Recently, All We Can’s Peter Blanch travelled to India and was able to see the difference being made in the community of Shikajhola in Odisha State.
In the United Kingdom, my role with All We Can often involves analysing data and the important work of ensuring good governance of the money raised by supporters. One of my responsibilities is to ensure it is given in a timely, efficient and well-managed way to the local partner organisations All We Can supports overseas. I am also passionate about equipping communities to become more resilient in the face of natural or climatic hazards. This work also often involves a lot of paperwork, I was therefore really energised when I knew I would be travelling to visit some of the work All We Can does in India.
When I arrived in Shikajhola Village, I was greeted with singing from a self help group supported by All We Can through our local partner organisation READ. There were several women there to meet me and my group, all wearing traditional saree dresses and bright jewellery. I received the warmest of welcomes, I was adorned with the Tilak (a symbol of Hinduism) upon my forehead, showered with petals, and chaperoned towards the main street of the village by one of the women. In all honesty this was a little overwhelming, but the community wanted to welcome us with honour and respect. I can only be grateful.
We were led into a pre-school building for formal introductions. The walls were augmented with educational materials including forms of transportation, parts of the body and different food groups. There was a look of happiness and excitement upon the faces of all those present in the room. Smiles all round!
From here we departed for the fishing lake, having checked that the nets were fully functional. It seemed as though the majority of the village were joining us for this activity!
Despite this being ‘winter’ in India, the heat was intense, 30 degrees by midday, exposed to the sun as we walked. Coming from the freezing cold of the UK, the warmth was welcomed, although it took a little getting used to! We didn’t have far to walk.
Having arrived at the water’s edge (and the cool of the shade), the women took the net, stretched it out between them using wooden posts intrinsic to its structure, and approached the lake, each person holding an individual post. Another woman took fish feed and dispersed it within the water in front of the outstretched net to attract fish toward them.
At this point the men took over: dragging the net through the water into each corner of the lake, under the supervision of the women. They must have spent 30 minutes or so wading through the water before dragging the net out of the far side of the lake when they had finished.
For all intents and purposes this was a demonstration for us as visitors, and although the community didn’t catch anything, there was much laughter and enjoyment. Indeed, they took great pride in both their fishing enterprise and other livelihood activities such as making bricks for building and drying them in a Brick Kiln. This made me realise that the communities we serve have a great emotional attachment to their work, coupled with the importance of community in a rural context such as this.
It is only when visiting the community that you really appreciate the difference that All We Can’s support has made in the lives of local people. This may seem obvious, but when ‘working at home’ you sometimes overlook the less tangible outcomes of this support. In India, I was privileged to witness the value of enjoyment and the sense of pride that seeking to fulfil their potential brings with it to people living in communities like this one . The sum is always greater than its parts, something that isn’t always captured in a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning framework!