to protect civilians.
The last super Cyclone to hit Orissa was in 1999, so we aren’t expecting such strong cyclones to hit Orissa on a regular basis. However, to ensure villagers are able to access more resources to help them cope in the event of any natural disasters, JRP encourages them to insure the goats along with other livestock and agricultural activities. JRP has also planted thousands of coconut and banana trees to protect the island from high winds and exposure to the Bay of Bengal.
Watch this space for more updates from my trip to India soon.
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.
Earlier this year, our Geraldine (Ge for short, pronounced like 'gee whizz') went to India to visit one of the innocent foundation's partner organisations, Jeevika Trust. This is the first chapter of her story. We'll be posting more updates here soon.
part one – getting ready
I am going to India in two days' time.
Mosquito repellent? Packed.
Level of excitement, on a scale of 1 to 10? 11.
I'm super excited. And I will make sure I bring lots of pictures & stories back so I can share what I learn out there as much as possible.
In my excitement I tried to prepare as best I could by reading everything I could get my hands on to try and give me some idea of what it would be like: I have read travellers’ blogs, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice website, City of Joy (Dominique Lapierre), The Alchemy of Desire (Tarun J. Tejpal), The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga), Kim (Rudyard Kipling), Fous de l’Inde (Regis Airault) and my Eyewitness guidebook. I have also watched the beautiful 1982 film Gandhi, which depicts the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s non-violent independence movement in British-ruled India. I have even watched my first Bollwyood movie, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, and loved it. Now I feel I’m ready as I’ll ever be to step-foot in India for the first time and discover for myself what it is really like.
I am travelling with the innocent foundation, to visit and work for one of our charity partners: Jeevika Trust.
So let me tell you a little bit more about the innocent foundation…
The innocent foundation aims to help the world’s hungry. Why? Because currently 1 in 8 people in the world suffer from hunger. The stats are shocking: in India alone, over 7,000 Indian people die of hunger every day. When actually, hunger is one of the most solvable problems in the world.
And about Jeevika Trust…
To help the world’s hungry, the innocent foundation partners with incredible charities like Jeevika Trust. Jeevika means ‘livelihood’ in Hindi: as they say on their website, it is not just about making a living, but about embracing all primary conditions for a dignified and hopeful existence. Jeevika Trust was founded in 1970 as a non-religious, non-political UK charity. Its mission is to tackle the roots of poverty, which fits very neatly with the innocent foundation’s aim.
Jeevika Trust works with Indian local partner charities. I will be visiting one of them: Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), which can be translated as ‘lifeline council’. JRP is an independent development organisation working for peace, solidarity, human rights and sustainable livelihood in the State of Odisha. I will be visiting one of their projects which the innocent foundation supports. The project is called ‘Eco-Berhampur’, and it's based on an island where 80% of the population live below the poverty line ($US1 per day). The project aims to develop the Berhampur village by empowering the villagers to make the most of their natural resources and become economically and environmentally sustainable.
And about me...
I work in the HR team at innocent drinks. I am very, very proud of the fact that innocent gives 10% of its profits to charity.
Every year, innocent gives two people in the company the chance to each visit one of the foundation project partners and support a project by doing a real piece of work for them. I am delighted to have won the scholarship last year.
I’ll be working on two different projects whilst in India:
- The first one will be to write case studies about women who benefitted from Jeevika Trust’s support. These stories will then be shared on JRP’s website, Jeevika Trust’s website and here on the innocent foundation website. I am excited to know more about women villagers whose everyday life is so different from ours. I am very keen to understand the challenges they face and how JRP works with them to build their capabilities.
- The second project will be to give JRP employees training on what an HR policy should look like. I believe no matter where you are, some key principles on recruiting, retaining and motivating people stay the same and make it easier to reach your goal.
I’m also hoping I can make a difference, however tiny that is, so that I’m not the only one benefitting from this experience… I feel so privileged to go and meet the people who work for JRP as well as the women whose lives have been positively impacted by the work of JRP and, indirectly, by the innocent foundation. I can’t wait to get there and see what it’s like.
Oh, and one last thing: I am French – so please excuse any strange phrases that don't translate properly. Thanks for reading, and I will write more soon.
2013 was the start of a new chapter for the innocent foundation, with a new purpose: to help the world’s hungry. The foundation funds projects across the world, including projects here in the UK. That was our starting point for last year’s ‘foundation day’ activity.
Foundation day is a day when everyone in the innocent offices gets excited about the foundation, hears updates on the projects we’re funding, and gets a chance to learn more about the work the foundation’s partners are doing. This year we kept the focus close to home, to reflect the work we are starting to do with UK food poverty charities.
Just a stone’s throw from innocent foundation HQ, Fruit Towers, is the Dalgarno Trust. The Dalgarno Trust is a charity that focuses on working within our local community, providing a crucial range of services to people of all ages and backgrounds. One of their initiatives is a weekly foodbank, through which they distribute food to some of the hungriest people in the local community.
Many of us have fond memories of bringing in food packages for school Harvest Festivals when we were younger. We wanted to recreate that excitement to help support the Dalgarno Trust, so we held a “foodbank festival” at Fruit Towers. In just 2 weeks, we collected enough non-perishable goods to fill a whole innocent grassy van, which we delivered to Dalgarno.
Upon receipt of this delivery of much needed food, Vicki Davies, Director of the Dalgarno Trust, said:“Please, please give our heartfelt thanks and best wishes to all the innocent staff who contributed. We are so delighted with the stock of food – it will be a lifesaver for some people this winter.”
Keep an eye on our website and this blog for updates on the projects that the foundation funds, and why not see if there’s a foodbank near you that accepts donations.