The Dungarpur District in Rajasthan encompasses a number of rural villages lacking electricity, running water, and the basic comforts of modern life. The terrain is treacherous, with rocky, dry hills and narrow dirt roads. As an agricultural society, the majority of men must migrate to Ahmedabad and Mumbai in search of a steady income, leaving their wives and family behind. Many of the women are left in a precarious and difficult situation: caring for their children, livestock, and farms alone. In a society rich in culture and customs, women are learning to overcome the challenges of daily life through the involvement of SEWA.
After spending an amazing month in India this past summer, I was beyond elated to return for another two weeks. Though my experiences were drastically different, the highlight of both trips were my interactions with the locals. I also learned that it is imperative to be flexible and ready for change: during the first meeting with our manager, we learned that we were leaving the next day for Rajasthan. Our assignment was to interview women in three rural villages and witness the effects solar electrification and water pumps were making in their lives.
Despite not knowing what we were about to encounter, I was overwhelmed with anticipation and excitement to venture into the field again and meet the amazing women of SEWA. All three villages we visited were unique in their own way, but the visit to Doja is a memory I will never forget. It was during this visit that we discovered we were the first foreigners to step foot in this ancient village.
In this particular meeting with the SEWA members of Doja, we visited a group of women and three men. Doja had now been involved with SEWA for roughly two months, and out of 45,000 villagers, 200 were already SEWA members, 150 of those had invested in solar lantern technology. Initially, the discussion started off slow, but after our translator revealed we were the first foreigners they had ever seen, I felt a connection with the women. At that moment, they began to warm up to us and conversation flowed with ease. We listened eagerly to their stories of life before solar lanterns in their homes, and the struggles they face without sufficient water sources.
I cannot describe how humbled I felt to be the first contact to the modern world for this special community. One thing I learned from listening to the words of these amazing women is how strong they are: not only as a community, but as women thriving despite the adversity they encounter each day. My hope is to take the imprint these women left on me and use this as my motivation to help them as we continue our work this quarter.
Throughout the next ten-weeks, we hope to provide an assessment of the work that the Jyoti Program has accomplished thus far, and provide tools and recommendations to help build on their progress going forward. We also hope to help SEWA educate the public and key stakeholders on the work of the Jyoti Program through brochures and an informational PowerPoint presentation. All in all, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to visit with such an inspiring group of women, and I hope that as a group we can further the success that SEWA and the Jyoti Program has made on the community.