by Tobias Ochsenbein, David Karrer and Sara Rodrigues Almeida
We were the last students of the University of St. Gallen heading to India this summer to absolve an internship with MYRADA for 6 weeks. We left Zürich Airport on the 4th of August on an Emirates plane with a short stop at the Dubai International Airport and arrived the next day at 9.00 o’clock in the morning at Bangalore Airport. A cab from MYRADA was already awaiting us and in about an hour we got to the city. We were informed that the following day David would go to Hosur, about 1 hour away from Bangalore, to work at a microfinance project and Tobias and Sara would go to Chitradurga, about 4 hours from Bangalore, to work at a watershed project.
MYRADA – the NGO
MYRADA was established 1968 and is mainly performing in the southern states of India, namely Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The NGO is currently working on 18 projects in different areas, such as watershed, microfinance, education, health and gender issues. The head office is located in Bangalore and there are small centres all over the states. Due to this MYRADA works directly with one million poor people in villages and settlements. MYRADA’s vision is “building poor people’s institutions”. An institution assures the poor their rights and enables them to build a sustainable livelihood.
The most important aspect of MYRADA’s work is the establishment of Self-Help Affinity Groups (SAG). They form the basis of the institution building and enable the poor to work in groups instead of fighting on their own. The ultimate goal of MYRADA is to make itself redundant. The SAG’s play a very important role in this ultimate goal.
In this part we are going to show you on which projects we were working during our internship with MYRADA.
As we arrived at the Holalkere CIDORR (Centre for Institutional Development and Organizational Reforms and Research), the campus were we stayed for the following 5 weeks, we were warmly welcomed and shown around on the campus. The first days of our internship we had the opportunity to visit some of MYRADA’s projects and got an insight into their work. We also got to know that we were not going to work on a watershed project as planned, but instead on two other projects. Accommodation We stayed on a MYRADA CIDORR, a fully equipped training centre. On the campus was one office, where the training centres manager, Mr. Jagatap, and a Shangamitra employee worked. There was also one school for children of the age between 4-10 who were caught in child labour and now living on the campus and attending school. Totally four families lived on the campus who all worked for MYRADA.
Furthermore there were 6 guest rooms. Each of us got a double room with 2 beds and a mosquito net, a cupboard and a worktable. In the bathroom was an English toilet and we had the traditional “two bucket shower system”. Approximately between 10.00 am and 6.00 pm there was no electricity; still if we wanted to work on our laptops we had always electricity in the office because they had a backup system. Hot water was only available when there was power or an ongoing training. This was the case most of the time, but we also had to take some showers with cold water only. The climate in Holalkere was mild, although we went to India during the monsoon time it was raining only very rarely (Chitradurga district belongs to the dry lands).
The first image shows our toilet in the guest room. We were even provided with toilet paper.
The second image shows our bed. The bed had a mosquito net, which was very convenient as there were a lot of mosquitos. The rooms were quite spacious (we both had a double room on our own). There was also a fan for cooling the room, but we never really needed it.
On our campus traditional south Indian food was served. After sometime it could get a bit boring, especially when there were no trainings on the campus, because then the cook did not prepare fresh food every day.
Breakfast: Idly with chutney, Dosa, Puri, Maggie noodles, coffee/tea Served at around 9 o’clock.
Lunch: Chapatti, roti, sambal, rice, chutney, drumstick, lemon rice, fried rice, pickles, bananas, water Served at around 2 0’clock.
Supper. Same food as served on lunch time. Served at around 9 o’clock.
The food cooked on the campus was not too spicy. As the people living there are mostly vegetarians meat was only served on special occasions (ongoing trainings, Sundays, …). Most of the time we could also wish what we liked to eat (e.g. they served as fruits very frequently).
Project 1 – Community Managed Garment Unit
I (Tobias) was assigned to this project on the first day of my stay in Holalkere. It was the expressed wish of the executive director of MYRADA that I work on this project.
My task was to support the local staff to write a comprehensive proposal for the future of this garment unit project. The Garment Unit is a project, where poor women and youths can find employment. Its roots date back to the year 2004 where the Community Managed Resource Centre in Challakere started to provide tailoring trainings to its members. After some time the CMRC staff learnt, that it was not enough to only train these women, but that some were also in need of a regular and save employment opportunity. For that reason they started to form a Garment Unit where these women could find employment.
Today they are trying to make this project more professional and autonomous. The comprehensive proposal now had the goal to show what the current basis is, what the next steps are to professionalize this project and what the ultimate goals of this Garment Unit are. My first task was therefore to summarize the past and put it into a proper format. I got the necessary information through former reports on this project. After that the local staff provided me with information on the current status, the next steps and the goals of the project. This happened mostly in discussions with the responsible staff, where I was also able to ask my own questions and articulate concerns.
In total the project was very interesting, because it gave me the opportunity to work on something which was currently going on. As a result I got the impression, that my work was really necessary and appreciated.
Project 2 – Assessment of 10 Community Managed Resource Centre’s
MYRADA is implementing various sustainable development models, which are focused on building institutions of the poor in Chitradurga District since 1982. Over this period of more than two decades the concept of SHG and CMRC and its networks has emerged as a people’s movement. This movement among the poorest and deprived has demonstrated that poverty can be alleviated through empowerment of poor by building their own institution, which help them to negotiate through existing structural barriers that limit access to resources, to rights and entitlements, to productive assets and markets for fair wages, adequate and timely credit on non-exploitative terms. The number of SAGs has increased strongly over the last years and MYRADA did not have the capacity to assist all SAGs. Therefore CMRCs were formed. One CMRC consist of about 100-120 SAGs. A CMRC is a self-run institution, which provides essential quality services to its member institutions and the community and thereby supports them to grow as sustainable institutions, empowering its members.
For our second project we were given a determined assessment sheet and we visited 10 CMRC and helped them to conduct the self-assessment. For this occasion a special meeting was called so that we could go through the questions with the CMRC manager, Board of Directors members and staff. At the end we wrote a report and compared the 10 CMRC. Based on this self-assessment the 10 CMRC should develop an action plan, as a final output, in order to perform better in the future. Meanwhile the CMRC are working on the action plan.
Although this project was not very challenging, we got a good insight in the work of the CMRCs and met a lot of people. We were very much surprised by the people’s devotion for their projects and the work done within a CMRC.
While Sara and Tobias spent the time of the internship together on the same project site, I (David) was sent to another place, namely to Hosur in northern Tamilnadu. My first impression after the arrival in Bangalore was a very good one. A friendly MYRADA-staff member picked us up at the airport (indeed, the NGO charged all taxi costs which were not that cheap in Indian conditions), whereupon we went to Catholic Club Hotel in the city of Bangalore. There, we were invited to dinner with the executive director of MYRADA and his predecessor, two important and honourable persons within the NGO. They were very friendly and helped us with little matters like changing money or purchasing a SIM-card. I felt less comfortable, however, when I was picked up for the short car trip to Hosur in the next morning. Unlike I was told the previous day, an anonymous taxi driver who did not speak English appeared instead of a staff member. He brought me to the training centre in Hosur where I would spend the next 40 days. At the moment of my arrival, staff did not seem to expect me at that time. However, they quickly prepared a room for me and soon after, the training officer invited me to a cup of tea in his office. It did not take a long time to make me feel good on the campus and around the people who would become my friends in the next few weeks.
Food and Accommodation
I could enjoy the same kind of food like Sara and Tobias. Luckily, I really like South Indian food ☺ Although the type of food does not change often (there is rice at least two times a day), it is spiced up with different exotic flavours. The cook and his wife prepared easy dishes when only the staff and I were on the campus. Whenever guests were present for training, the cooking was more extensive and diversified. Generally, it was quite spicy and there was meat (chicken) about twice a week.
My guest room was not luxurious but it had good facilities: a desk, chairs, a cupboard, access to the back-up batteries (but not for light) and an own bathroom. However, the bathroom was not very clean. I had to share it with a mouse. A mirror, warm water and toilet paper were missing (a cold shower in the morning is not that bad – it makes you wake up☺). Most of the time I was alone in the three-bed-room but at some nights, other guests stayed there as well. I was glad about the mosquito net which I brought along with me. The houses of the training centre were situated apart from the noisy road and surrounded by a little garden of green trees. From the veranda, I had a fantastic view over the countryside and the town of Hosur. Compared to the city, it was very calm. In the habitable room, the guests could watch satellite TV. The frequent power cuts need getting used to when you stay outside an Indian city. I recommend bringing a headlamp with you – it is very helpful in the dark evenings. Once, I had the possibility to spend a night in a remote farming village in the hills. I stayed at a house of local people and experienced their workaday life at best. For example, there were no bed (only a straw mat) and no toilet facilities at all. Although this might sound hard to bear, that experience was very impressive and precious.
Projects in Microfinance
Unlike other interns I was not tasked with one specific project but did different work during my 40-days stay. The main focus, however, was on Microfinance. In rural India, many (mostly poor) people lack access to banking due to the high transaction costs which occur to banks by serving these client categories. On the other side, it was found out that there is a high demand for loans among the rural poor. Such loans are not only used for covering consumption expenses but also as a base for investment. In order to escape from poverty, people have to increase productivity and income, for example by starting their own business activities. MYRADA does not only provide skill trainings but also helps people to get access to loans which are needed as seed capital. Microfinance implies the contribution of small loan amounts to poor and marginalized borrowers who cannot afford a minimal bank loan or who live out of reach of the banks. Unfortunately, the very poor are still unattractive or not credit-worthy clients for a commercial Microfinance Institution. Some depend on dubious moneylenders who drive them into ruin. MYRADA promotes the concept of Self Help Affinity Groups (SAG) where between 15 and 20 poor people (mainly women) come together in order to solve their common problems. In the NGO’s Microfinance programme, the SAG is the central institution. The SAG takes one loan as a group and then decides about the distribution among its members. In order to guarantee a proper repayment it has its own code of rules and punishments. The group does also save money in a common fund. In long term, it does not rely on external lending anymore but group members can borrow from the common fund. MYRADA educates SAG members in skills like group formation and bookkeeping. It also links the group with suitable and trustworthy Finance Institutions.
During the first week on the campus, I had the chance to participate a training of a Microfinance Institution supported by the Indian State. It was a kind of personnel recruitment and so, I met many people from different Indian States working in the finance sector. I learned a lot about Microfinance and rural development during theory lessons as well as field visits. After that interesting starter week, I read further books and wrote a report about what I had learned. During the third and fourth week, Japanese students came to the campus and attended a two-weeks training about rural development. I joined them and by this chance, we experienced the broad scope of the NGO’s work. Almost every day, we went to field and visited people who are involved in programs and supported by MYRADA. Moreover, I became friend with the Japanese. Two short weeks remained for my main work. I did a survey among three different Community Managed Resource Centres (CMRC – an organisations which incorporates different SAGs) and analysed their financial performance in terms of contributions from Microfinance Institutions and the supply of services. I was quite enthusiastic about that work but I was short of time. As I could not do the last interview before the second last day, I was not able to complete my report entirely. I presented it at the MYRADA head office anyway and promised to finish it at home.
To sum up, I had a great time at the MYRADA project in Hosur. I had the chance to see many different projects, meet staff and local people and by this means, I learned very much about the NGO and its work. During three out of six weeks, I attended trainings together with other groups of people. This was definitively great but I had almost bad consciousness when I realized that I could not help the NGO that much. Finally, I am proud of the reports I handed in at the Head Office in Bangalore but I am not sure how much attention it is paid at this afterwards. Despite of all the nice experiences and the good relation to the staff, I sometimes felt impatient when I did not know what I could do the following day or week. I finally occupied myself by creating an own research design for the survey. Although the staff did not give me precise advice, they seemed to estimate my commitment very much.
If you plan doing an internship in India as well (what we really recommend), we like to give you some summarised advices based on our experiences: Do not have too high expectations at your arrival. Maybe, local staff did not know about your arrival afore. But try to plan your stay together with the local staff. Tell them what you would like to do and to learn about. Maybe, you are not busy with work all the times. Try to find other occupations. Ask for books and studies you can read and also bring along some entertainment stuff for yourself (books, magazines, movies etc.) Some campus staff (cook, cleaner, driver, and watchman) may treat you quite submissive. It is up to you to approach them. Although these people speak little English, you can become friend with them and they will be very happy about your friendship. Do not miss the opportunity and plan some time for travelling in India. It is worth in any case. If you do not like all the food, do not hesitate to tell the cook. Tell them what you like so that they know. Think about how to express critics. Generally, mainly high-educated Indians do not like to be criticised. However, you should tell if you feel uncomfortable. Do not rely on experience reports entirely☺. Every stay is different and unique.