Solidarity, Tour

For a Just Society – Visit to Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan [photos]

Visit to Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan
Dalit Women’s Collective

Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan, a Dalit women’s collective, formed in 1999-2000. AID has supported the group through projects, fair-trade marketing as well as solidarity to the Sanghatan in various phases. Along with AID-Bangalore volunteers Chetana, Karthik, Disha & Tamia, Ravi, Khiyali and I recently visited the women to hear their own reflections on their experiences and successes over the years, fighting oppression based on caste, gender and class, as well as ongoing challenges on all these fronts. Here are some photos from our visit with these grassroots partners. Continue reading


“Eat like a lion”

“Tell that dietary tip,” Uma Babusekhar urged Sundari Vishwanathan.  “Eat like a lion and …”

Sundari obliged.  While most of us might use a simple phrase such as “eat foods that are high in fiber,” the trainers at Vasantha Memorial Trust have a more colorful way of putting it.  I gently requested them to reconsider their word choice.  Grinning brightly, they effused, “Eat like a lion and eliminate like an elephant.”

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Millet for all

We left Potnal yesterday morning, visited an NGO en route and reached Kadiri at 8 pm.   Dinesh met us near the bus stop on his motorcycle and we followed him to his home, with a brief stop at Earth 360, the millet processing factory that he set up, which we were pleased to hear, was doing well.  Involved in every step of promoting millets, linking farmers and consumers, the company had grown and was breaking even while upholding the values with which it began 5 years ago, holistic health for people and planet through sustainable agriculture rooted in diverse, local, whole grains (also called coarse grains).  In brief: millets for all, health for all.   Continue reading


Jewelry without hazardous working conditions

Chiguru Enterprises, Potnal

To support themselves and the organization, women of Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan started making terra cotta jewelry and home decor and selling it in local colleges and exhibitions.  This contributes to the self-sufficiency of the organization and key activists.

When villagers are displaced and wars are fought over gold, diamonds and other precious metals and gems, the world needs to appreciate the peaceful beauty of handcrafted terra cotta goods. Chiguru has been a regular supplier to AID tables and the products are quite popular and help connect conscientious consumers to eco-friendly, fair-trade products.

Proceeds from sale of terra cotta ornaments handcrafted by the women of Chiguru Enterprises supports the Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan, a Dalit women’s collective working in Potnal, Raichur District, Karnataka.

Edited to add: In July 2016 The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) released a study on jewellery and gems, noting that the those in the industry suffered under “inadequate working conditions and limited compliance with health and safety standards.”  Detailing some of the hazardous working conditions jewelry and gem workers face, ASSOCHAM noted that “Excessive and prolonged exposure to lethal chemicals and gases can lead to ailments like lung tissue damage, kidney damage and lung cancer.”

Read:  Avg. salary in gems & jewellery sector lowest across manufacturing sector: Study (accessed February 2017 from ASSOCHAM website)


Daly, Sunnyvale, San Jose, Stanford

We went to the Bay Area for a week, starting in Daly City which was at least 30 degrees colder than where we came from, namely Dallas.  Not to mention windy!  Hadn’t  prepared for that when Rupal, who received us in San Francisco, suggested visiting the nearby beach in the evening.  We kept ourselves warm with some lively discussion about challenges in India and planning for the Milan fundraiser, but eventually the chilly ocean breeze got the better of us and we went back home.

Over the course of the week we attended the Milan, visited a millet farm in Berkeley, attended the Bay Area CSH, spoke at a public meeting jointly organized by AID and Asha and held at Stanford University, and went to other parts of the Bay Area to visit friends, longtime supporters, and past volunteers of AID.

One such friend, longtime supporter, and past volunteer of AID, Sangeeta Peris, asked for ways people like her could stay connected with the organization even if they could not attend regular CSH meetings.  Others like her also spoke up at the Milan to say how much they valued AID and its courage to face tough issues, including caste, which was the focus of the Independence Day campaign and highlighted in one of the project presentations.

Bay Area Milan kids

Bay Area Milan: Kids got to meet one another in an atmosphere of solidarity and goodwill towards social causes. Several donated generously from their pocket money after hearing about the programs and strategies of AID.

Bay Area Milan volunteers and supporters

Volunteers of AID Bay Area pose after Milan. Volunteers who were very active in previous years got to meet the new folks and lend their support to current efforts.



Meeting AID Morgantown

Columbus – Morgantown: On the way to the last stop in the journey we had a number of phone calls related to treasury, investments, printing and other matters … In the short walk from the parking garage to the college we oriented ourselves to the meeting at hand.

When we walked into the hall we saw the tables set up with the panel, with seats for 10 people.  Naga said, “What is this … the Republican National Debate or what?”   Of course the only resemblance it bore to that event was the lone woman on the panel, a fact I brought up after answering the question posed to me, which had to do – why was I not surprised – with women’s empowerment. Continue reading

Conference, Tour

Education and Socio-Economic Inequality at Asha-24

For two days in Gainesville, Ravi, Khiyali and I had the opportunity to attend the Asha conference and absorb a sense of the prevailing concerns that volunteers felt regarding education.  For example, Anurag Behar, one of their speakers Saturday morning stated that “education is fundamentally a socio-political issue.”  What then would be the indicators of a good education?  Could we apply these indicators not only to individual students but to the social and political climate in which they pursued education?  Could we look also at the socio-political climate of the classroom itself – who questions, who answers, who listens, and who learns? Continue reading