A past volunteer at Belaku speaks..

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IMG_7832My name is Stephanie Westcott, I’m a designer/artist/crafts person, originally from Sydney. For many years I worked in an office Monday to Friday, nine to five, almost chained to my computer! Last year my world became a whole lot more colourful and dynamic! I had always wanted to work on a socially driven project and joining the Belaku team for a four month stint I was able to do just that. It was so great to be able to work with an organisation that is based on such solid foundations in terms of their research and sound approach.

During my time at Belaku something that really stood out was having a constant feeling of fulfilment and inner peace. I was consistently energized and inspired by the work. I had great support from the Belaku team in the Bangalore office. My job was mainly to help the Income Generation Group’s develop new designs and improve production and workflow so I spent a lot of my time out in the villages
with the women.

From the very first day, the women were so welcoming. I was overwhelmed by their kindness and warmth. A memory that stands out so vividly and will always be a part of me was one fairly typical afternoon. It was like any other day, I was sitting quietly making jewellery, the radio was playing some Indian music, there was a lot of easy chatter going on and as usual, plenty of laughter. I was probably in a very similar moment many times before, but on this particular day I was so present and acutely aware. I couldn’t have been happier, my heart filled with joy as I just properly acknowledged how special it was to be there. I was and am so grateful that I was welcomed into the women’s lives and that I was able to become a part of their world in some small way. These experiences have warmed my heart and highlighted that the most simple things in life are the most precious.

The greatest thing about my time in India was the beautiful people I met. I think I probably learnt a little lesson from every single one of them. I loved working closely with people from another culture, learning about their traditions, religion and food. There were a few people in particular that made quite strong impressions. Channa’s calm nature and warm and joyous personality. He really made me smile so much. Sara’s strength, focus and clear determination, her unwavering commitment and drive was so inspiring. Kaveri’s amazing presence of calm and great clarity when under pressure was so impressive, I have a great respect for her. Chowdamma’s endless smiles, laughs, kindness and happy nature was so endearing. All these people mentioned and more inspired me in different ways, teaching me new ways of being and seeing the world.

In life we can sometimes paint our worlds with just one, two or at best three colours. But when we are open, true and follow our hearts amazing things can happen, that’s what I’ve learnt. I feel very fortunate to have been given this opportunity to travel the world and do work I believed in with all my heart. To be able to use my skills to help others. I met amazing people who all in some way enriched my life. I now feel like I have all the colours of the world at my fingertips. Here’s to painting the world with a brighter kaleidoscope of colour!

For more information on the work I did with the women please visit my blog

http://stephwestcott.tumblr.com/

“From Soil to Seed to Plate”-An Organic Farming workshop

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A two day hands-on organic farming workshop was arranged by ‘Annadana’ on 8th and 9th of Sept 2012 at Ishana,Gopathi farms,Bangalore.One of our supporters, Heather Formaini, generously sponsored two women to attend the programme. Both are from Dalimba village and are part of the Community Health worker programme.

Ratnamma (55) is a committee member of the Community Health worker (Gelathi) programme while Kamalamma (45) is the Anganwadi (Government Pre-school) helper in the village. They both own some land as well as a backyard where they can implement the skills and  knowledge acquired from the workshop. The workshop has taught them seed saving techniques, making organic manure and organic pesticides.

Their account (translated from Kannada) of what they learnt at the workshop are below.

Ratnamma’s letter

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Ratnamma in her field

Ratnamma in her field

“The classes were very useful as I learnt how to use traditional method to prepare insecticides to spray on the plants. By doing this we could save money and avoid danger. They taught us how to prepare manure at home which can be used for plants like ragi, rice, and even vegetables. They also taught us how to prepare the seeds before planting.

They taught us how to plant the seedlings, how to remove the weeds, so that we could get a good crop. They showed us how we can grow vegetables by covering the weeds by mud. They even told us that by using cow dung we can make gobar gas which can be used for cooking purposes. “

Kamalamma’s Letter

Kamalamma in her backyard

Kamalamma in her backyard

“When I went there we were introduced to variety of plants. Then they showed us how to make preventive medicines for plants at home. We have to put lot of greens at the bottom and cover it with cowdung, do this several times and leave it for a month. Then turn it over and leave it for another three months. At the end of this it will have become dry and powdered. When that happens, we were told that it can be used for plants as manure.

By using cow’s urine, they taught us how to make insecticide to spray on plants.They taught us how to treat the seeds before planting. We were told not to expose the seeds to the sun but to keep them in shade as sunlight spoils the quality of the seeds.

We have started to make use of these methods in our fields. In the end, I learnt how to remove weeds, how to plant the seeds and plants, which I am very happy about.”

SUPPORT BELAKU TRUST IN THE JOY OF GIVING WEEK

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About the Joy of Giving Week

Joy of Giving Week is a special week which aims to bring people from all walks of life; together to get involved with a cause(s) of their choice. It will be a concerted effort across companies, celebrities, business heads, NGOs, schools, colleges, and the ‘general public, to promote “giving”. The Week is slated from 2nd October to 8th October 2012, and more than 1 crore Indians from all over India are expected to participate and get engaged in “acts of giving”.

About the ‘Food for Change’ event

1. A gala evening of fun, food and entertainment coordinated by Bangalore Cares and the Bangalore JGW team of volunteers

2. Entertainment by eminent artistes

3.100% of your donation comes to us to help us improve and expand our services

Each donor pass is Rs.5000.

Donations are to be made by cheque, DD, net-banking or online. Cheques have to be made favoring The Belaku Trust and donors will be provided with 80G (50 %) receipts. Please contact us at belaku@belakutrust.org.in for any clarifications and bank details.

About us

Belaku has worked in Kanakapura villages for the past 17 years. Our major aim is to improve health but we realize that this cannot be done as an isolated exercise. The health of people from poor families is closely linked with social and cultural issues like illiteracy, no access to reliable information, poverty and discrimination of various sorts — all of which have to be addressed in order to effect improvements in health.

We believe that:

a. The only way permanent change can occur is if the community itself recognises their situation, believes change is possible, has the tools to bring about change and has the support of groups like ours.
b. Where public services exist, it is important to improve the way they function rather than to replace them.
c.Bringing about change in policies and programmes requires good documentation and research, which should go hand-in-hand with implementation of projects in the field.

Our current major programmes aim to have an impact on health through different approaches.

1.Community Health Worker (Gelathis

Working with the community via Gelathis (local women trained by Belaku) who work on different aspects of health and development: in government pre-schools, with women and their families on healthy practices during pregnancy and through the child’s early years.

2. Income generation groups

Women in three villages have learnt new skills and make handicrafts: Kirana produces handmade paper from recycled waste paper, Deepa makes block printed fabric and various products like scarves and Ushe does embroidery and quilting. Their incomes have increased and even more important, their own self-confidence and their status in their homes and villages has grown amazingly.

3. Summer camps

We involve older children and adolescents in camps held during the summer where they are exposed to ideas about health, environment and gender through games, computer programmes and films.

We also conduct research on issues that are relevant to the communities we work with, such as determinants of maternal health, infant nutrition, adolescent knowledge of reproductive health and legal issues.

In addition we give scholarships to girls, bring children to Bangalore to go to the theatre and visit cultural sites, help with medical care for those in need and give loans to women to buy livestock like goats, sheep and cows.

In order to raise some much needed funds to support all our programs,Belaku Trust is participating in the ‘Food for change’ event being held on Oct 6th at SAP Labs,Whitefield.This is a relatively easy way for us to raise funds, as compared to organizing a charity dinner on our own, and we would hate to let the opportunity slip by.

Enjoy an evening of fine dining and entertainment knowing that your support is going to a worthy cause!

Saras Ganapathy features in Harmony Magazine

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Ushe’s Tiger Day

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Shot in the Bangalore office, the Ushe women’s income generation group traveled to the city to discuss their business’ finances & ongoing growth & sustainability.

For four years the embroidery group has operated under the careful guidance of long-term Belaku volunteer, Wiea. Now, as the group continues to grow in confidence, they move to design their own innovative products.

Two of the women had not held a pencil before this day. The results were exciting & fascinating.

Belaku Trust Research Published Online

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This week The Belaku Trust’s Baneen Karachiwala published her research under NRHM and as part of the Karnataka State Health Resource Centre.

Her research asks the question “what do women want?” in the context of pregnancy, birth and postpartum.

To achieve good quality of care in health services we need to understand two broad dimensions of care – its provision in a way that is ethical and evidence-based, and the experience of care.

To read the full online paper visit the Karnataka State Health System Resource Centre

 

Newsletter – December 2011

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Dear Friends of Belaku

We have had a very busy few months at Belaku, so busy in fact that our regular October newsletter has been slightly delayed!!! We hope that you enjoy the stories below which show some of the excellent work our team has been doing in the field over the past few months.

As always, the focus of our work has been the villages around Kanakapura where our wonderful team have successfully delivered a series of summer camps for local school children, worked on improving the embroidery skills of our women’s group in the village of Ushe and have been looking into the local effectiveness of the Indian government’s National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) programme.

We have also been kept busy in our fundraising efforts, running our annual appeal to fund our work in the field. My sincerest thanks to all of you who have donated to support our work. We appreciate your continuing support and the kind messages of support so many of you sent.

Finally, from all of our team I would like to wish you all the best this festive season and a happy new year.

Best wishes

Saras Ganapathy

In this newsletter…

Summer Camps with the support of the Overseas Women’s Club we ran a series of summer camps for over 700 local children. These camps were fun filled and also gave local children important lessons on health and citizenship.

Focus on the National Rural Health Mission – we have contributed to public discussion and conducted some research in the field into the workings of the Indian government’s National Rural Health Mission. We have some serious concerns about this project and are planning to look into this in more detail in the coming months.

Improving women’s embroidery skills  – with generous financial support from the Safran Foundation, our embroidery group in the village of Ushe have been busy honing their embroidery skills.

Volunteer Story – Viktoria’s filming project – Viktoria Coffey, a volunteer from Australia, reflects on three months in the field working to document their stories on film.

Annual Appeal – this festive season, Belaku is running an annual appeal to raise funds for our ongoing work. Many of our you have already made generous donations and the appeal will run until the new year.

Summer Camps

Summer time in the villages around Kanakapura can be dull, with no school, limited activities outside family gatherings and no access to transport. In response to community requests to provide further education during summer, the Belaku Trust runs a summer camp programme to complement our other activities in the villages. Last summer, the camps were financially supported by the Overseas Women’s Club.

Activities were conducted in ten villages over 3 days with 730 children participating. The camp is an opportunity for the children to play together in a supervised environment, develop their communication and leadership abilities, build their confidence, socialize with children from different communities in the village, and learn new skills. The activities were designed to improve knowledge of good nutrition, hygiene, first aid, environmental and civic awareness.

This year we were able to expand the program by one day in each village and run more activities, including:

§         Computer literacy with volunteers from ANZ Bank

§         More staff for each camp to manage the children and facilitate greater learning

§         Partner with Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness who ran a session on child rights

§         Distribute Kannada reading and picture books for participants

The children were full of energy and curiosity. Volunteers and staff were repeatedly amazed at the children’s ability to learn quickly and absorb information. The children inspired us all, reminding us of how successful the next generation can be, if they are given an enabling environment.

Focus on the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM)

The National Rural Health Mission is a key Indian government programme that aims to improve the availability of and access to quality health care in rural areas. The programme was launched in 2005 and will run until 2012. Our background health research and project delivery in Kanakapura means we are interested in the effectiveness of this programme.

Dr Saras Ganapathy (Director of Projects) met with other organisations who had an interest in the success of the NRHM programme at a conference in New Delhi. At this conference information and feedback was shared and participants discussed ideas for evaluation and improving the programme.

In the field, our team has been looking into how the programme has functioned in Kanakapura and we have some concerns about the programme. Key areas of focus for the programme revolve around health education and community involvement in local health care. Our team has observed that the reality of how the programme is operating differs significantly from how it should and this could impede improvements in the quality of rural healthcare. We are planning to explore this in more depth and look at ways that Belaku could help make programme work better for the community in Kanakapura.

 

Training for Ushe

This year’s training and design programs have seen us make great progress in enhancing the skills of our Ushe womens’ group in the village of Achalu.

John of Birdy Exports and Wiea Van Der Zwan worked with Ushe to design new products, improve the quality and increase the speed of the womens’ embroidery. Thanks to generous funding from the Safran Foundation we were able to employ John to train the women. John is an expert supervisor in the fashion industry here. His eye for detail and the quality of his work is exceptional.

The women soaked up the knowledge that John and Wiea shared with them. The products that they and our other women’s groups create make excellent gifts for birthdays and holidays, to have a view or order some of the products please click here.

 

Volunteer Story – Viktoria

The bus door flies open and my thoughts are abruptly halted. The conductor sings out in a roll of Kannada…

I briefly make out “Kanakapura”.

I must be going the right way… but this is definitely the wrong bus.

A horde of people clamber onto the bus, popping out of the tight door before the bus takes off again; although it had hardly stopped.

Two women choose to sit up tight and close to me. They smile softly at me and open their tiffin tins for breakfast. I check my head scarf is holding on and in that moment my mind throws back to the village the day before…

For 2 months now I’ve been sitting on village house floors talking to the women about their rural existence. Awkwardly juggling my rice and roti over lunch with the Belaku Trust fieldworkers, I realise it’s in caring for each other that the move towards greater independence for women in the villages gains momentum.

There’s a shift; a way of thinking that acknowledges the need to care for themselves and one another. As they gossip over their work and engage in a true exchange of knowledge, the long lasting changes that the Belaku Trust make in their lives is revealed.

True education is not just about reciting and repeating, it’s about genuinely knowing your student and engaging. The Belaku Trust carry this idea through all of their work. My trips to the pre-schools where The Belaku Trust have set up their Gelathi programmes have made me wish that I’d once gone to a pre-school so lively, so loud, so creative and so caring.

As a film maker, you need to have a genuine care for your subject or, through all the challenges you”ll face throughout a project, you can too quickly grow apathetic and desensitized to what unfolds in front of you. Now, only moments from heading home to Australia, I realise how lucky I am to have landed in Bangalore to volunteer for an NGO doing important and necessary work; to create films for them that will hopefully show their work to a wider audience.

The bus bumps and jumps us about the road, snapping me out of my daydream. Someone is playing Hindi music from his phone. Collared shirts and thongs, Sarees and rotis. The morning bus from Bangalore.

Annual Appeal

We would like to thank everyone who has donated to our annual appeal. Without your support we could not continue to improve the lives of the communities that we work in. We are over halfway towards our target of raising INR 10,00,000/$20,000 USD, this money will allow us to continue our work. The appeal will continue into the new year so if you haven’t already, please click here to support our work.