Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 2009: Health Camp, Reports, Celebrations and Weddings

Mr. Richard Fehler, last week February 2009 - Mid April (6 weeks in total)
San Francisco, USA and London, UK
First Impression

I arrived in Jodhpur a few days before starting at Sambhali Trust. It’s my third trip to India and I immediately see the appeal of Jodhpur. It’s a bustling town with many of the same challenges I’ve seen elsewhere in India, but still it has a nice, assessable feel to it, especially when compared with the much larger Indian cities.

Still, Jodhpur has its own noise and chaos so it’s refreshing to enter the quiet calm of the Durag Niwas Guest House where the Trust conducts its work. Govind was out-of-town for a few days so the other volunteers introduced first-hand me to the work the Trust is doing. I met the women the Trust is helping and observed some of the classes. Everyone made me feel very welcome.

The working conditions at the Trust are very good. Noisy sometimes, disorganized often, but still wonderful. I divide my time between the pillowed rooftop terrace and the door less, breezy first floor corner library - even with its mismatched paint and rickety fan, it’s a space that most aspirants to the corporate corner office would do well to consider.

For twenty years I worked in corporate America, and this feels like a breath of fresh air: interesting and substantial people who are dedicating a portion of their lives to a cause greater than themselves and more important than their own bank account. On my first day I learned that the first class of women will graduate in June 2009 with newly acquired sewing skills and new confidence. I will be helping to create sustainable businesses for these women as well as suggest organizational best practices for the Trust.

These women face challenges that I cannot ever really understand, but still I see etched in their faces character, desire, and most of all, courage. The work the Trust is doing is more than just aid for a day or month. It is a way for these women to learn a skill, work hard, and improve the lives for themselves and for future generations. They are taking control of their lives, sometimes for the first time. Every day I see them, they make me humble and they make me hopeful.

26th of February 2009

Mumy's Brother's daughter got married today, some pictures from the marriage, i requested our volunteers and Margret to Join us for the party and the ceremony, My youngest first cousin got married, we all love her very much, Her husband is captain in Indian Army. I was very happy that the family(my uncle and his wife) allowed me to do the ceremony that the brother does for the sister who is the bride, My cousin Chatu was my favourite cousin and we were all sad to see her go but happy at the same time that she was getting married to a good looking, intelligent well posted man and that she will start a new life, In India marriages have a different prospect than in west, the bride leave their fathers home for ever, she only returns on special occasions(traditionally) and if she returns without occasion than there can be many rumors about the bride and her relationships with the in laws.
My cousin (bride) getting ready for the special day, her hands and feet's were painted with Henna, as stronger the color will appear, the sign is about the stronger relationship she will have with her husband, the lighter it is the relationship is lighter with the husband, therefore we try our best that the color appear darker so we apply oils over it etc.

conducting the brothers ceremony
bride and groom
dancers and the grooms party of 60 guest coming for the marriage ceremony (traditional sitting setup)
special ceremony applied to groom before the marriage by sister of the bride.
special welcome ceremony by the sister in law (brothers wife) of the bride to the groom.
groom mounted on horse going to the marriage place,the traditional drummer ahead beating the drum and taking away the evil from the ambiance
a night before the marriage the ladies performing traditional dances.

Both my cousins (brides sister and another first cousin)
Eliane and my mumy's twin sister

20th of February
we had two ladies coming from France in the guest house, one of the ladies brought with her some old clothes to donate to the Sambhali Trust, while in the conversation I found out that the ladies were learning Kathak (Indian Dance) and I didn't want to loose the opportunity of having them do a workshop with the Sambhali participants, our participants had a workshop and enjoyed it very much. We had Mr. Manoj from Dainik Bhaskar over to cover the workshop for the newspaper. Thank you, Ms. Elsa and Ms. Isabelle.

23rd of February

Our dearest friend (my adoptive grandmother or well I am asked to call her OMA) arrived from Switzerland, I went to receive her at the International Airport in Delhi, We spent one night in Delhi and returned to Jodhpur by train. I was very happy to see Margret at the airport, I was little worried at first cause she didn't come out of the airport for a while after the plane landed.but finally a big smile :) well our family is happy to have one more member in our international family and we hope we are upto the expectation of our new member in the family.

My grand father's brother's grand son (my second cousin) got married in Setrawa (my ancestral home town). From our family I went to the village for a kind of ceremonial "bachelors night" (a night before marriage, nobody from the family of the groom sleeps this night, instead spend the night singing spiritual songs and prayers for the coming good day). My aunt also joined in with her family from Jaisalmer. I went with our Sambhali Jodhpur project volunteers Ms. Eliane and Ms. Johanna for a different experience in the dry Thar desert.
We were welcomed by the groom's sister upon arrival in the picture above.

My Family (aunts and their daughter-in-laws). Folk dancing in the courtyard of the groom's house, last picture of Eliane and Johanna.

The second day the groom went with the male members of the family and friends to the bride's house in Khindakhor village 75 kilometers from Setrawa by bus. Here they stayed over night for the ceremony and the groom goes to do the ceremony at the bride's house. The groom's party (male members accompanying him to the bride's village), stays at the arranged place for them by the bride's party and have dinner and drinks. Only one younger male member is allowed to enter the bride's house with the groom.
The bride's younger sister was also getting married the same day and there was another groom and his party present at the same place and by my surprise they also came from Setrawa and had a few more extended cousines in that party.

We also celebrated Ayush's and Bindiya's (Sambhali Jodhpur project participant) Birthday on 14th Febuary 2009.

Sambhali till the 19th February 2009

Report by Ms.Griselda, Volunteer Setrawa Village Project

Guddi, Laxmi and Maya: their Personal and Educational Progress

The Sambhali centre in Setrawa is open to girls from all castes, and aims to promote caste integration through shared learning.

The following paragraphs describe the educational and personal progress of Guddi, Laxmi and Maya, three Dalit (formerly 'untouchable') participants of the project. Guddi and Maya are both eight-years-old, and Laxmi is ten; Maya and Laxmi are sisters, and Guddi is their cousin.


Sprightly and outgoing, Guddi is the pupil all Setrawa volunteers fall in love with: her charisma and cheeky charm are irresistible. She is the girl visitors from Govind's tour groups remember: she is first to greet them – 'Hello, what is your name? My name is Guddi!' – and last to leave them, running through the dust of their departing bus, waving frantically.

Guddi is naturally bright and eager to learn. Soon after the inception of the Sambhali centre, she approched the then volunteer Ms.Mary Quagliata one day in the marketplace, and mimed writing on her palm, asking to join her classes. As a member of the traditionally outcast Dalit community, she was unsure whether she could attend the classes; when she found out she could, she promptly signed up all the females in her extended family and became the Sambhali centre's most frequent pupil.

But Guddi is easily distracted by the colourful, noisy, ceaselessly changing world around her, and flits from one new thing to another. Never having been to school, she has never learnt to concentrate on written words, or even simply to sit still and listen. This makes teaching her challenging, and sometimes frustrating.

Since September, Guddi has attended the Sambhali centre's afternoon, one-hour literacy class, set up for girls who do not attend the local schools. In this time, she has made slow, but encouraging progress. During the Sambhali centre‘s first year, she learned to say and write the English alphabet, and indeed to speak English better than many of the girls who receive formal education (due to unselfconscious practice with the Trust‘s volunteers and guests!). However Guddi could not read or write English words - and that is what Helen and I have been working on…

My mother sent me Jolly Phonics, a textbook designed to teach young children to read and write, from her UK primary school. With Jolly Phonics, children are taught the 42 sounds of English (so including, for example, EE and AI), not merely its 26 alphabet letters. As they acquire these sounds, they become able to sound-out (read) and build (write) words for themselves. They start by learning the easiest, most common sounds in English (A, S, T, P) and gradually work up to the harder ones (TH, SH, CH). Jolly Phonics is about active learning: the book includes photocopy-able worksheets (with a variety of exercises and games), which help to engage children's attention and to demonstrate that learning can be fun.

Guddi and Laxmi do the Jolly Phonics exercises together: I found this helps to provoke a spirit of competition between them. Each wants to be the first to read the word/ match the word to the picture/ join the alphabet-dots (or whatever the task might be), and so their rate of learning increases. Guddi in particular has responded well to a more active, pupil-centred (and noisy!) style of learning, and her ability to focus and listen has improved.


Maya is quite unlike her cousin Guddi. Past volunteers noted that she rarely smiled, and was almost completely mute. Some days, there is an entrenched sadness in her black eyes, a sadness so profound it defies the false cheerfulness one so often puts on for children.

Back in September, when Maya had a fever, Helen and I took her to hospital - where she was diagnosed with malaria - and paid for the necessary treatment; her mother, who supports an alcoholic husband and their ten children, did not have the 80 rupees (just over £1) to spare. Having never been to hospital before, it was a traumatic experience for Maya, and she did not come to the Sambhali centre for several months afterwards: though the treatment might well have saved her life, it lost us her trust.

I had given up hope of seeing any more than the briefest glimpses of Maya around the village, when one day, mid-November, Laxmi and Guddi burst into our room announcing 'Maya is come! Maya is come!' Sure enough Maya came tentatively into our room, sat on the floor and half-smiled, shyly. In the days that followed she came to school regularly to draw, paint and make animals out of play-dough. She refused (and still refuses) to join Guddi and Laxmi in their English class - something I haven‘t insisted upon for fear of driving her away again. But I hope she will join when she feels ready, and in the meantime that she comes to the centre to have fun and try out new things.

She remains shy around strangers, but now sometimes talks to Helen and me, and smiles. Some days she is positively cheeky, echoing my English ('Quiet!', 'OK?', 'Understand?') then running off! I cannot say that the Sambhali centre is solely responsible for this (sometimes-subtle, sometimes-remarkable) change in Maya - indeed I still don‘t know what is. Yet Sambhali has provided a space in which her new-found confidence can grow: here she can be a running, jumping, shouting little girl, away from the worries of home.


When she first began to attend afternoon literacy classes at the Sambhali centre, Laxmi was difficult and badly behaved. She often refused to hold her pencil, and would instead lie on the ground, kicking her legs and shouting at me in Marwari (the local language). Never having been to school, never having had any sustained, adult attempt to engage her attention, she, like Guddi, did not know how to concentrate. With this in mind, Laxmi and I abandoned letters for a while, and spent the hour clapping rhythms, singing series of notes, drawing shapes, and joining-the-dots. After a slow two weeks of confidence-building, I began to introduce English letters (she had not learned these as well as Guddi during Sambhali's first year). At first I held my hand over hers, allowing her to feel the shape of each letter; soon she was tracing over my pencil letters in bright colours; next she wrote them out, by herself, again and again. Some days were better than others, but after a further three weeks, Laxmi was usually able to focus on her book, without shouting or walking off, for 45 minutes. She seemed happier - laughing and smiling more often - and was, I think, beginning to trust us. It was amazing to see!

In December 2008, Laxmi and I started reading. We began by sounding-out the letters of words she already knew: C-A-T, M-A-T, H-A-T, then composed a short dictionary of easy words (A: apple, ant, cat; B: bat, bus, etc.). In January 2009, Laxmi’s rate of progress, and more importantly her enthusiasm increased with the introduction of Jolly Phonics (see above), and the systematic, phonetics-based learning it encourages. She now feels confident reading three- and four-letter words that use the easiest 20 or so sounds of English, and can write down these words after they have been spoken slowly. It is unlikely she will be able to recognise all 42 sounds (or, therefore, to read and write words using those letters) by the time Helen and I leave the project in March - but the foundations are there (and a photocopy of Jolly Phonics will be here for future volunteers to use if they wish).

The Future…

Helen and I have decided to sponsor Guddi, Laxmi and Maya to attend school in Setrawa (the private, Saraswati School) for at least a year (see final paragraph). They will start at the beginning of the new school year, in July 2009. We have arranged for them to have private tuition in Hindi, English and Maths for an hour a day, 6 days a week, with a teacher from the school from March to July, in preparation for starting.

Guddi, Laxmi and Maya will all start in the first of the school's eight classes. Their progress will be assessed after 3 months, and they will then be given the opportunity to move into a higher class, with children nearer their own ages.

If you are interested in sponsoring (any of) the girls, or contributing something towards their education from July 2010 onwards, please contact Sambhali's founder, Govind Singh Rathore. Sponsorship is on a yearly basis, through Sambhali's ‚Literacy Programme‚. The all-inclusive annual cost of sponsorship (fees, books, uniforms etc.) is 2,000 rupees (subject to change) per girl in a small Setrawa Village School.

We hope formal education will - as well as instilling in the girls a sense of self-worth and belonging - open out new social and, eventually, occupational possibilities for them.


Durag Niwas Guest House and Family:-

Mumy interacting in one evening with the Sambhali Participants


Sitting lounge and a little Library

little corners here and there

From the kitchen to the entrance.


Sambhali India (A shop that opened to provide a platform to under privileged women and girls)

Maharani room

Category 'B' room, first floor

Little Garden on the Entrance and sitting/reading/waiting area

Roof top with view to the garden behind our house and fort, Hindi class in progress.

Wonderful Artist of the Show Measure 4 Measure by William Shakespeare. The show was held at the Mehrangarh Fort, my director friend invited me and friends over to see the show, I went with all the Sambhali team (volunteers in Jodhpur) and had the privilege to meet and introduce Sambhali to The H. H. Maharaja of Jodhpur(Baapji).

Sambhali Trust
With the kind efforts of Ms. Helen and Ms. Griselda, Setrawa project participants were able to go on a picnic to Tivri village, here there is a beautiful garden, the participants had lunch, cake, games, lunch cooked by the older ladies who participate in the projects or are the guardian joining on the days journey.
Bus Ride
Setrawa village project participants.
Games :)Lunch is Served :)
ummmmm Cake :)
Rekha, our Setrawa project teacher's grand ma cooking lunch for all.

Sambhali Trust Health Camp
We held a health camp in Setrawa Village with the help of Dr. Veronika Ng from the USA and Dr. B. Derashree of Jodhpur.

Regular check up and free medication was provided to the needy.
Dr. Derashree and Dr. Veronika discussing in the picture
Line of patients waiting for their turn.

Health workshop was held for a few days after the health checkup clinic.

Audiance listening very carefully

After the success of Setrawa village health camp, we organized a health workshops in Jodhpur Project by Dr. Veronika.

After the sex and health workshop it was quite interesting for our participants to learn about the first aid, digestion, circulation and respiratory systems.

Report by Dr. Veronika

Veronica Ng’s report Jan 30 to Feb 13, 2009

I came across Sambhali Trust through a friend of a friend back home in the US. I was leaving for India in less than a week when I heard about this project. Although I had planned on volunteering in India, the projects I had considered both fell apart. I was reserved to the fact that it was not meant to be and I had my heart set on traveling alone and experiencing India. When I first read the website of Sambhali Trust, the first thing that struck me was the unexpectedness of a Rajput man wanting to make a difference in the lives of the local women especially those in the lower castes and the untouchables. Putting my skepticism aside, I arrived at Jodhpur.

My time with the project was split between Setrawa (a village 110 km west of Jodhpur) and Jodhpur. I spent the first week in rural India and stayed with two other volunteers at the school in Setrawa. I had a running start by being a part of an out reach clinic to the local villagers along side Dr. D, a general practice physician from Jodhpur. We spent four hours one Sunday afternoon seeing 60 plus patients and providing many of them with free medications. I was struck by Dr. D’s sense of ease he had with the villagers. He smiled and interacted with the men and women, as well as the family whom they brought along. So often, I was overwhelmed by the demand of health care that these villagers needed and the lack of resource to meet their requests. I kept reminding myself that life is not about being fair, but rather it has lessons waiting for each of us.

The week in Setrawa was a health camp. My task was to give workshops on nutrition, basic first aide and to bring on health awareness. I gave talks on wound care including bites and bleeding control, nutrition on food groups, and vitamins to the men and women. There was also emphasis on nutritional needs in pregnancy and lactation. It was difficult not having a good understanding of their diet and the food that was available to them. A group of three university students came to conduct a study and they also gave a separate talk on first aide and disaster management. The week continued with two other talks to the school aged girls in the project. I chose to talk about selective body functions (i.e. digestion, circulation and respiratory systems), diet around the world among the volunteers and the effect of nutrition on health and diseases. The girls and young women were enthusiastic to learn and eager to be tested on the new knowledge they just acquired. Overall I found it exciting and rewarding to see the interest in their eyes and the smiles.

My highlight in Setrawa was the simplicity of life. Coming from America and being a physician, I accepted the life that I knew. It is always nice to be reminded that there is another side to everything. This, I suppose was another life lesson I was reminded about.

The project in Jodhpur seemed different to me. There was a greater commitment and ambition from the participants in Jodhpur. My role however continued to be the same with a different audience. The women and girls in Jodhpur were more comfortable with my presence. They asked questions freely and they were less shy to get involved in the discussion. Frequently they came up after the talk to ask personal question or to share their experience. It was a welcoming change but I also understood the difference between rural and urban India. My workshops paralleled those in Setrawa but in greater depths. First aide workshop expanded to include burn, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, fall, trauma and unconsciousness victims. The nutrition talk included trace elements such as iron, folic acid and zinc in addition to food groups, and various vitamins. The body functions were again on the same subjects but included diseases such as asthma, hepatitis, and effect of smoking on various organs. The audience showed a great deal of interest and asked questions about things they heard or people they knew. Overall, it was a positive experience for all of us to interact with one another.

Sambhali Trust holds many hopes for the women involved. I see it providing the environment and resource for them to learn, to socialize, to gain self confidence and to see themselves as so much more than how they have traditionally been valued. I wish for its continuing success.

Republic Day Celebration on 26th of January 2009 in Setrawa Project:-

Participants performed different folk dances for the village audience

Eliane Luthi Poirier

Volunteering time: February – May 2009

From: Lausanne, Switzerland/the United States

I arrived in Jodhpur on a flight from Mumbai, with nothing but my carry-on bag, as my suitcase hadn’t made it from Munich. I was picked up at the airport and brought back to the guesthouse on a motorcycle! So we were swerving through the rickshaws, with grit and sand flying in our faces, all the way to the guesthouse. (Luckily I didn't have that suitcase!)

At the very charming Durag Niwas guesthouse, I met two other volunteers, Johanna and Pinky. They took me out to a nearby department store to get all the bare necessities that had disappeared with my baggage. In Govind’s absence, Johanna and Pinky briefed me on what the Sambhali Trust was doing and Johanna and I began brainstorming and preparing the English classes.

On my second day, Johanna brought me up to the top floor of the guesthouse, where the English classes are, and introduced me to all the girls. We all sat around in a circle and got to know each other. Some of the girls seemed quite shy, but mostly they were eager to hear about me and very friendly.

The classes we have been giving since are challenging and very different from the classes I’m used to giving, because we're teaching a mix of literate and illiterate girls (which means, for instance, that using the board isn’t necessarily helpful to the girls). That, combined with the fact that we do not speak Hindi, makes it difficult for us to make sure they actually understand what they are learning. But the girls are adorable! I'm already very attached. Some of them come up to us to give us a hug before class, and some of them even tell us they wish there were even more classes, so it's very rewarding.

I’m just beginning to get to know them, because of the language barrier. But I can tell that this trust is a major boost to their self-esteem. Even some of the girls that have just arrived, who would blush and look away when we first asked them questions in class, are now coming out of their shells, and they glow with pride whenever they can answer our questions. It’s fantastic to see how these girls, who have been indoctrinated to believe that they are not much more than a burden to society, are learning just how valuable they are.

Johanna and I did some world geography with the girls, and some of them cannot find India on a world map. It’s made me realize just how much knowledge we have that we can share with them. If I can pass on just a smidgen of my knowledge to these girls, I will feel like I have helped make a difference in their lives.

Overall, I can say that I feel like I’ve arrived at a very interesting stage in the life of this formidable (and very necessary) grassroots effort. There is a lot of positive and creative energy coming from all the volunteers and a lot of momentum is currently being stirred up. Much of this is thanks to the way the Sambhali Trust is run. Govind and his family are both warm and professional, and the girls involved in the project have a lot of respect for them. I have the feeling that exciting times lay ahead!

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