Sunday, November 30, 2008


Very skilled weaver





Surjan Ram-ji and his brother in their village weaving.
Weavers from Bhojasar village



the girls of the neighborhood


Surjan Ram-ji enjoying a cup of chai.
Jakeer Hussein, the best cook ever.

neighborhood kids-URMUL family

Surjan Ram-ji and his grandson, Vinu


Photos from Phalodi/Eika

Woman in Eika village
lots of kids in Eika village.
We attended a meeting on child rights and protection and quality education.

Erik and some dudes.

Kavita, URMUL field worker

Raju, URMUL staff

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Weaving Center, Pokaran

Some photos from the Weaving Center at Pokaran.

Friday, November 28, 2008


I thought I should post to let everyone know that all is alright here. I am in Phalodi, in Western Rajasthan, which is very far away from Mumbai and the bombings that have taken place there. Thank you to everyone who has called or made contact. Even though we are all okay here, I am definitely concerned and sending love and comfort to the families and people affected by the bombings.

In other news, yesterday Erik and I went to Pokaran with Surjan Ram-ji and Bhera Ram-ji. On the way we noticed people covered in a yellowish liquid. As we kept traveling down the road, we saw an over-turned oil truck with lots and lots of people surrounding it. There had been an accident and people were flocking to get some free oil. People were filling up any kind of containers they had on them. The oil was dirty from the dust and sand, but it was still free, so a huge opportunity for a lot of people.

Erik and I have one week left with our NGO. We have really enjoyed out time. The other night is a prime example of how great our NGO staff is. Erik and I were in our room getting ready for bed when some staff members came in. We had been listening to some Bollywood songs and so the staff members started dancing. This led to one-two hours of dance party recording all the dancing on our video cameras. Then we all had to take turns singing our favorite songs. It was hilarious and a blast! I can't wait to share these videos with friends and family when I get back. They are CLASSIC and unforgetable

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I wanted to write and thank everyone who has been visiting my blog and keeping up with whats been going on. Its always so great to hear from you all and I'm sorry if I don't respond immediately, but you are all always in my thoughts and well wishes.

I hope you all are enjoying the fall and have great Thanksgiving celebrations with your families and friends.

Also, some of you have asked if you can share this blog with family or friends-FEEL FREE!! Pass this along to anyone.

Sending loves and hugs from my heart to all of you.

Books I've Read this Semester

I wrote this a while back while we were in Jaisalmer. Since that time, I've read some more books, but I thought I'd post this anyway.

Books I’ve read This Semester:

-Understanding the Caste System: The Non-Brahmanic Perspective

*I read this book for a book report for my Country Analysis course. I thought it was just an okay piece. It was a collection of essays that had been papers at a conference at the University of Pune on the Caste System. However, I found that that collection was all essays by academics-which I don’t really think can claim to be the Non-Brahmanic perspective. I didn’t feel that there were any voices of the people who the essays were talking about-like women, Dalits, scheduled castes, untouchables, converts to other religions because of their untouchable status, etc. The Introduction did provide a good overview of the history of religion in India. But, I found this book lacking.

-Equation for Life

*I read this book for a book report for my International Development course. It was a collection of essays surrounding issues of sustainable development. For my book report, I focused on the essay about sustainable agriculture and the effects of Intellectual Property Rights and Genetically Modified Crops, such as Bt Cotton.

-Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

*This is Jhumpa Lahiri’s new collection of short stories. VERY GOOD, although this time almost all of the stories took place primarily in the United States, unlike Interpreter of Maladies that had stories set in both Western countries and India.

-Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

UNBELIEVABLE!!!! The best way to describe it is to use the back cover:
“A novel of high adventure, great storytelling and moral purpose, based on an extraordinary true story of eight years in the Bombay underworld. In the early 80s, Gregory David Roberts, an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum. There, he established a free health clinic and also joined the mafia, working as a money launderer, forger, and street soldier. He found time to learn Hindi and Marathi, fall in love, and spend time being worked over in an Indian jail. Then, in case anyone though he was slacking, he acted in Bollywood and found with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan...Amazingly, Roberts wrote Shantaram three times after prison guards trashed the first two versions. It’s a profound tribute to his willpower...At once a high-kicking, eye-gouging adventure, a love saga and a savage yet tenderly lyrical fugitive vision.” AND 934 PAGES LONG! Seriously, this book is SOOO crazy and SOOO amazing. Probably one of the best books I’ve read.

-One Night @ The Call Center

*I’m not sure how to describe this book! It is one of the top-selling English Indian novels and has recently been made into the Bollywood hit “Hello.” It is a story about six workers at a call center outside of Delhi and then one night they get a call from God. Basically the premise is that their lives are all full of issues and then this call from God gives them the strength and courage to make necessary changes in their life. But there are a lot of questionable parts in the book-like the portrayal of women, and the sentiment toward Americans. Basically, all Americans are portrayed as stupid, rich, and ignorant. I guess it was good to read this because it is such a wide-read book by English speaking Indians, but I wonder what they think about this book. It was disturbing to me, for more than just one reason.

-AIDS Sutra

*This is a collection of stories written by famous Indian authors. Each author tells the story of the different faces of HIV/AIDS in India. This ranges from impoverished drug injectors in the northeast to sex workers in Bombay to widowed women in villages whose husbands passed the disease to them and then after he died, his family shunned her, to truck drivers to the MSM (men who have sex with men) community, etc. A very good and important book to read.

-The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

An awesome book that weaves together magic, spices, life stories or love, loss, grief, injustice, immigrant life, identity and culture. I’m in the middle of this book, so I’m offer more of an anotation later.

And, I’ve bought soooooo many more books to read!!! I can’t wait to read them and let you know what I think!

Mid Internship Report

URMUL Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti

For the MSID fall semester in India, “Community Internship in the Global South” field placement, Erik and I have been placed with URMUL Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti, an NGO that works in Western Rajasthan. URMUL Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti is part of the URMUL family, which consists of 8 URMUL organizations. In 1988 the late Sanjay Ghosh was a student at the Institute of Rural Management (IRMA) in Anand, Gujarat. His IRMA field placement at that time was with the government organization, URMUL, which stands for Uttari (Northern) Rajasthan Milk Union Limited. After joining URMUL, he started URMUL Rural Health Research and Development Trust. Through URMUL Trust, Sanjay Ghosh-ji created and began training programs for local community members. After their training with Sanjay Ghosh-ji, these trainees went on to found seven non-governmental development organizations.
URMUL Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti, which in English means URMUL Desert Weaver Development Organization, was founded on 30, January 1991 by Ramchandra Barupal, Chetan Ram Barupal, Rewata Ram Panwar, Bhera Ram Juiya and Surjan Ram Jaipal. The five founding members are weavers from the Meghwal community (a scheduled caste) of Phalodi and Pokaran. URMUL Samiti began as an Income-Generation Program during a time of severe drought in the region. The other organization in the URMUL family are URMUL Seemant, which works on border and migrant issues in Bajju, Bikaner; URMUL Jyoti, which works on eye-care work in Nokha, Bikaner; URMUL Setu in Lunkaransar, Bikaner; URMUL Khejadi in Jayal, Nagore; URMUL Marushakti Sansthan in Sujangarh, Churu; and URMUL Shanti Maitri Mission in Pughal, Bikaner. The URMUL family has annual meetings and share similar values and missions, but each organization operates as a separate entity based on their location and developmental focus.
URMUL Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti has three offices: Pokaran, Phalodi and Jaisalmer. We were first introduced to the organization and URMUL Samiti staff at Pokaran. All of the URMUL Samiti staff was gathering at the Pokaran campus for a month-end meeting. The objective of the month-end meeting is to update everyone in the organization on the on-going projects and progress in the field and to propose future course of action and work. During this two-day meeting, Erik and I were able to see the functioning of the organization. We observed that in the meeting hall and in the mess hall everyone sat together, regardless of caste, class or status in the organization. While there is an URMUL cook, everyone is responsible for washing their own dishes and staff members are conscious to share and distribute food and chai to everyone. The organization is headed by three of the founding members, Surjan Ram-ji, Bhera Ram-ji, and Rewata Ram-ji, but they sat on the floor in the meetings and ate with everyone as equals. During the meetings everyone sat in a circle facing one another and open discussion was encouraged and allowed. Everyone, from the drivers to the cooks to the weavers to the field workers joined together in the meeting sessions. We also observed a very interesting and beautiful custom that URMUL Samiti has, which is to sing at the beginning of every meeting and also every time the meeting reconvenes after chai breaks or lunch break. At night URMUL staff joined together to sing traditional songs and play traditional instruments. We have observed that preserving and maintaining culture is a very important part of this organization.
At the Pokaran campus we were given a tour of the weaving and dying training center. When URMUL Samiti was created in 1991 it was with the purpose of reviving and creating a market for the traditional weavers from the Meghwal community of Phalodi and Pokaran. In 1994, after an outbreak of malaria, URMUL Samiti extended its efforts to support development work for weaving and non-weaving families in the region. Since that time URMUL has been dedicated to working for the development of the vulnerable and marginalized, especially Dalits, women and children. This commitment is evident in URMUL Samiti’s mission, which is ,“To bring together the local people, to empower them and make them aware of their rights, and to participate actively in all spheres of their development and build their capacity to conserve and develop the traditional art.”
Current URMUL Samiti programs are: income generation through weaving, comprehensive eye services, village resource centers, a library program, child rights activism, water harvesting, disaster preparedness and risk reduction, a computer lab, birth registration, Panchayat Resource Center, Dalit development and advocacy, horticulture and agriculture programs, and women’s Self-Help Groups. An extension of these programs has been a female feticide prevention initiative that took place in Jaisalmer from January 2006-July 2008. For all of these programs, URMUL Samiti has both national and international supporters, such Save the Children, Finland; Save the Children, UK; OXFAM India Trust; Room to Read; Plan International (India Chapter); and USAID.
As we learned at the October month-end meeting in Pokaran, URMUL staff works either at one of the offices or in the field throughout the year. Sometimes conferences or workshops are held at one of the offices. At the Pokaran campus there is a weaving training center, dyeing center, and showroom that are always in operation. Since Phalodi is the main office, that is where the main offices are located. The Phalodi campus also houses eight of the URMUL staff families, including Surjan-Ram’s, Bhera-Ram’s, and Rewata Ram’s families. An URMUL brochure states, “In scores of poor homes in villages where weaving had been facing extinction, the looms are busy again, providing a livelihood. UMBVS campuses in Phalodi and Pokaran provide space for training, storage, dyeing, display and sales, besides modest residential facilities and a platform for community activities.” We were told that weavers initially receive 60% from each product sold, and then at the end of the year all of the year-end profit is distributed among the weavers. The other 40% goes to the designers, sewers and development programs.
Erik and I spent our first two weeks with URMUL Samiti at the Jaisalmer office working with Maga-Ram, Vuta-Ram and Vimla-ji. Our days consisted of traveling to villages to talk with men and women about issues surrounding female feticide. We discussed marriage, dowry, women’s rights, education, boy and girl births, culture, and community. The Jaisalmer office is not currently in operation because the Save the Girl Child initiative that URMUL was working with only ran from January 2006-July 2008. Even though the official timeline for this work has been completed, URMUL staff still maintains relationships and connections with the communities and villages that were organized around this issue. After two weeks of these field surveys, we moved to the Phalodi campus. The past three days we have spent attending a teacher-training workshop led by URMUL Samiti and Room to Read staff. During these next 15 days at Phalodi we will make field visits to see the work done in the areas of weaving, horticulture and agriculture, water harvesting, education and child rights.
I have been very impressed with URMUL Samiti as an organization and with each of the staff members for their dedication, passion, and commitment to their communities, traditions, and development. They have obviously taken very vital and grassroots steps to work for the maintenance and revitalization of traditional craft as well as the implementation of integral and holistic developmental initiatives in their communities. However, there are some areas for improvement. For example, out of the 60+ staff members, only about 7 are women. In addition to this, the majority of the weavers that the organization works with are men. While there are some initiatives for women’s empowerment, this is not shown in the make-up of the organization itself. I also think that there are issues of sustainability for many of the URMUL projects. For example, URMUL gives the weavers the dyed cotton and wool that is used for weaving. They are also given looms. This makes me wonder if income generation program that URMUL is undertaking could be sustainable without URMUL’s presence in the communities. In addition to that, the cotton comes from a mill in New Delhi, and I think it would be more beneficial or the weavers, the earth, and purchasers to use organic cotton, or to be connected to or start a sister cotton-milling organization.
In conclusion, Erik and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time and work with URMUL Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti. We have seen that all of the staff is actively working for improvement and development in the communities they serve. URMUL does a good job of talking with and listening to community members’ needs and then responding with comprehensive and holistic programs. URMUL has made remarkable strides in reviving an important and beautiful artisan tradition and has created both a national and international market for their products. However, there are places for improvement, especially around the issues of sustainability and gender equality. I look forward to learning from the second half of this field placement.

Field Notes #2

Field Notes #2: Amar sagar

On 6, November 2008 Erik and I traveled with Vuta Ram-ji to Amar sagar, which is about 15-20 kilometers from Jaisalmer. We met with 6-10 women and many more infants and children at the government children’s center in the village. In addition to the village women, we also met the ANM that has been assigned to and living in Amar sagar for a few years. The women were very frank, animated, and direct with us throughout the field visit. Throughout the whole meeting, there were lots of little babies and children wandering around and playing. Some of the women would get up to take care of a child or go home, and another would come and take her place. This was an open and playful environment and interaction with the women and this led to an extremely productive field visit.
In response to our first question, “What is the different in a boy birth and a girl birth?” one of the women pointed to another woman. The first woman told us that this other woman has six children. She first had five girls and was very sad after each birth, but then she finally had a boy and was very happy. We asked why there was so much sadness after the birth of girls and were told that it is because girls marry and move to another house. Girls are also a burden because you have to pay dowry when the girl is married. I asked if boys and girls are treated differently after they are born, and was told that boys and girls are fed the same and go to school together (which is different than in Chandan, for example, where boys and girls go to school separately). However, girls only go to 8th standard because after that they have to go to Jaisalmer for secondary school and it is believed that that is too far away for girls.
We were also told that there are more boys than girls in the village. However, the women told us that the reason for the larger number of boys was “god-given.” It is my understanding after talking with Vimla-ji and Vuta-Ram that this is not actually true. There are medical interventions that occur to abort female fetuses, but none of the women in this group would talk about it, and I didn’t know where my place was to push the question further, especially since Vuta-Ram had to translate my questions. I asked the women what happens when a couple has had all the children they want to have and was told that at that time, women will have a sterilization operation, if the husband wants. The women said that it is the husband’s decision if this operation takes place or not, but no men will get the operation done themselves. It is believed that if men have a vasectomy, it will make them weak. I asked the women why their husbands make the decisions concerning their bodies, and they said, “Where will we go if we don’t listen to what he wants?” They were married into his family and live in his house and often don’t have economic independence or employment outside of the home, so they have to listen to their husband’s choices because otherwise they will be “put out.”
The women all stated that they don’t really like dowry, but it is their system and culture, and so they have to do it. When I asked the women if they liked being women, they all stated that if they could have asked god, they would have asked to be men. They would prefer to be men because men can come and go as they please, and there is also a big problem with smoking and alcohol, which only the men take part in. The women said that their husbands are different when they drink and cause lots of problem, like coming home and hitting the wives and children. They said that they think the government should do something to help with this problem. I asked the women if they want to change the way the men act, and they said that they do, but that they can’t because the men are in charge and make the decisions in the house. There is no women’s group in this village and it seems as if the women, even though they are aware of their secondary status and subservient role in the home, don’t what steps to take to change this situation.
Since the village Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) was present, I took advantage of the opportunity to ask her about her work with the women and children in the village. The government placed her in Amar sagar. She has been living and working there for a few years. She was just 24 years old and has two children. She was married at age 16. She doesn’t see the different number of boys and girls as a problem in the village. She said that her job is just to record the births, administer medicines and vitamins and take care of vaccinations. She did tell us that she get more pay from families when a boy is born than when a girl is born.
The majority of the women we spoke to had been married between the ages of 9-18. There were a couple of women that had been married as late as 30. All of the women had arranged marriages. They told us the story of a couple from the village that recently had a love marriage conducted at the local temple, but were now sitting in prison because the girl’s family had called the police on them.
Erik and I were both very pleased with all of the information and stories that were shared during this meeting. The women enjoyed laughing and joking with us, even amidst very serious discussion topics. The women invited me to stay in their village and to arrange a marriage for me, which we think was partially in-joke, and partially in seriousness. We really enjoyed this meeting, but I also couldn’t help but be saddened and surprised by the responses that all of the women wished to be men, that the women and their children face domestic violence that is related to alcohol abuse, that so many of the women explained that they do not have the power to make decisions concerning their own bodies, and that the women for the most part feel disempowered to do anything about their situations. I was also surprised by the ANM’s response that she doesn’t see the different in numbers of boys and girls in the village as a problem. She also didn’t think there were any issues or problems related to women and children in the village. This makes me wonder about the training of ANM’s and their effectiveness in communities. I remember having a conversation with Becky Ford, a past MSID student, where she told me that often the ANM’s work in the village is only as effective as the ANM herself. If the ANM is motivated and active, then there is the potential for good work to be done, but this can go the opposite way as well. I am not trying to place a value judgment on this particular ANM. I am just offering my observations about her opinion of her role in the village and in service to women and children.

Field Notes #1

The next three blog posts will be copies of assignments that I completed for my Internship course. Some of it will be repeats from other posts, but some is fresh material. This first one is a field note.

Field Notes #1: Chandan, Lathi, and Sodakore

Erik and I have been conducting field visits in the villages surrounding the city of Jaisalmer with the help and guidance of URMUL NGO staff for the Jaisalmer office. The villages we are visiting were organized and worked with as a part of the female feticide awareness and education initiative that ran from January 2006-July 2008 under the title, “Save the Girl Child.” URMUL was one of the NGOS that worked with the “Save the Girl Child” initiative. This field note will include information, observations and reflections from the first three villages we visited: Chandan, Lathi, and Sodakore.
Chandan 3, November 2008; field visit with Vimla-ji and Maga Ram
We went to the government children’s center to meet with Maya, the head worker at the center. She works there with 2 other women and earns 1000 rupees/month for her daily work at the center. When we first arrived we were shown a little baby girl whose birth had been celebrated by the village’s Self-Help Group (SHG), which is led by Maya. The baby girl is her grandchild and celebrating girl child births has been part of the female feticide prevention work done by URMUL and Save the Girl Child. After we met this little girl and some other children at the center, we asked Maya some questions. We learned that Maya is illiterate, had been married at age 12, had her first child at age 16, and is the leader of the village women’s SHG. We were surprised to learn that there are 30 girls and 10 boys in the village. We asked if female feticides are an issue in the village and were told by Vimla-ji, an URMUL field worker, that they are. Also, from observation of the children at the center, there seemed to be more boys than girls wandering around. Maya also told us that the town wants boys but that the women’s group has started celebrating girl births also. Even though Maya is working to promote dignity of the girl child, she believes that boys and girls should be educated separately because boys and girls are different. Currently, very few girls in the village study after the 5th standard.
When we asked Maya her hopes for the future, she said that for her family she would like necessities, like a cooler and also a sewing machine for her daughter Soniya. For the village she hopes for a doctor and a hospital, since the closest hospital is in Jaisalmer and there is not easily accessible health care besides the local Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM). She also hopes for better and further education for girls in the village, because many girls do not study past primary school. For the country, Maya said she wants India to be a strong country.
We also had the opportunity to meet Maya’s daughter, Soniya, her friend, Prema, and her son-in-law (the father of the celebrated baby girl we met earlier in the visit). All of the younger generation said that they think that education should be together and not separate. Prema is one of the rare girls in the village who has had a further education and is currently in the 11th standard. She said that she plans on finishing 12th standard and then would like to become a police officer because she would like to work in women’s safety and security.
This was a good first meeting, however there were some difficulties conveying questions and responses because we did not have one common language. However, we did the best we could and everyone worked their hardest to translate and communicate the messages we were trying to share. Also, we hadn’t come up with questions before the meeting because we weren’t sure what we would be doing when we went to the village for the field visit. This led us to planning out questions and translating them ahead of time in order to better communicate at our next field visit.
Lathi: 4, November 2008; field visit with Vimla-ji
Lathi is Vimla-ji’s village, well actually it is her husband’s village, but since women move to their husbands home after marriage, it is now her village as well. As soon as we arrived at Lathi, Vimla-ji covered her head with her sari because it is her husband’s village. We went to Vimla-ji’s home at the end of the village, met her children and had lunch. During lunch three women came over and we asked them some of our questions concerning male or female preference, dowry, marriage, births, etc. Translation was not accessible at this time, so we had Vimla-ji write the responses on a piece of paper to have translated later.
When we got the responses translated by a fellow intern at URMUL, we learned that in response to the question, “what do you hope for in the future?” the women stated that they want to bring happiness to their families and hope for employment opportunities for their children. In response to the question of what issues women in the community face, they stated, “violence against women, and that there is a movement to eliminate violence against women and to eliminate discrimination among boys and girls.” Vimla-ji’s notes also say that the women’s group does lending and borrowing to start small businesses to increase income for women. She wrote notes like, “women should raise their voice against violence and should get justice;” “Parents don’t educate girls because they think after marriage they have to go to another house;” and “People have developed the mentality that girls and boys are not equal because the boys continue the family and they support their elders.” These last comments were responses from the women we met at Vimla-ji’s husband’s parents home. All of the women there stated that they want boys and not girls and that these are the reasons for the male preference.
We also talked to Vimla-ji’s two eldest daughters about their future husbands. Jyoti and Preeti are 18 and 17 years old and their marriages have already been arranged. They will get married at the same time in a year or so once Preeti turns 18 years old. Neither of the young women wants to be married, and when we asked why they are getting married, Jyoti answered with one world, “unjustly forced.” I was surprised by this answer since Vimla-ji is working in the field of women’s empowerment. I asked who was forcing the marriages and was told that it is Vimla’s husband’s parents who are insisting that the marriages take place. This really showed me that change takes a long time, because it has to take place in phases. I understand that Vimla-ji does not want her daughters to be shamed in the family or community and therefore has to follow some rules and traditions that she does not completely agree with. However, it is unfortunate that these two young, bright, and beautiful young women are going to be forced into marriages that they do not want to take place. The family has to pay dowry for both of the girls as well. They told us that the dowry will be 200,000 rupees, which is a very large amount of money. Both Jyoti and Preeti are marrying within their caste, which is a common theme that we have noticed with talking with people at these field visits as well as on the street and on buses.
Sodakore: 5, November 2009; field visit with Vimla-ji
On our way back to Jaisalmer from Vimla-ji’s village we stopped at Sodakore. We met with some men and one woman at the home of a young man who is part of the village’s youth group. This was just a short meeting because there had been a death in the village so the meeting Vimla had planned was canceled due to the death. However, we did meet some elders of the village and were introduced to a baby girl. I asked if the baby girl’s birth had been celebrated and Vimla-ji told me that sweets had been distributed on the occasion of the baby’s birth. This is a big achievement because women’s births are not often celebrated in villages. We couldn’t ask too many more questions because of a lack of translation.
Overall Observations:
In these first three field visits it really became apparent that the male preference we had learned about during the track section of our International Development course are the reality for so many people. Coming from a country that does not have a gender preference it was shocking to hear both men and women state that they would prefer to have boy babies and that boys and girls are different from one another. It also made me realize that century old cultural expectations and values are hard to change and the work that Save the Girl Child initiative and programming with URMUL has made significant strides, even if that just means for now celebrating girl births. There is still so much work to do and so many inequalities between boys and girls-ranging from education, health services, life expectations, marriage expectations, work and career opportunities, food, etc.
I have also observed that so much of NGO work is building relationships with communities and community members. Sometimes field visits might not seem to have accomplished any immediate thing, but they are important for establishing and maintaining relationships, building trust and confidence, and listening to the needs of the communities that the NGO serves.

URMUL Schedule

Here is a little summary of Eriks and my time with URMUL so far.
URMUL NGO Internship/Field Placement Schedule:

Oct 30: Travel from Jaipur to Pokran, meet some URMUL staff at Pokran office (including Maga Ram and Vimla-ji), have short planning meeting with 3 Head URMUL staff members-Bhera Ram, Sujan Ram and

Oct 31: Tour of Weaving Training Center and Showroom at Pokran with Sujan Ram and Bhera Ram, End of Month full URMUL staff meeting, break-out session with OXFAM India program, night music with staff members

Nov. 1: Full staff meeting all day with singing and presentations of each project update and future planning, purchase URMUL kurtas

Nov. 2: travel from Pokran to Jaisalmer with Maga Ram, unpack and get settled in Jaisalmer office, visit haveli with Maga Ram and Vuta Ram, visit the Jaisalmer vegetable market, go for a short walk around the office, play cards with Vuta Ram, Vuta Ram stays the night at the office

Nov. 3: Chandan field visit with Vimla-ji and Maga Ram, Vimla-ji stays the night at the office

Nov. 4: Lathi field visit, visit Vimla-ji’s home and family, visits with neighbors and family members, dress up in Rajasthani fashion, sleep over at Vimla’s house

Nov. 5: visit famous temple near Lathi with a bunch of kids, BARACK WINS US Presidential election, Sodakore field visit with Vimla’ji, return to Jaisalmer

Nov. 6: Amarsagar field visit with Vuta Ram, lunch at Maga Ram’s house, meet Maga Ram’s family

Nov. 7: Mulsagar field visit with Vuta Ram

Nov. 8: Model Village field visit with Maga Ram on motor-bike, Maga Ram’s house for lunch and dinner

Nov. 9: Sunday rest day, use internet, (bed taken by neighbor’s mother-in-law), wash clothes

Nov. 10: visit from Phalodi staff, visit Sam sand dunes, ride camel, big sleepover with Phalodi staff at Jaisalmer office

Nov. 11: visit hospital because of Radha’s sister’s delivery, visit the Jaisalmer fort with Vimla-ji and Vuta Ram, travel to Lathi with Vimla, stay the night at Vimla’s house

Nov. 12: travel from Lathi to Jaisalmer, Frank and Vanessa arrive in Jaisalmer

Nov. 13: Rent taxi with Vanessa and Frank, Masuri field visit, Sam sand dunes, camel rides

Nov. 14: Visit Jaislamer Fort and haveli with Frank and Vanessa, Frank and Vanessa leave for Jaipur, dinner at Maga Ram’s house

Nov. 15: Erik gets his ears pierced, purchase Rajasthani shoes and earrings

Nov. 16: pack-up, travel from Jaisalmer to Phalodi with Maga Ram, move into guest room at Phalodi campus, look at photos with Khalu Ram

Nov. 17: look at photos with Raju Ram, Teacher Training session at Phalodi campus-inter-organization workshop focused on issues of library development, reading kits, and the “Room to Read” initiative, night time singing with some URMUL staff

Nov. 18: Teacher Training session at Phalodi campus, write poems about books, teachers, children, school, book-bags, visit residential quarters, sweets in town with Surjan Ram-ji

Nov. 19: Teacher Training session at Phalodi campus, visit URMUL family residential quarters, design students at URMUL campus

Nov. 20: meeting at Pokaran with Dr. Meeta Singh, sweets in town with Surjan Ram-ji

Nov. 21: Eika village visit with Save the Children Finland URMUL team: meeting on quality education and child rights and protection, tea at LIC, visit residential quarters

Nov. 22: Surjan Ram-ji’s village with Surjan Ram-ji, Khushal and “greaser,” visit weaving community member homes, meet Tina and visit her home, boy youth group at URMUL campus


Move to Phalodi

Move to Phalodi

17, November 2008
12:00 noon

Yesterday Erik and I left the Jaisalmer office with Maga-Ram (and said goodbye to Vutaa Ram) and moved to the main URMUL office at Phalodi. Phalodi is about 160 km from Jaisalmer. We went by bus around 2:30pm and arrived at Phalodi around 5:30pm. We were greeted by Sujan Ram (who is the Chief Executive of URMUL), Bera Ram (another of the founding members of URMUL) and other URMUL staff. This is the main URMUL office so the majority of the workers are here. The URMUL campus consists of offices, a meeting hall, a kitchen, cook, garage full of motorbikes, and two guest rooms. Erik and I are staying in one of the guest rooms on the roof of the building. We have a huge roof top porch and have a good view of Phalodi. Behind the main office building (on the other side of the open courtyard) live eight URMUL families. Sujan Ram and his family, Bera Ram and his family, and then 6 others (whose names I don’t remember right now, because there are so many names and faces to match them to). We aren’t really sure what our work here will look like. We are thinking that we will still be visiting some nearby villages, like we did in Jaisalmer. However, now the focus will be less on female feticide issues and more on the weaving projects, and other development programs that URMUL runs (like children’s rights, birth registration, eye heath care, education). Today there is a big teacher training meeting here at the Phalodi office.

Last night after we were settled into our room, we had dinner and then Sujan Ram’s son, Khalu, showed us a bunch of photos on his computer. He is in his early 20s and has one son, Vinu, who is 4 ½ years old. Most of the photos were of his son, Vinu, and some of his wife. There were photos of a family trip to Jaipur. He also showed us videos he has made of his son dancing or doing English homework. The whole time that he was looking at his son’s pictures he was just beaming. Even though he only makes about 6000 rupees/month, he pays 1000/month in school fees for his son to attend an English-medium school. Just like Maga Ram who pays for extra out of school English tutoring for Rahul (and has also bought him lots of Leap Frog activity books), Khalu wants all the best education and opportunity for his son-everything he wasn’t able to have. He told us that he is taking lots of pictures and videos of his son now to give to him when he is older, like in his early twenties. We also found out that Sujan Ram’s family is of one of the 5 scheduled castes (which are some of the lowest castes in India).

Along with the photos of his family, Khalu showed us photos of Sujan Ram’s trip to South Africa. Sujan Ram went to South Africa to represent URMUL weaving at a museum exhibition in Johannesburg. He was gone for 20 days, and it was a VERY BIG deal that he had this opportunity. Sujan Ram’s son showed us pictures of Sujan Ram’s farewell, and how it was a very big deal because very few people have the opportunity to go abroad and so when one person does, it is a big deal and a huge source of pride for everyone in the family and the organization.


Erik and I just sat through the teacher training meeting for the past three hours. It was completely in Hindi, so we didn’t understand much of it, but I do know that they are talking about reading programs and a new library initiative. Even though I really wish I knew what everyone was saying, I think it is good to experience situations as an outsider. In my life, as a white, middle-class, educated woman, in the the United States I am so often used to living in the majority and having situations and opportunities accessible to me.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Erik and I are huge admirers of the ear-piercings that almost all men in Western Rajasthan have.  So, today Erik bought some of the beautiful gold flower earrings and then got his ears pierced.  We thought that we were going to be taken to a piercing store, but we were just led to women on the street who were ready to pierce his ear right then and there.  We weren't sure how sterile and sanitary that would be and when we hesitated, everyone just kept saying "it won't hurt, there won't be blood."  But, we insisted that we at least needed to get some iodine or alcohol to clean his ears and the earrings first.  We then walked to a nearby chemist and got some iodine and cotton (for 20 rupees) and then headed back to the ladies.  We drew quite the crowd-probably because there aren't many foreigners who just sit down on the wooden bench and let the woman jam the earrings through their ears!  Erik was a great sport and he looks great with pierced ears.  The were pierced with just fake diamond studs and in a few days he can put in the gold flowers! We can't wait!  I also got some Rajasthani fashion today.  I bought some beautiful silver earrings-that are gauged!  Just like with the crowd for Erik's piercings, a crowd gathered to offer their opinions about which pair of earrings I should buy!  It was a great day at the market! 

Vimla's House/Field Visit

The first two photos are of little girls at our last field visit.  The other three photos are at Vimla's house.  These are huge chunks of sugar that are then crushed and sifted and then melted down.  I helped her with the process!  And then at night Jyoti did henna for me!  We also taught everyone the Hokey Pokey and the Macarena! They LOVED IT! 

Jaisalmer Fort/Field Visit

The last three photos are from the Jaisalmer Fort that we visited with Vimla-ji and Vuta Ram the other day after we visited the new baby at the hospital.  Then there is a photo of the fresh vegetables that are sold on carts all over India.  The first photo is of a very special little girl that we met at the last village we visited.  We visited the village to talk about child rights and female feticide.  We first talked to the little kids and at first the only kids that volunteered to sit in front of us and talk were little boys.  I then asked if a little girl wanted to talk to us.  Most were too shy, but this little girl, Yogita, wasn't shy or afraid.  She talked to us and told us that she wants to become a doctor in Jaisalmer someday.  We wished her lots of luck and told her we believe she can do it.  I'll post soon more details about this and other field visits that we have recently gone on.  

New Baby

The other day Maga Ram called Vuta Ram to tell him that he was at the hospital because Radha's sister had just delivered her baby.  We went with Vuta Ram and Vimla-ji to the hospital to visit.  Vimla-ji took me with her into the ward to visit the mother and baby.  When we got into the room there were beds full of women, with guests either sitting on the floor or on the beds with the new mothers.  Radha was sitting on the ground with another woman next to the bed that her sister was lying on.  I could feel the weight of sadness as soon as I walked in.  I was given chai and as I sat there sipping it, I was told that she had just had her sixth girl, and so the mother was disappointed since she had wanted a son.  I asked where the baby was and was shown a bundle of blankets behind the mother's back.  The mother was lying on her side on the mattress and the baby was wrapped in blankets and lying behind her.  The mother sat up after a few minutes but faced the wall and not the rest of us or the baby.  I asked to take a photo of the baby and even then the mother didn't turn around.  The baby is healthy, but I could sense the sadness the mother was feeling.  It was so hard to see a mother so disappointed by her newborn baby, and this in the family of someone who works on the issue of female feticide and women's rights.  It just showed me how expectations are so deeply imprinted on women's lives and psyches.  I saw the father of the baby today in the vegetable market and asked about the mother and baby, and he said they are both fine.  I hope that the family can embrace and love this beautiful baby girl.  

Sand Dunes

Fun times in Jaisalmer

A few days before Vanessa and Frank came for a visit, the URMUL staff took Erik and I out to the sand dunes to ride camels.  Three of these pics are from that day, and one is from the day at the dunes with Vanessa and Frank.  The last photo is  of Radha, Maga Ram's awesome wife!  She is so chill, beautiful, fun and funny.  We love going over to their house to visit, play with the kids, and eat delicious food.