It’s been a few days since I moved to my new field location – district Chamoli in Uttarakhand. Here we are working on a project to protect, preserve and cultivate traditional medicinal and aromatic plants. We are working in 5 blocks of the district and I am currently coordinating operational activities in 8 villages in one of the blocks called Dasholi. The geography, culture, and almost everything is different from Rajasthan where I worked before.
We have chosen some work areas that are situated in higher altitudes because an elevation of more than 2200 meters is necessary for the growth of these medicinal plants. The villages are situated far across and they take a travel time of about 2 to 2.5 hours from our office in usual weather conditions to reach the base of the village. Post this travel, for example, village Irani takes 3 hours of climb to reach on the top where people live.
The cultivable agriculture fields are another climb away, a shorter one. These villages can be difficult to reach for people from plains who are not used to such challenging terrain. But why am I calling this a Beautiful Challenge? One, because the view, once we reach on the top, is breathtaking. Secondly, people like anywhere else, for most parts, are extremely warm and almost always have a smile on their faces.
Climbing once in a while, although exhausting may still be fine. Most of these families have fields on top of the mountain. Many of them have this practice where they stay on top of the mountains for 3-6 months of the year during monsoons. They do this because it is pouring almost all the time and movement gets hampered. However, these areas have continuous supply of grass for the cattle and hence, it makes sense to stay there.
Some have made temporary shelters that can sustain for a few years and some have permanent homes, both at the top and down where the village is situated. Although this may seem like a simple adaptation, I got a glimpse of the plight when I saw an individual carrying a gas cylinder on his shoulders to the top. I was dumbfounded.
During Monsoons, there are frequent landslides and roadblocks are common. So we end up taking multiple share taxis that drop you off until the next road block. There would be another vehicle on the other side of the block to take you further and so on. We wait until the taxis fill up with passengers to move ahead.
What I observed here is that people have ‘skin in the game‘ – a phrase that I learnt in the Mid-Point training of the India Fellow. Unlike in some places where I have observed interventions done by the organizations have minimal impact and people are not much concerned about them, thus that becoming an extremely small part of their lives. Here people are genuinely interested and take active interest.
We went to one of our project villages – Sainji in Block Dasholi of Chamoli. It was the first time that Udyogini went here. There are hardly any NGOs working with this particular village. We managed to connect with a person there and requested for a meeting. We were surprised by the response we got. A crowd gathered for the first meeting. The women were interested and enthusiastic about it. For me, it was overwhelming considering they hardly knew me or the organization. Some of them even agreed to start a micro enterprise.
In another village, a man was apprehensive about any organization that came to work with them. This included even us although we have been working in this particular village for a few years now. One may consider this individual as an irritant in the process where he regularly interrupted us and asked questions. But again, he did this because he had ‘skin in the game’- he was concerned about his village and he had all the right to question anyone coming from outside. After all, it is his village and his people and they all must question the organizations, companies and every other external agency or stakeholder about their motives.
But there is a downside with one particular attitude I witnessed. Most of the people we talk to almost always ask what is the immediate benefit by being a part of the project or being associated with an organization. We have become a generation who wants instant results and rewards. This is reflected in multiple actions and decisions we take. But we need to understand that things take time. This is true with social interventions too. Bringing change and positive impact may sometimes take years to show results. Trust and hope is the key.
The Conundrum of Everyday Surroundings
On one of the days, after climbing for about 3 hours, we reached the summit of a mountain. We could see a snow-clad peak from there which was stunning. After enjoying the view, I asked my team member to click a picture. Somehow, he only clicked me. There were no mountains in the background. On pointing that out, he said ‘ Woh bhi chahiye kya’.
It got me thinking and I asked him whether he does not enjoy these surroundings. In reply, he said ‘Yeh sab toh hamein bekaar lagta hai. Woh barf wali pahaad toh phir bhi theek hai’. We urbanites spend large amounts of money to go to hill stations and see mountains – to experience nature at its best. Whereas people here have grown up with it. What excites us is just their daily view. It’s similar to how we people in the cities may never enjoy the view of cars and traffic. I’d like to leave you with a question.
Does having an abundance of beautiful things make it mundane?