India 2.0

This July, Sabe and I headed back to India to do some work with local Burmese regufee organizations there. During our microgrant pilot program in 2010, during which we gave microgrants to these grassroots organizations to run small projects, we noticed that many of the organizations’ members had few project management skills. So we decided, as part of our capacity-building activity in our India project, to offer free PM training to members of these organizations. Attending the training was also made a precondition to receiving a grant in this year’s microgrant program. The response to our call for applications was great, more than 50 people signed up.
And so we found ourselves sitting in Dubai airport from midnight to 4am, on a layover on our journey from Prague to Delhi. I have to say, the airport was a more happening place in the dead of night than most of Prague at midday. People were shopping, eating, walking around…only a few brave souls tried to sleep in the floor behind/underneath the benches. I had been hoping to catch a few winks but could not resign myself to lying on the floor (unfortunately, Dubai airport has removed its quiet lounge, probably in an effort to get people to shop more). So needless to say we were a bit tired upon arrival in Delhi, but as the training was starting the next day, we had to hit the ground running.
We checked in at our ‘stay home’ with Auntie Avinash and Uncle Chadha, a very hospitable and generous couple with whom we had stayed with last year. Five minutes in the door and we were already eating – aloo prata for breakfast. They would continue to feed us during our entire stay, though this year I stuck with cereal for breakfast in order to keep something of my normal diet. And on the advice of Czech friends, I “opened” and “closed” each day with a shot of Slivovice, to ward off the Delhi belly. And it worked!
We ran around to the local shops in Vikas Puri (West Delhi) to get supplies we needed for the training, and took a look at the room we would be doing the training in. About 45 square metres, 2 doors and no windows, 6 ceiling fans, and an average temperature of about 36 degrees Celsius. Upstairs in the building was the new location of the Yamuna health clinic, one of the projects we supported last year, run by Dr. Tint Swe. We stopped in to say a quick hello, not wanting to interrupt his work and make the wait longer for all the patients.
Our preparations continued through Saturday and Sunday morning – photocopying, printing, and so on. Getting to the venue on Sunday afternoon ended up being a bit of a challenge: it poured with rain all morning and a small lake grew in front of the entrance to the building and our training room. We had to walk all the way around a vacant lot, jump down from a low wall (with our arms full of supplies) and then with the help of our rainboots walk through the lake to the door.
Our first session was on networking, discussing common problems faced by the refugee community, and brainstorming project ideas. I wasn’t sure how the participants would do with some of our “TEFL-tastic” interactive activities, but they all jumped right in, it was great. In one of the tasks, the participants were asked to make a list of their needs as refugees in India. Many made long lists, but one group summed it up as “A bright future”. Simple and apt.
Over the next three days, we did seminars on applying for a grant/making a project proposal, preparing a budget and activity timeline, running a project, project reporting, and sustaining your work after your grant money has been used up. It was physically demanding, doing training for 8 hours a day for 20-some people in that hot, hot room, but the participants were patient and hardworking. They gave us good feedback after each session, though “more breaks” was a common comment! We did always get positive feedback on the food, as we had lunches (fish curry, biryani) made for us by two of last year’s microgrant recipients who do catering as a means of earning a livelihood and supporting a free medical clinic.
On Wednesday we started the training again with a second group of 25 people, including 3 from Mizoram and Manipur states on the Indian-Burmese border. It was interesting to hear how their experience is different from that of refugees living in Delhi. In the second session we had an extra participant – a dog who liked to lie on the floor in our room. On another day of heavy rain, a small flood started in the corner of the room near the electrical equipment but some careful rechanneling of water in the vacant lot outside the side door helped us avoid a near-dangerous situation! We finished off the entire training with a joint session on Saturday on the topic of resettlement. Based on our experience with the Burmese refugees that have been resettled in the Czech Republic, we tried to give participants a realistic view of what awaits them when they are resettled. But more importantly, we sought to tell them that resettlement isn’t the only answer (only 1% of all refugees in India are resettled every year) and that they should already be working now in India towards doing what they want to do, rather than just waiting for resettlement. After a delicious dinner we showed the film Moving to Mars about two Burmese families that move from a refugee camp in Thailand to Sheffield, UK. The electricity cut out of course during the film but luckily only for 5 minutes.
One funny lesson I learned about doing training in India: when we arrived, our local partner Burma Centre Delhi asked us if we had already prepared the design for the banner. We told them we weren’t planning to have a banner. They were shocked and explained “It’s not a real training session if you don’t have a banner”. So we got one, you can see it in all its glory in the photo gallery below.

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