Participating in sustainable change: my journey with GRAVIS as a volunteer

2017 marks the tenth year that I have been associated with GRAVIS. On hearing this, people frequently ask me how I came to join this NGO first and what changes I have witnessed over the past 10 years with GRAVIS. In today’s post I will try to answer these questions.

When I first came to Jodhpur in February 2007, I had actually never heard of GRAVIS and I had set out to the Thar Desert to write my graduation paper on combating desertification in the Thar Desert. At university in Germany, I had been given a Jodhpur contact by a guest professor from India and all I knew was that I wanted to be in India and do research there, and that I was determined to find a way of mitigating desertification.  Looking back, this approach was beyond idealistic, borderline naïve and suitably daring.

After weeks of desperately getting anywhere with my research in Jodhpur, and getting nowhere with the contact I had been given, I set out to find an NGO working with the desert communities. So, when I arrived at the GRAVIS office in Jodhpur one foggy morning in February 2007, I had no idea what journey with GRAVIS would lie ahead of me.

During my first field visit with GRAVIS in 2007

Without hesitation, I was taken to the field and I was helped as much as possible. I was given insights, I could have never got without GRAVIS and I absorbed the field experience like a sponge. Being a complete stranger to the GRAVIS staff, they treated me with respect, interest and helped me immensely. Back home in Germany, I decided that once university was over and my graduation complete, I should return to GRAVIS as a volunteer to pay back some of the support and kindness I had received. And so I became a volunteer in 2008 when I stayed with GRAVIS for two full months.

With a beneficiary and her milch cow in 2008

Being an English and Geography teacher, my work over the years has often been centered around topics related to agriculture and rainwater harvesting, and I assume these are the fields of work in which I am of most use to GRAVIS. However, I have had chances to see GRAVIS’ work in other areas, too. Every year I learn something new about GRAVIS, sometimes, these are indeed new initiatives, but sometimes they have been around for many years and I only find out about them then. Overall, I see a commitment to the principles that have always been with GRAVIS, i.e. empowering the poor, building self-reliant communities and keeping sustainable development in mind. What impresses me again and again is that GRAVIS has stayed true to those founding ideas, but has never failed to listen to the rural communities and there most prevalent needs. New projects always reflect the current needs of the beneficiaries and they are therefore a sign of the times.

Some of the Jodhpur office staff in 2009 during a short farewell gathering in the office

The effects of climate change have certainly shaped the focus of projects over the past few years as they have, in may parts of the Thar, aggravated the already existing shortage of food and water due to climatic conditions.

Office work in 2010

Health has certainly been put more in the centre of GRAVIS’ initiatives over the past decade. This may have all started with the opening of GRAVIS Hospital in 2008, which also provides the facilities required to treat patients and train village health workers. GRAVIS Hospital is, to me, the perfect example of the transfer of knowledge and networking: once a strong institution is set up in an area and a first seed of change is planted, a whole new garden of change will bloom.

Paravet Training in Gagadi 2011

I am also very happy and proud  to see GRAVIS’ work spread to new areas. Initiatives and projects have now started in Uttarakhand and in the Bundelkhand region in Uttar Pradesh, and GRAVIS’ knowledge is now also shared in Malawi and Kenya (Africa).

What has also changed over the past 10 years is that I am now usually incredibly much older than the other volunteers who come here from almost all parts of the world. Also, not being a student anymore but a full-time teacher has, unfortunately, forced me to volunteer for much shorter time spans, but this all does not matter: no matter how old you are, no matter how limited your time may be, try and be a volunteer. It will make a change.

* by Eva Schmitt, Volunteer



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