Planning focussed discussions with AID chapters
For the past 5 months, we have been traveling in India visiting and working with grassroots organizations. We have discovered a lot about these groups and about ourselves. During our trip to Canada and the US in September-October (for personal reasons), we would like to visit AID chapters and reconnect with volunteers.
Proposed topics for discussion(s) (in no particular order)
Our motivation is to discuss issues we have reflected on over the past few months. Some of them have come up during the course of Sudha’s fellowship (Community Health Learning Program) at Community Health Cell, Bangalore. Others have become apparent during visits.
Rather than a brief overview of all these topics, we would prefer to have an in-depth discussion on one or two of them.
Scale and scope of work: What do we mean when we talk about an intervention at the district level? At the block level? At the state level? What is the magnitude of the task being undertaken and how can we gain a realistic understanding of the scale of the interventions we support?
Appropriate technology: While there are many technological solutions that are not just appropriate at the margins but also in the mainstream, why have they not been adopted? Instead, why do we still see resource-hungry solutions such as diesel generators? Societal acceptance is an important component in the ‘appropriate’ aspects of technological solutions – has this not been sufficiently addressed? Are there other parts of the picture that we are missing?
Rural livelihoods: There seem to be very few self-sufficient models of income generation. A lot of schemes seem to be dependent on distant, urban markets. Is it possible to come up with sustainable, local producer-consumer links? How do livelihoods connect to NREGA and other government schemes?
Sustainable agriculture & food security: There are many roads leading to sustainable agriculture – environmental, livelihood-related, spiritual, etc. What are the potentials for scalability for each of these approaches? Is food security for the producers a natural outcome of such programs? What is the role of the consumer? Fair wages for laborers is one of the central tenets of progressive thought, what is the equivalent for the marginal farmer?
Caste and gender dynamics: A lot of the interventions we support are with marginalized communities – women and/or Dalits or Adivasis. When we talk about the discrimination that these groups face, we usually externalize it. But how do the disadvantages these groups face relate to our lives and the visible and invisible privileges we have received? And what, if anything, can we do about it?
‘Insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and group dynamics: How does the presence of privileged ‘outsiders’ impact the functioning and direction of a grassroots organization? What are the challenges faced when working to create and maintain a non-hierarchical organization? And why is this important?
Sudha: I am also interested in learning about the current state of AID-US, especially the ways in which volunteers are able to sustain their interest and commitment. I found that I was not very effective in motivating other volunteers and would like to see if my skills have improved in that area! Also, the above issues require sustained discussions for building understanding and perspective – I would like to add my voice and perspectives and learn from the ensuing discussions.
Dwiji: AID plays a very crucial role in shaping an individual who wants to volunteer into one who asks uncomfortable questions of themselves and of society at large. Sawaal (question) is the wellspring from which the tenets of Sangharsh, Sewa and Nirman draw their energy. The processes that nuture this environment are not very straight forward and are often buried under other layers of volunteering. I would like to share my experiences and perspectives that might be of interest to AID volunteers and look forward to learning from the discussions that follow.
Sudha: I have been an AID volunteer since 2001 and, until early 2007, have been active at the chapter and inter-chapter level. I also served on the AID Executive Board for a term. The volunteering experience with AID has dramatically changed the direction of my life – I have gained new perspectives and, more importantly, the confidence to join in the struggle for rights, equality and dignity for marginalized communities in India. I also joined the ever-increasing ranks of AID couples after marrying Dwiji in 2003!
Dwiji: I was first exposed to political ideas and social in-equities during the days in college theatre, but I was not perturbed enough I suppose. The riots of 2002, in Gujarat, had me really thinking about my silence in the socio-political sphere. I was in Minneapolis and I started taking part in discussions at the local AID chapter there. I volunteered with various teams within AID-US and actively participated in discussions and debates, on phone, in person and online.
It would be good to get a brief writeup of interests and experiences from volunteers in the hosting chapter. So far we had been exploring visiting chapters that are a bus journey (or two) away from Toronto or Minneapolis & St. Paul, the two places already on our itinerary. If there is interest and some support to cover travel expenses, we would be open to visit other chapters as well.