If you're curious about RUCHI or what I have actually been doing over the past few weeks, here's what I have been up to!
RUCHI is an NGO (non-governmental organization) in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, India. It was started by Dharamvir Singh in 1980. The name stands for Rural Center for Human Interests. RUCHI works to improve the lives of Indians living in rural villages in Himachal Pradesh with projects in environmental, social, and health work. RUCHI is partnered with organizations such as the Rotary Club and has recently established a collaboration with Oxfam.
Because it is an NGO, RUCHI needs funding for their projects, and one way they are hoping to get funding as well as facilitate cultural exchange is through their international volunteer program (called the TOTEM VIP program). They charge significantly less than most of the other volunteer programs I looked into, and I also liked the fact that my money is going directly to the NGO, where it is needed, as opposed to some for-profit clearing-house that arranges volunteer projects for a fee and then makes money off of it, with no money going to the agency that actually needs it. However, because
RUCHI is not going through one of these organizations that arranges volunteer programs, they basically have to advertise through word of mouth. So, if this sounds like something you or anyone you know might be interested in, please talk to me or check it out here
(www.ruchin.org) !!! I'm not trying to sound too much like an advertisement here, but they are definitely a worthy organization doing some great work, and I had an experience I'll never forget, and I would love to see RUCHI's continued success.
The entire RUCHI staff are very kind, good hearted people. I had the most interaction with Dharamvir, the head of RUCHI, and Neelam, a woman about my age who helps organize many of the projects. Neelam also helped me learn some Hindi. Another staff member was the cook. I think his name was Padam Singh or something similar, but everyone just called him Uncle-ji (Northern Indians appear to refer to most adults as Uncle-ji and Auntie-ji. Ji is an honorific suffix). Uncle-ji did not speak any English, but he was certainly able to get his ideas across. And he certainly had ideas about what was best for me. This often involved
him pounding on my door between 7:30 and 8:00 each morning crying "Chai, chai!" (Chai means tea). I actaully enjoyed this and i'm sure if I didn't want chai early in the morning, we would (eventually) have been able to convince him not to bring me the chai.
My time with RUCHI was mostly spent accompanying Neelam on visits to the villages and schools, and helping Dharamvir in the office with making power point presentaions and brainstorming ways they can advertise the organization to attract more volunteers.
So, what kind of projects is RUCHI working on? Here are some examples:
- Ruchi has connections with many schools. I got to visit the closest primary school in the nearby village, Bandh. The kids were super cute. All the girls fought (sometimes physically) over who got to hold my hand. They love to sing songs and dance, and I taught them the hokey pokey. Then they attempted to teach me how to dance. They thought it was hilarious when I would shake their hands and say "nice to meet you." I also helped them practice speaking English. They obviously have spent many years learning English, but
it seems that the schools don't put a big emphasis on getting them to practice speaking (not surprising, considering there are not a lot of native English speakers around). So I went to each student individually and made them say "My name is Anjali (or whatever). I have one brother (or two brothers, etc). His name is (whatever)." This was something of a challenge, but once the quicker students figured out what I was trying to do, they could explain it to the other students.
- Women's groups and mico-banks. RUCHI has helped the women of several individual villages organize monthly meetings, where they have a chance to talk about issues that have come up, manage their micro bank (see below), and sometimes work on tasks that needed to be done for the village, such as cleaning out a spring reservoir. I was able to attend these meetings (which were conducted in Hindi), and then Neelam would explain to me what was happening. The women were usually very interested to meet me, even if we couldnt say much to eachother directly.
As I mentioned above, an important part of these groups is that they have begun to
More kids (thugs)
I know we look like thugs. What can I say, we are.
set up micro banks. Because village women do not own property, it is difficult for them to get loans from the private banks. Therefore, RUCHI has helped them to establish a credit-union type organization. Each woman gives a small amount of money to a pool at each meeting. After time, the pool becomes large enough that members can borrow from it if they need money for an emergency or if they need to make a major purchase. All of this is carefully recorded in ledgers. These micro banks have become so successful in some villages that many men, who originally laughed at the idea, have started to join the unions. Some of the mirco-banks have even been able to lend money to non-members and are able to charge interest!
-Adopt a granny program. RUCHI also organizes meetings with the senior members of the villages. This is a kind of sponsorship program where foreigners donate money to help out the seniors. Eligible seniors in each village then receive a small amount of money each month. They also seemed to have some kind of credit union or something that they were paying a membership fee to, but I couldn't quite figure
These women were part of the Adopt a Granny program. They were very sweet and gave me a present!
out what that was for.
Once every three months, RUCHI takes the grannies (and grandfathers too) on a trip. I was around for the trip, and this time we all visited a Sikh temple and then had lunch afterward.
Environmental/ construction area:
- roof top rain water harvesting. While the monsoon season (obviously) is very wet, the summer is very dry and water is scarce. RUCHI has helped people learn to collect the rain water that washes off their roof and save it for the dry season.
- recharging and collecting natural spring water. Through a combination of techniques such as building gully plugs, percolation tanks, and a new check dam, RUCHI is attempting to save as much water as possible during the monsoon season. As I understood it, the percolation tanks, gully plugs, and the check dam stop the water from running off the surface and hold the water in place for an extended period of time. This causes the water to seep into the ground, causing the spring water reservoir to increase, and allowing the springs to last during the dry months.
One day we needed to clean out the spring water filter
system (filter system = piles of rocks above the collecting tank), so I helped them empty out the tank manually using buckets of water. Then they cleaned out all the silt and muck that had been collecting there. Then we washed off the rocks used to filter out the muck and stuck them back in the filter tank. I never thought I'd find myself washing rocks.
- many other construction projections designed to cut down on the cost of materials
--Community Health Workers. RUCHI hires several women community members to assist with health care in the village. The villagers can also discuss health issues at the women's and grannies' meetings. The community health workers also meet once a month to discuss problems. I sat through this month's meeting, which involved discussing an upcoming mass Polio immunization that was coming up. Polio has returned as a problem in parts of India, including the area I visited. Good thing I had my polio shots!
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