Wednesday, 19 March 2008

India with World Vision

I'm halfway through a visit to India with World Vision, as part of the Global Campaign for Education, with Laura and Alice, two pupils from Bristol Brunel Academy. We've visited several villages and schools in Mewat, a predominantly Muslim area about an hour's drive from Delhi. World Vision have been working in these communities to encourage parents to send their children to school. We met one family of four children, a boy aged 15 and girls aged 12, 9 and 7. The boy told him his ambition is to do a computer course; the oldest girl wanted to be a scientist; the next to join the police; and the youngest wants to land on the moon!

In one village I met a group of women who had, with World Vision's encouragement, established a self-help group. Amongst other things the group makes low interest loans to people who couldn't get money from the banks or money lenders, and gives small grants to families who would not otherwise be able to afford the 60 rupee admission fee for primary school (an annual fee which covers books, materials, etc). They have also done their best to persuade parents to keep their children on at school, and we met a group of children who had dropped out but had then, after the group intervened, gone back to school. The women were confident, articulate, and clearly determined to do their best to improve life in their village. At one point I asked them what the men were doing; they laughed!

There is huge development going on around New Delhi and its neighbouring city Gurgaon, which is where we're actually staying. The villages seem a world away, but we were told by one farmer that the Government wants to buy up their land, for more building. The price being offered isn't much by way of compensation for losing their livelihood. The farmer had switched to organic farming a few years ago; he told us that his produce was better (watermelons twice the size) and he could get a better price for organic fare in the city (a sign of the growing prosperity in places like New Delhi). I asked why they'd started using chemical fertilizers in the first place, but his answer - or my question - was lost in translation. Again, it was World Vision who'd encouraged him to go organic and helped him find a market for his produce. He wants his children to get a good education so they can be part of the 'new India' which we see being built all round our hotel, and, when you see the poverty in his village, you can entirely understand why. At the same time, however, there's something a little disturbing about seeing the pace as which vast swathes of the country is being concreted over. Progress, perhaps - but at what price?