Association for India’s Development
2013 Report of work: Aravinda Pillalamarri
Below is a report of my work in 2013, and plans for in 2014 and beyond in the following areas: Jivika, Women’s Health, Food Security, Consumer Awareness, Learning, Support to AID and AID Chapters, Volunteers, Projects and Publications.
2013 Report – Points in Brief
Jivika: Shifting production and distribution to SHG in Pondur and to new trainees in Karnataka. Collaborating with: Peter and tailors in Srikakulam area; Chetana and tailors near Mysore.
Women’s Health – awareness on women’s health from a women’s rights perspective, focus on food, menstruation, birth, and breastfeeding.
Learning: Support for rights-based approach to right to education, linked to freedom of thought.
Human Rights: Support for displaced tribal people in Khammam & Warangal Districts, through IDP Support group and ASDS, support for Forest Rights Act implementation in Andhra Pradesh, with AP 5th schedule committee.
Food Security / Sovereignty:
Campaign to raise awareness of ICDS / anganwadi services and to expose violations of food industry.
Support for breastfeeding and sustainable food & health habits through AskAmma.
AID Cares (Consumer Awareness Responsibility and Empowerment).
- Weekly presence at Organic Farmer’s Market, with Jivika products, Haybox Cooker, etc.
Support to AID Chapters
In 2013 Ravi and I, along with Khiyali attended the AID Conference in Charlotte, visited chapters and spoke at chapter fundraising dinners and public meetings that chapters organized in their respective communities.
AID-Los Angeles: Fundraising Dinner, Interview on NRI Samay
AID-LA and AID-San Diego: public talk at UCLA
AID-Austin: Fundraising Dinner
AID-Dallas: Fundraising Dinner
AID-JHU: Fundraising Dinner
AID-Maryland: Fundraising Dinner
AID-London: Public talk
AID Team Work: Work on AID Website, AID Calendar, AID Archives, AID Gallery, and support to AID Newsletters – Dishaa and TMIA / KoolAID.
I am also part of teams working on projects, campaigns, internships and fundraising, freedom from harassment and volunteer code of conduct.
Against the various threats to food security, including, Climate Change, Unsustainable agricultural policy, Non-implementation of land rights, Deforestation, Loss of bees, Pollution, Submergence, and Diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural use or for industrial agriculture and cash cropping, displacement and the false advertising of the food industry, the consumer still has some power to change the system.
For the most part consumers do not recognize the links between the food they eat and the issues of globalization, environment, displacement, climate change and corporate power. Moreover they are not well aware about the relationship between their food habits and their own health and family life. To help raise awareness about these connections and also help people practice the solutions for their own health and the health of society, viewed holistically, I am doing the following.
1. Community awareness and support for breastfeeding through community level meetings, online support, and monitoring of industry violations of laws governing the advertisement and promotion of packaged foods targeted towards babies and young children.
2. AskAmma newsletter, website and support group for parents interested in peaceful, just and sustainable family living and the food habits that are part of a just society. With the mottos of “eating is an agricultural act” (Wendell Berry) and “you are what you eat” (folk wisdom) “the personal is political” (grassroots movements) the AskAmma community seeks to practice the solutions for food security, one sustainably-harvested, happily enjoyed family meal at a time. Approaching the cause of food holistically, AskAmma addresses issues of breastfeeding, how children learn to eat, how to avoid packaged foods (including simple and fun recipes), how to eat lower on the food chain, preferring local, sugar-free, vegan and biodiverse ingredients including ragi.
3. Farmer’s Market – I take part in the Mumbai Organic Farmers’ Market, which brings organic produce, provisions as well as snacks, handicrafts, and even organic cotton clothing, massage and other ecofriendly products and holistic health services to a weekly market held in the Maharashtra Nature Park every Sunday. The market is also a vibrant community space where local musicians perform and people can relax, talk, play and meet others. I help raise awareness about the market and also use the space to promote the energy-saving, time saving and all-round fantabulous EZ Cooker, as well as selected Jivika products and AID publications. Having a table at the market helps to keep AID in the public eye and brings us in contact with people engaged in related activities as well as young people seeking avenues to get involved.
4. I am working to raise awareness on the rise of industrial food, fueled by the large scale acquisition of land for industries, with subsidized water, electricity and waste-disposal, and weak regulations on environment and labour as well as false advertising regarding the nutritional value of the product itself.
Health and Food Security
Through programs at the village level, weekly farmers’ market in Mumbai, and articles and interactive support through my Askamma site, I am raising consumer awareness about whole and local foods and providing practical support for those striving to keep these in the diet in the face of aggressive marketing by the food industry, often in violation of the Indian law and international codes. (See Keep industrial food out of ICDS.)
Human Rights: I am helping to coordinate support for displaced tribal people in Khammam & Warangal Districts, through IDP Support group and ASDS, support for Forest Rights Act implementation in Andhra Pradesh, with AP 5th schedule committee. Ideally the Forest Rights Act, properly implemented would provide a sound and secure foundation for these communities. While working towards and coping with the absence of that, the people are working to access entitlements for rations, health, education and employment through the PDS, ICDS, SSA, MNREGS and respective government schemes.
I continue to take Jivika Products to the Organic Farmers’ Market in Mumbai to keep these products in the public eye and also to connect with people working across the environment – agriculture – livelihood spectrum. Our product range has diminished considerably but in spite of various setbacks (detailed below) we have remained committed to keep in stock certain products for sustainable living, including the EZ Cooker (haybox), cloth menstrual pads and cloth grocery bags. Our stock includes CDs of songs from people’s movements that we recorded at the time of the Asia Social Forum (2003) and World Social Forum (2004).
Our system for training tailors, producing and marketing Jivika products was working reasonably well from 2006-2010. Even then, there were glitches and gaps in quality control that we were working on improving. However, due to unforseen circumstances we were not able to continue production. Meanwhile prices have risen steadily and shipping costs have also increased considerably, making it difficult to set a price that ensured a fair wage to the spinners, weavers and tailors, which is a key aim of the enterprise.
Since then it has been difficult to set up a system for producing Jivika products in Srikakulam or for marketing the products. Products such as bags, kurtas and ordinary clothing items are not unique to Jivika; the public can find them elsewhere if we stop making them. Other products such as khadi hoodies, nursing kurtas, baby slings and cloth menstrual pads continue to be in demand and there are almost no other Indian sources for these products.
We are therefore trying to train others to make these products and set up their own small business for marketing them. So far we have two people taking this up in earnest, one in rural Srikakulam and one in a small town near Bangalore. Both have just started, once these are on their feet, we can try to extend this model so that these eco-friendly products reach more people throughout India.
Several AID partners working in the field of education have raised the issue of making education relevant to children’s lives, recognizing children’s right to intellectual and cultural freedom and expression, and creating a learning environment that empowers the learner over the learned. Such a learning environment has the potential to disrupting the power dynamics of the school and thereby to challenge the power dynamics in society. To make another world possible, another education is necessary.
Some AID Partner NGOs, while working to bring modern institutional education to underserved communities are also trying to empower students to raise wider issues of social justice that have the potential to challenge the system. Avehi in Mumbai, for example, has initiated a program in the schools of the Municipal Corporation that encourages students to think about social issues. It remains exceedingly difficult however, for children to break free of the dominant tendency to answer questions in the way that teachers expect, or for teachers to create space for students to express thoughts freely without regard for the teachers approval.
Organic food, natural health and free learning are currently considered elite and unaffordable to the majority, who are sold on industrial food and industrial education and the model of development that feeds and feeds off of them. We can accept this division and try to improve the quality of industrial food, health and education or we can challenge the underlying inequality. We need to deepen public dialogue concerning learning and education.
As part of Swashikshan, the Indian Association of Homeschoolers, I have been working to support children’s right to education, with the emphasis on meaningful education in or outside of the school system.
RTE guarantees that children can get admitted to school at any age regardless of prior school enrollment. NIOS offers young people the opportunity to take a number of certificate courses as well as Board exams that are required for having the qualification of 10th-pass or 12th-pass. Several AID partners working in the field of education, such as Apna Skool in Kanpur, rely on NIOS for the students they teach.
The thrust of the most visible campaigns for Right to Education has been on enrollment. However enrollment is neither necessary nor sufficient for education and in many cases proves to be harmful to the student who seeks to learn.
Many educators and organizations have noted the shortcomings of the RTE act when it comes to quality of education. When AID received the Times of India Social Impact Award in 2011 we handed a letter to the Prime Minister expressing our concerns on quality of education as well. Apart from a perfunctory acknowledgement from the Department of Education, we did not get an opportunity to discuss our concerns in detail. If we understand Right to Education to mean not only right to enrollment and right to examination but actually right to learn then what do we need to do?
– provide support to children engaging in learning in ways that are not sanctioned in the classroom
– modify the classroom to accommodate multiple paths of learning
– provide support to parents interested in pursuing alternate paths of education for their children
Some people say that issues such as how teachers treat students or whether students are allowed to have answers that differ from those of the examiner are less important than whether a child is admitted to school. Let us first enroll all the students and only then address quality, they say. In addressing quality, there is a further deferral – do we measure quality through standardized tests or through such indicators as how many questions children ask, how well they co-operate, how fearless they are while trying to solve problems? Experiments like Sugata Mitra’s hole in the wall show that one need not have done well on standard indicators to demonstrate creativity and ingenuity in solving problems.
What is perhaps worse is that even in situations where there is no standardized test or even no single right answer, the environment in the classroom is heavily conditioned towards seeking the expected answer rather than thinking and speaking one’s mind. Therefore even when observing classes during exercises that were specifically designed to encourage students to have different answers and reflect on personal experience, I have seen that students are concerned with giving answers that are acceptable to the teacher and the teacher does little to lighten the influence of his or her approval / disapproval on the flow of the discussion.
In several visits to chapters we met people engaged in issues deeply connected to AID but not necessarily at the forefront of AID’s currently visible and audible activity.
In almost every chapter there is at least one volunteer who shows interest in working full time on the cause of sustainable development and social justice with AID India or an AID Partner in India. Some people choose to work on an agenda complementary to but outside the scope of AID. Either way, during the years that the volunteer is in the US, AID has the opportunity to help such volunteers better understand the synergy of sangharsh, nirman and seva and to help them plan their transition to grassroots community work in such a way that they can meaningfully utilize their talents.
Irrespective of future plans to work in India, there are volunteers in every chapter who want to connect deeply with project partners, understand the work and the issues people are dealing with on the ground level, and their connections to national and global policy. It takes time and courage to study and discuss these issues, confront their implications, apply them to our lives and engage with partners who are working from perspectives of sustainable development that take human rights, empowerment, social and environmental justice seriously.
When we visit chapters, we usually give a public talk, meet donors in small groups or as part of an event such as a donor dinner, and also spend time talking with volunteers seeking to move into community-based development work in the long term, and who wish to focus on environmental and human rights based perspectives in the regular work of AID.
AID must be a place that facilitates study and discussion of these issues. This will build our capacity to recognize and support high quality projects. Such projects are often complex and we need to explain these in greater detail to convince people to support them, morally as well as financially.
In 2013 Ravi and I, along with Khiyali attended the AID Conference and visited these chapters:
AID-LA: Milan Dinner, Interview on NRI Samay, public talk with AID-LA and AID-San Diego
AID-Austin: Milan Dinner
AID-Dallas: Milan Dinner
AID-JHU: Milan Dinner
AID-Maryland: Milan Dinner
AID-London: Public talk
In order to collect and preserve AID material from the past, I have started transferring notes that I have posted in AID News, my aidindia blog, and other media to a blog hosted on wordpress called Singals in the Fog.
I have also collected mini DV and Hi-8 video tapes from old AID conferences and village visits. Veena, a Boston volunteer who attended a session on AID Archives at the Boston conference identified a way to convert them to a digital format through Amazon. I handed the tapes over to Naga Chadaram in Durham, who will send them to Amazon for conversion to digital format. We will then make the videos available through the AID Website and AID Youtube Channel.
Ravi and I collected copies of past issues of Dishaa and This Month in AID that we had in our house and gave them to Srinadh. Dallas volunteer Mr. Mani scanned them and I have temporarily stored them in the AID Google drive. We plan to put them on the AID website once we have a place a store the pdf files (docs.aidindia.org is no longer supported). This turned out to be just in time since many books and papers in the house became moldy following the recent monsoon.
The 2013 AID Calendar featured performing arts, mainly dance and drama, highlighting lesser known arts from diverse parts of India used in expressing aspirations of common people. Working with volunteers from AID Publications and Fundraising teams we produced the calendar using images of performing arts and AID projects from different parts of India and in diverse fields of development. Various chapters in the US, UK and India used the calendar for awareness, fundraising and volunteer recruitment. We were unable to deliver calendars to Canada, but would also like to reach Canada in the future.
I have been involved in discussions regarding the maintenance, improvement, and eventual overhaul of the main AID website. Currently the platform we are using to edit the website does not allow for automatic publicizing via social media. Therefore if we want to include links for readers to share articles using facebook, twitter, google etc we must add the links to each article by copying and pasting script from the respective social media service. Though it is a simple copy-paste, it would be far simpler if the web editing platform included these sharing links on every article by default.
I am also part of teams working on projects, campaigns, internships and fundraising, freedom from harassment and volunteer code of conduct. In 2013 I worked with Ravi, Lakshmi, Sonika and Sarath to prepare content for the August 15th “GoMAD” fundraising campaign.
AID Volunteers & Freedom from Harassment
As a member of the committee that drafted the Freedom from Harassment Policy I also kept in continuous communication with the EB & BoD to see that the policy was approved and shared with chapters and that a committee was formed, in accordance with the policy. I also initiated an effort to amend the Volunteer Code of Conduct to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This effort is currently in progress.
“A String of Jasmine,” KoolAID Issue on Violence against Women, Spring 2013 | Online
“Everyday History,” Home Education Magazine, March 2013. | Online
“Is There a Curriculum in this House?” Swashikshan, April 2013 and forthcoming in The Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning. | Online
“Beware of Disaster profiteering in the Himalayas,” India Together, 2 July 2013. | Online
“Trails to the Past,” Teacher Plus, October 2013. | Online
“Grammar of Non-Apology,” The Alternative, 23 November 2013 | Online
“Slow Learning,” Home Education Magazine, November-December 2013. | Online
“Can a Woman Say No?” The Alternative, December 16, 2013. | Online
I contribute to the following websites and blogs
AID Website: aidindia.org
The Alternative: thealternative.in
Indian Association of Homeschoolers: homeschoolers.in
Guide to Healthy Periods: http://menstrupedia.com
My AID Blog: aravinda.aidindia.org mirrored at signalsinthefog.wordpress.com
Peace, Justice & Sustainability for Parents: askamma.wordpress.com
Reflections on Education: jivanshala.wordpress.com