Travel report by Jeanne, Tine & Marie.
On the 9th of November Tine, Jeanne and Marie left for India, to get UBU’s new project on Sustainable Water Resource Management (SWRM) started. The 3-year project was approved by Civisamfund i Udvikling (CISU) earlier this year and addresses amongst others the problem of water scarcity, which is a big issue in the Sundarban region. The project aims at improving the awareness and enhance capacity with the local population on issues about groundwater, in order to decrease the use of groundwater for irrigation purposes. This is to increase the amount of clean water in households so that families have more water to wash hands, shower etc. Overall, the SWRM project aims at achieving a more sustainable use of water in the region. To achieve this, the project encompasses several activities. Amongst others, a so-called farmers field school will be established, where the local farmers can learn about different cultivation practices. Using less water intensive crops or the so-called SRI method (System of Rice Intensification) will increasingly be introduced as alternative practices, in order to save water.
Once in Joygopalpur, which is a small village approximately 100 km east of Kolkata, we were warmly welcomed by our local NGO-partner called JGVK, which steers and implements the project on-site. Our first day was filled by a discovery of JGVK’s base, which was going to be our new home for the next 11 days. We got to meet the management team of the project and eat our first Indian meals. Once acclimatised we started to plan the following days. The main activity was to plan and hold workshops for the local field staff, in order to gather experiences from pilot interviews that they had conducted to collect data about a family’s cultivation, irrigation and hygiene practices. We also talked about how to gain trust from the interviewees and any other issues they were facing when conducting the surveys. On the third workshop-day we introduced them to working with tablets. In fact, this is UBU’s and JGVK’s first, where tablets will be used to collect data. This is exciting, as it will not only allow us to get better and faster access to the data but also give us the opportunity to see the results in statistics and graphs. Considering that the new software wasn’t always easy to work with, the field staff was able to test the tablets in the field on our last day.
Holding the workshops was an enriching experience, as the field staff was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. And despite the fact that everything was translated from Bengali to English and the other way around, we got a good connection with them. The workshop days were long and intense, but regular tea (“cha” in Bengali) breaks and energisers helped us concentrate throughout the days.
The last day in the area was reserved for seeing the Sundarbans, which is the largest mangrove forest worldwide. It is famous for its flora and fauna, Bengali tigers and the fresh air, that nowadays is rare in India. It is therefore also a Unesco World Heritage. We did not see a tiger, but a crocodile was hiding in the bush that we could spot from our boat.
While the countryside in West Bengal was characterised by its calmness, its green, lush fields and woman walking around in their colourful Saris, city life in India is a great contrast. In Kolkata, where we stayed 2 nights before departure, we got to experience an incredibly loud, crowded, polluted city and poverty that was heart breaking. At the same time, Kolkata is known for being an intellectual city, with several universities and an unlimited number of book shops.
We soaked in the warmth, the kindness of the people, the colours and smells. And we are extremely glad to have been able to be part of starting this project and hope to be back soon!