Rural Youth Volunteers in India — a programme supported by the US embassy to India — is slowly helping transform Indian villages.
A ten-week-long unique endeavour under the exchange programme, ‘Rural Youth Volunteers in India’ by Humboldt State University (HSU) and Lady Irwin College (LIC) took place in two villages of Uttar Pradesh with a focus on water and waste management.
The programme paired eight students from HSU, Arcata, California with eight students from LIC to work in two rural communities in the Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh — Tavelagarhi and Daula. Four pairs were placed in each community. The Tavelagarhi team worked on water conservation and safe water storage while the Daula team worked on waste management. Both community teams were divided to work on two different areas: product and engagement.
Using the social entrepreneurship lens, the teams worked directly with community members to create and prototype many products based on the criteria of function and desirability. These products included safe water storage containers and many upcycled products from newspapers and polythene bags, newspaper pens, waste plastic tiles, plant pots and clipboards.
“This was a 10 week collaborative programme. The idea was to follow a social entrepreneurship model along with a wide set of other development frameworks. Our role ranged from building empathy, and understanding between people, coming up with ideas, generating prototypes and then testing those in the community,” says Lonny Grafman. Engineering instructor, Humboldt State University.
The students interacted with a lot of community members to see what strengths they have. Assistant Professor, Meenal Rana at HSU, says, “As far as community is concerned, we use different frameworks. One of our favourites is the systemic approach. Now we are not just using technology but also behavioural change and how the two are integrated with each other. We can create technology but if there is no behavioural change, all our efforts go to waste. There is a lot of social stratification including class, caste, age and we are engaging everyone. In one of the communities women usually don’t go out. So our students went to their houses and it was interesting. Whenever anyone offered us lunch we would say yes, in order to bond with them and become an insider, to know what issues related to water they faced.”
Talking about her experience Sarita Anand (Indian programme partner) Associate Professor, Department of Development Communication and Extension, Lady Irwin College says, “I think the outcome we are looking forward to is the cultural exchange, and an opportunity to understand young students from another country and looking at the kind of skill sets which those students come with and how our students match up to that. The idea is to innovate within the community setting, using participatory methodologies where communities are so intensively engaged in planning, execution as well as evaluation,” she says.
One of the four students from LIC, Arushi Srivastava, who is pursuing development communication and extension, says, “I was working on water conservation in a village. I was working in engaging with the community by making all the communication tools like posters, skits, songs and games to engage with them whilst the product team was working on the products which were water storage containers and filters for them.”
Lorenz Hernandez, a student from HSU, says, “For me the experience was great because I want to help people. This was a great opportunity for me to know if I want to pursue that. Now, I want to do more of such work with communities.”
Security and medical issues were not a problem and the students adapted very quickly without much fuss. “The US embassy approved of this as there was a strong mutual understanding between the American and Indian students. Water issues are present not only in India but even in California where they and I come from,” says counsellor for cultural affairs in the US embassy, Conrad Turner.
“It addressed issues of waste management, water management and safe water. It is an global issue. The programme design was quite good and carefully thought through. You have strong institutions on both sides, strong education, an NGO component and all the support needed. When I went out to see the project, the first thing I noticed was the hospitality. The enthusiasm of teachers, students, and the community exceeded our expectations,” he signs off.