Sunday, June 27, 2010

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Balangir




21st June 2010, a.ka. my birthday
Not like any other birthday before now I was up at 5am to get the 6.45am train to Balangir in the western part of the state of Orissa. Unusually my regular auto driver was 15 minutes late and with no apology. I suspect he may have slept in. I on the other hand had not slept at all. The last time I was up at that hour was for a DM shift in my hotel days.

My train left early, only by 3 minutes, but still early to arrive one hour late in Balangir. I visited Balangir at the request of VSO India to carry out an HR audit for a  local NGO, Adhar.

Adhar is a grassroots level development organisation working in the Bolangir district of Orissa on issues of land rights, natural resource management child rights, livelihoods and disability. Gender equity is a cross cutting theme across all its programmes. Adhar's partnership with VSO has led to them to take up disability as a programmatic mandate. Specifically it has led to the formation of the Bolangir disability network or the Zilla Viklang Adhikar Manch. It is a platform whereby disabled people in the district have organised themselves to take up issues for advocacy, create livelihood options, facilitate access to government schemes and form a support circle for a better quality of life.

I was of course happy to assist. I was warmly welcomed off the train by S and asked if I was ok travelling by motorbike. Of course I said yes, having been on a motorbike many times since arriving in India, but I was forgetting I was carrying two heavy bags. I had packed everything from a mossie net to my laptop and all associated gadgets. Thankfully one of the bags was a back-pack and S took the other one on the front of the motorbike between the controls (to any biker reading this I have struggled between using the word ‘controls’  and ‘handle bars’ and ‘control’ has won, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

A few minutes later I was being dropped off at the local Trivani Hotel to spend the evening reading up on some Adhar materials, eating a lovely lunch, relaxing, walking around the streets of Balangir, and believe it or not watching some TV. I spent the evening flicking between Tom Cruise in Cocktail (English language movies here are sub-titled in English  - no I did not get this wrong) and Portugal beating PRK 7 – 0. What a choice ! What a birthday !

22nd June
My last year before the big 4-0 begins. Crikey !
Had a great day today with Adhar. I learned a lot from meeting with 13 of their staff and they were all eager to meet me. I then spent the afternoon with Sa the HR assistant and we discussed in detail how I could help her and the organisation as a whole. A busy day. In fact the busiest in a long time thankfully. Tomorrow it’s all about the paperwork.

23rd June
Well, yes today was all about the paperwork. I spent the morning with Sa going through what HR information Adhar has at this time. I learned a lot from her and I hope she learned a little from me too. The afternoon was spent back at the hotel making some notes while everything was still fresh in my head.



24th June
I was very kindly taken on a field trip around the Balangir district today which I thoroughly enjoyed. The first stop was 80km from the central office to the Hindu temple of the god Hanuman at Hari Shankar. A beautiful building, I was delighted when I discovered that as a non-believer I was to be allowed inside the main area of the temple. However we did not get inside the inner sanctum which was closed at the time as it was explained to me that ‘God had gone to lunch’.

The temple is located beside a small waterfall which while I was there was filled with local people both bathing and having a good time. One family were being terrorised by a hungry wild monkey. When I first saw him he was digging into a crisp packet, but by the time I reached for my camera he had gone over to a bench which contained a family’s belongings and was literally tearing through the bags searching for food. Being a wild monkey I was advised not to get too close. But I was interested to watch him or her as it’s not a sight I often get to see.



After our visit to the temple we then went to the town of Patnagargh where Adhar has one of its field offices. There we met some field staff attending a course on Comprehensive Services. Basically what they were doing was learning how to deal with the blind in the local districts and give general health advice to them and their families. Unfortunately the handicapped in Orissa are forgotten about and treated as second class citizens. There is little help or assistance for them apart from what may be provided by local NGOs. Families with handicapped children are not accepted in some local tribal communities and NGO staff  has to spend time teaching communities it is ok to have handicapped people amongst them.

This particular group of field workers found 120 blind people in their local 2 districts, with 292 villages and 45000 residents. They work with:
-         reversible blindness (eg cataracts)
-         irreversible blindness
-         social inclusion and general health issues

It was great to see the staff taking time out for further study.

25th June
My last day in Balangir. I only had a half day before having to get the return train to Bhubaneswar but again it was spent with the Adhar staff. This time the senior management were providing orientation training to 13 new staff. It may have been in Oriya but in any language it was clear to see the enthusiasm of both the trainers and the trainees.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the staff of Adhar in Balangir. A great bunch of people doing a great job.  Hopefully I’ll be able to spend more time with them and help them improve their HR structures in the few months I have left in India.