Rampura Village, Rajasthan:

Visit to the Tinvari hospital and Rampura village projects of GRAVIS, Jodhpur, India (6-10 July, 2000). By Surain afSandeberg

Rampura village 10 July, 2000

Let me now tell you about the day that definitely is the highlight of our India trip … and certainly shall be one of the highlights of my life.

First I will tell you about a small, private group in Seattle, to which Robert and I belong, People for Progress in India (PPI). PPI contributes 1 to 3 years of funding through NGO (non-governmental organization) partners in India to help begin self-sustainable projects among the less advantaged. While in India now, we’ve visited three of the local NGO’s to learn more about the work being done and, in two instances, to visit the villages where the PPI projects have been carried out.

In Jodhpur, in Rajasthan, we met Sashi and Laxmi Tyagi, founders and leaders of Gramin Vikas Vidyan Samiti (GRAVIS), the Village Development Scientific Organization. They’re quite remarkable people and have compiled a team of other remarkable people to work with them.

On Monday, July 10, we accompanied Sashi on a long trip by jeep (about 250 km, about 3 ½ hours each direction) to a village where the third year of a water enhancement project is underway, funded by PPI with volunteer work contributed by the local villagers. A total of 20 khadins and 13 taankas are being built.

A khadin is a system for rainwater catchment and field irrigation, consisting of 1) a low-height bunt, or dam, in a curved shape with 2) a shallow trough between the bunt and the field; 3) a spillwater in the bunt for run-off of excess water; and 4) the water pan and crop field, which is several acres.

A taanka is an enclosed storage tank, about 10-15 feet deep and 10 feet wide, with a hatch about 2 x 2 feet for access with a bucket. Rainwater drains from surrounding land into the taanka.

We saw one of the completed khadin and met the farmer who works it. He had farmed the same land for many years, and, with the new khadin, the yield was four times the prior yield. A new field season had just begun, and a few green shoots were visible.

Enjoying fresh water from the taanka ; and A happy farmer with his khadin

We also went to his home where we met two daughters and saw the taanka that was built with PPI funding.

The family hut, with traditional "welcome" paintings around the doorway, painted by one of the daughters

Then we went to a village home where we were greeted by about 20 women. A warm welcome had been planned for us!! The women were all dressed in their finest bright-colored dresses, with their heads and faces covered by their shawls in purdah fashion. They gathered in a tight group and, while singing a "welcome" song, they slowly inched towards us, also a sign of welcome. Following this, our necks were garlanded with flowers and one of the women dipped a thumb in a red liquid and painted a red line down our noses and a dot on our foreheads. It was a tremendous honor, and we were both quite emotionally moved.

Warm welcome by these beautiful women

We sat and visited for about half an hour (Sashi interpreted for us). They discussed the many ways that GRAVIS has helped the people in this village (~1500 people). As the designated and trained health worker received a replenishment of supplies for her medical kit, she very adeptly went through the supplies, one by one, and described what ailment each was used for and how the treatment was applied. These were such as tablets for indigestion to bandage wraps for wounds. Despite being illiterate, this woman impressed us with her ready familiarity with each (there were at least 10 different medicines) and comprehensive discussion of each treatment. She had been well trained (by GRAVIS volunteers) and was obviously bright.

The visual scene in front of us unfolded as we talked. Hands started opening the shawls and smiling eyes peeked out at us. From foreheads dripped the family’s finest fancy pendants. Ornate nose rings and ear rings further decorated the lovely faces. Arms were covered with bracelets from wrist to shoulder. Eventually most of the shawls fell to their shoulders, and interchanges warmed up more and more. The spokeswoman for the group, a serious, handsome woman, presented a list of seven desires of the group:

  1. More taankas – 80% of the women still have to walk 8 km to fetch water;
  2. Schools for the girls – Only the boys now have a school, and its 3 km away;
  3. Training for an additional health worker;
  4. More khadins;
  5. More seed for planting (their reserve stock sometimes runs low when there are particularly bad droughts, as this past year has been);
  6. A community meeting place; and
  7. Help in establishing individual forests. This is something GRAVIS has had success with, but its only been carried out on a limited scale. These forests mature in 6 to 7 years and have good commercial value as well as personal use for building and fuel.

Sashi spoke to them at some extent, and then translated our response that we would work to bring some of this help. This brought exuberant claps and smiles.

As is the way, we met separately with the men. From them, we heard more praise for the benefits that have been experienced and discussion about the projects yet to be done.

GRAVIS has several centers established in the arid lands, which serve many villages in each area. We visited two of these centers, the largest which had a staff of about 20. There were growing grounds for a plant nursery, school buildings and teachers, a medical dispensary, administrative center, and facilities for staff and guests to live.

The center which served Rampura was about 15 km north of Rampura, at Shiv. This center serves 15 villages and over 20,000 people. They served us one of the most fantastic meals we’ve had in India … most fantastic because every ingredient was locally harvested. We had 1) millet chapatis, 2) kahejadi, a bean which grows on undomesticated trees in the arid lands, 3) a dish of tomatoes, onion, and curd, 4) gwar, a crunchy, dried bean, 5) a glass of curd, and 6) leddu, a wonderful dessert made of ground seeds (post) with raisins and nuts. This was a tremendous honor.

Here are some of the staff and local children