Visit to Bandhiaguda

Gina writes:

Yesterday's day in the office began like any other. I checked my email, checked for Facebook updates (I know, I know), pet our office dog (blog about him coming soon!), and filled my water bottle. Then my boss forwarded an email from SOVA funder Trocaire requesting a case study (basically, a personal story showing the individual impact of a project/program) to be submitted today. Yes, that's right, they gave us only one day to put together a case study. Not ideal, but what it meant for me was...field visit!!!

At noon, the SOVA driver, a coworker, and I hopped in the vehicle to drive 60 km away to the village of Bandhiaguda. I love any chance to watch the countryside outside of Koraput. The paddy fields are bright green, the hills provide a gorgeous backdrop, and the women hard at work in their fluorescent saris are always a beautiful image. It was SO hot, more than 100 degrees, and the "breeze" coming through the window felt like the exhaust from a big truck...but hey, I wasn't complaining, I was out of the office for the day!

When we got to Bandhiaguda, there was the typical shyness that I encounter with a village that rarely sees foreigners. This was followed by unstoppable giggling when I tried out a few Oriya phrases with them. A standard question here in India is "What did you eat for lunch?" so imagine me slogging through my Oriya words for "rice, lentils, potato, fried vegetable, and salad" while 40 villagers of all ages listen to me as though I'm giving the state of the union address!

As some extra income, the ladies of the village use leaves to make "country cigarettes" and sell them in the market.

I was there in part to show the project staff that were there how to properly collect information for a case study. We briefly discussed the importance of talking with the subject about the problem, the solution, and the impact. Then the interviews started. This is how it went: I ask the question, SOVA project manager translates English to Oriya, SOVA field staff translates Oriya to tribal language, subject answers the question, SOVA field staff translates tribal language to Oriya, SOVA project manager translates Oriya to English, Gina has a very delayed reaction.

The first subject was a widow who had received two bulls a few years earlier, to help her cultivate her land. Here's the case study:

Though Bati Marichpania is a widow in the poor Indian village of Bandhiaguda, she owns one acre of farmland. Up until a few years ago, the only way that she could benefit from this land was to hire bulls to work some of it. She worked tirelessly through the growing season to produce 4 quintals of paddy, which provided enough food and money for her family of three to survive for four months of the year. In May 2007, SOVA selected Bati as a beneficiary of two bullocks. After receiving training on livestock management, she began to use bulls to improve her livelihood is many different ways. She used the bulls to cultivate her entire plot, which allowed her to produce 8 quintals of paddy and provide food security for eight months. By allowing others to hire the bulls for Rs. 50 per day, she earned Rs. 3,000 over the course of one year. She used the extra money to provide health care and a funeral feast for her mother-in-law and to build a shelter for the bulls. This is the first time in her life that she’s able to plan for the future instead of merely surviving from day to day, an opportunity for which she thanks SOVA and Trocaire.

Here she is with her bulls.

The second and third subjects were men who had received help from SOVA/Trocaire to build boundary walls around their plots (called land bonding) to keep the rain water contained in the plot, so that it can absorb before running off. Here's the case study:

On one hand, Laxman Maripulia’s two acres of land are in a prime location for farming, right next to a river. On the other hand, monsoon rains were causing the river to overflow its banks and wash out Laxman’s crops. He was producing enough to provide six months of food security for his family. In March 2007, SOVA worked with the villagers to build a stone wall and reinforce it to prevent the river from overflowing. In addition, the villagers bonded the plot on all sides, keeping the rainwater on the land and allowing it to properly absorb into the soil. With these improvements, the land’s productivity increased by 40 quintals and now produces 10 months of food security per year. Also, Laxman has started to grow lentils, which he sold for Rs. 2,000 last year, and a wider variety of vegetables. He is planning to increase his lentil production in the future, as the land is ideal for growth of that crop.

After interviewing the second farmer, I got the sense that his land was quite close to where we were sitting, so I asked if I could see it to take photos. I think that blew their minds, that a foreigner (and a female) wanted to actually take a walk out in the field in the hot, hot sun. I like to take every opportunity I can to abolish stereotypes! Anyway, we walked out and took some pictures.

Here he is with his gift for me.

I continued to make them laugh with my broken Oriya and at some point, I think I really won them over, because I was given gifts of laoo (a big squash-like vegetable), mangos, and lemon water. I was really touched by their hospitality.

Though the trip was sudden and unplanned, though we drove to an area that was at least 100 degrees, though I came back dehydrated and exhausted and slept for 10 hours straight, I will never turn down a trip to the field. Such an amazing opportunity.