Saturday, 15 August 2015

Literacy within the community; Independence, Self Sufficiency and Self Esteem

By Barbara Gardner – 1st year MDP student

My work with the Literacy Department at Blue Quills has been exciting and rewarding; through assisting the department I am now more aware of some educational and employment challenges affecting the community as well as steps being taken through the institution to address the issues.

I assisted the department with several endeavors that will in some way address the multi-faceted issues.  Numbered among these was the preparation of a grant proposal which will see Elders and Seniors among the seven first nations communities that are on the board of Blue Quills First Nations College volunteering to teach literacy on Reserve.  This will be accomplished through story telling in the various First Nation languages spoken on the reserves. There will also be the production of books in all seven languages and English from kindergarten up to grade four.   

Additionally, I assisted in the planning and attended a workshop aimed at improving adult literacy in families on Reserve.  The objective of this program is to build self-esteem among the community members, instill cultural values as well as facilitate training in life skills to ensure employability, through improved literacy skills. It was heartwarming to participate in these discussions, recognizing that there is universality in the issues that affect all communities, however, the methods employed to solve these issues are what is uniquely different and based on the heritage and history in the community.

Children creating journals at the Boys & Girls Club
The focus interestingly of the literacy department was not only on adults, they also undertook community outreach with the Saddle Lake Boys and Girls Club.  Through the efforts of the College, the children Boys and Girls Club were able to see reading as fun, through the use of various craft projects; allowing them to use their imagination to create their own stories, using their own words and drawing pictures of how they feel and relate to particular activities.  During the activities, the cultural practices (smudging and sharing circles) and protocols were also taught/ reinforced.  I think these are excellent tools to teach the young, as they are more likely to remember and practice them because they learnt them in a safe and fun environment.

Through these various experiences, as a person of colour and from a marginalized group, I am appreciating that though we are different; collectively, we are the same.  As Indigenous peoples, we continually strive to ensure members of our communities improve their “lot,” become less reliant on the welfare or government aid, embracing our heritage and improving our self-esteem.     

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Winding down Researching Resilience

By Dev Kashyap, 2nd year MDP student

With just a couple weeks left in my University of Winnipeg field placement in south-east India, I can't believe how time has flown by. However, in reflection, the past month has been a whirlwind of visits to 'Adivasi' or Indigenous communities in and around our base of Kotturu, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Myself, along with my MDP classmate Manna Sainju and host organization Appropriate Reconstruction Technology Information Centre (ARTIC), have reached our goal of completing all key informant interviews and focus group discussions with our selected participating Adivasi communities in the month of July.

July took us through the beautiful landscapes of three local rural counties or "Mandals" as they are called in Andhra Pradesh; some of them accessible only by rugged roads. Part of what we have learned revolves around the similarities in Adivasi habitations in terms of the effects on them from changes over the past 30 years: globalization; emerging technologies and government programming and policies. What is certain is that all of these communities embody resilience in terms of their day-to-day living. Things that we take for granted in North America - such as constant electricity, piped water directed to our homes and easy access to irrigation - are amenities that require planning and hard physical labour in many cases here in rural India.

All in all, I am grateful for my experience here, the assistance I have had in my research from the team at ARTIC, and last but not least the willingness of the research participants to contribute to my higher learning about the rural experience of Adivasis in south Asia. Resilience is manifest in their processes of living day-to-day here and embodied in the daily tasks performed by Adivasi communities. Resilient communities carrying on in the face of externally-driven changes.

Dev, Prakash, Yamuna and Shrimaiji from ARTIC, and the research participants from the community of Bommika, Andhra Pradesh

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Seeds and Stories in Araku Valley, India

By Kaitlyn Duthie-Kannikkatt, 2nd year MDP student

India’s food system has undergone many changes in the past few decades. Technologies have changed, staple foods have shifted, and food security has been variable. The situation for many tribal peoples is particularly acute as the varieties they’ve grown and the agricultural methods they’ve used for many generations become threatened by shifting economic, political, and cultural landscapes. 

But here I the state of Andhra Pradesh, in a hilly area called Araku Valley, the inevitability of that shift is being called into question. Tribal peoples are organizing to maintain the rich seed diversity that has characterized their lifestyle for generations. With the help of Sanjeevini, a community-based organization with which I’m undertaking my summer placement, people are becoming empowered to celebrate and cherish their seeds and the cultural lifeways that sustain them. 

Women carry a tuber harvest in from the fields

My role here is to develop a case study of Sanjeevini’s approach to mobilizing community-based seed conservation by interviewing farmers, network partners, government officials, and key staff and volunteer members about the impact of Sanjeevini and the sustainability of their approach. Most of my time thus far has been spent living in a rural village, nestled in a gorgeous agricultural valley, talking to farmers every day about the kinds of varieties they’re growing, the preservation methods they use, and their commitment to passing their knowledge on to their children and grandchildren. 

Understanding the role that Sanjeevini has played in supporting people in that work is inspiring. They take a holistic approach that is uncommon in the NGO world. They recognize that people cannot keep that agrobiodiversity alive without just access to land, livelihood opportunities, access to education, and the fulfillment of basic human rights. Their work is rooted in strong relationships with local people who know they can trust Sanjeevini to organize on their behalf when one of those factors is at risk. 

Selections from Sanjeevini's extensive seed bank

The founder and general secretary of Sanjeevini, Devullu, told me this: “In the beginning, they (government and others) thought I was a mad man. ‘Why would you want to preserve old seeds when there are hybrids, new technologies that tribal people should embrace?’ they would cry. Now, two decades later, everyone knows how important this work is – government, NGOs, universities, and all are keen to work with Sanjeevini to support tribal farmers.

Learning Dhimsa (traditional dance) with my aunties
Agrobiodiversity is increasingly on the radar of actors at the state, national, and international levels. Sanjeevini, however, has always known that supporting local, traditional knowledge is the key to sustaining that diversity. Indigenous people have to be supported if that diversity they have stewarded for so long is to be maintained. It’s encouraging to see that notion is catching, however long it’s taken to get there.