Tag Archives: Delhi

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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A small extra to help Burmese grassroots into the new year

Our micro-grant program has finished end of last year, but one announcement is still overdue: The organization Freelance Media Forum has returned their grant after they eventually have had to confirm that an implementation of their project is not possible by end of December. Working conditions in Northeast India are not easy, especially if projects for refugees are made by refugees themselves.

In accordance with the program’s Terms and Conditions we have therefore re-distributed the funds to other grantees. We chose them with regards to the quality of their work and their reports and to their need of a one-time funding to bridge operation during the usual downtime of mainly state sponsored projects.

These are the recipients and the amounts:

Women’s Rights and Welfare Association of Burma: Rs.5,000
Grassroot Development Network: Rs.5,000
Yamuna Clinic: Rs.3,000
Falam Chin Women Development Society: Rs.3,000
Kachin Refugee Committee: Rs.2,000
Matu Herald News Group: Rs.2,000

Furthermore, our partner organization in India, Burma Centre Delhi, that has been coordinating the local activities there, has received from our project over Rs.3,000 for coordinating the distribution of this extra money, and to help them with increased costs for energy and rent.

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a successful end to our trip

this latest post comes to you from prague as i wasn’t able to write before leaving delhi – too much food and drink during a meal on our last night in delhi, courtesy of our hosts, left me feeling ill for two days. but let me now share with you the events of our last few days in delhi.

on saturday our czech journalists held an open training session at the mizzima news agency, where they had been doing a mutual mentorship program during the week. the questions came slowly at first, but soon were in full swing: how do elections actually work? what should i say if i my friend asks me how to vote? what do we do if we can’t reach people inside burma during the elections?

we soon realized that many of the mizzima journalists, quite young, had themselves never voted in either democractic or undemocratic elections. so the old dictum ‘write about what you know’ becomes a bit difficult. we found photos of czech ballot boxes online to help explain the voting process, and explained such concepts as exit polls.

leaving the journalists to continue their training, christoph and i went off to meet two more of our microgrant recipients, one making a documentary film on the health status/care of burmese refugees in india, and another that had received funds to buy a projector and screen. the documentary will provide visible proof to such agencies at the UNHCR as to the poor health of refugees, and the projector and screen – such a small thing – will enable numerous groups to provide training sessions and workshops on a variety of topics, as well as simple entertainment to those who can’t afford to go to the cinema…

monday was our grand finale – a media workshop and press conference bringing together the burmese community in delhi, burmese independent media, and indian journalists. the czech ambassador, miloslav stasek, opened the event which was held at the national press club of india (which i must admit was quite run down!). the morning media workshop featured panel discussions on the upcoming elections and refugees, and i moderated a session where we came up with a set of recommendations for the indian government, EU and international donors, and Western democratic governments concerning Burma, the elections, and the status of refugees. this was followed by a press conference featuring several speakers including a freelance indian journalist and a member of the Indian opposition party. we were thrilled that numerous indian journalists turned up to the event, despite ”competition” from the commonwealth games.

i’d like to say just a last few words about new delhi and india…it was so nice to be in vikas puri, west delhi, where there were absolutely no western tourists. this also meant that no one approached us for money and there were no beggars to be seen. only a few of the local children wanted their photos taken on our digital cameras so they could see themselves after and we were happy to oblige. this was such a change compared to my trip to mumbai years ago. on a day trip to the taj mahal on sunday, two women (one with a baby) approached me and just handed me the baby to hold, then sat down and ‘chatted’ with me despite the fact that we shared no common language. but from sign language i undertsood that they wanted to know if i had children, why i didn’t have lots of gold jewellery, liked my sunglasses, and suggested that i have black toenail polish instead of pink. we sat together for a good half an hour, and i must confess that based on some of my experiences in other countries, i was wondering if they were going to eventually ask me for money or something. but no, we parted with just friendly smiles…

the trip was great – i met people whose lives we have touched through our microgrant program, as well as activists living in adverse conditions but who have not given up, and journalists working hard to bring burma’s situation to the public’s attention. i can only aspire to do half as much as all these people do.

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the week that was

suddenly it’s friday and i haven’t written since monday. we have, however, been on the go quite a bit, visiting various groups around west delhi. i think the score with delhi is 3-2:

delhi:

-the rain got me via mini-floods the day i didn’t wear my rainboots

-that same day i slipped on the stairs at the BCD office and got myself some lovely bruises

-today was suddenly hot and my feet roasted in my rainboots, and my czech colleagues made fun of me all day

reena:

-i’ve mastered the back streets enough to know my way around and even say hi to the same locals i see every day

-i’ve not yet succumbed to delhi belly (knock wood)

but it’s not about me that i should be writing, rather the people i’ve met here. on tuesday we went to the mizzima news agency, one of whose founders is soe myint, who at one point in his ‘activist career’ hijacked a plane from thailand  to india, after having lived on the border as a member of the student army. he now runs mizzima, a burmese exile media agency, in new delhi. they do undercover reports with journalists inside burma, have a news website, and even do a weekly radio drama for soldiers in burma. our three czech journalists – honza, jaromir, and martin – are doing a mutual mentorship program at mizzima. they learn more about burma and how exile media works, and then share tips on their respective areas of reporting – tv, radio, and print/online.

the BCP team left the journalists at mizzima and went to a meeting with the ambassador at the czech embassy. the embassy used to be much bigger, but after the czech and slovak republics split, they basically cut the embassy in half. the ambassador recieved us and asked all about our program here in delhi, including both our microgrants (www.mikrogranty.cz) and the journalists’ mentorship. you may ask: what’s the connection between the czech republic and burma? why does BCP get funding from the czech ministry of foreign affairs? the czech republic has a program called “transitions” – the idea being that the CR went through the transition from totalitarianism to democracy and thus is able to help other countries do the same; burma is a priority country in this program. vaclav havel has also been a long supporter of the free burma movement, and was actually the one who nominated ASSK for the nobel peace prize she received.  we’re lucky to have the czech ambassador coming monday to open our media workshop at the press club of india.

the rest of the week has included visits to different groups that have received microgrants from BCP. these include several women’s unions that teach weaving and sewing so that women can earn a living, and also offer language classes for burmese children; two free medical clinics for refugees; two organizations printing news and literary magazines in ethnic languages, and a group selling burmese fast food as a means of making a living. having heard the stories of many refugees here, i understand why these projects are so important. burmese refugees may have to wait one or two years to get a refugee status determination interview, and while they are waiting they have no right to work, to get healthcare, or to security. while some refugees get jobs with local indian businesses, they are often exploited. it’s not safe for women to walk alone after dark, and some are widows that need to look after their children at home. so having the opportunity to work for a burmese ‘company’ (of course all in the informal economy) or to work from home is essential. To date so far in 2010, there have been 50 documented cases of violence against refugees, with many more going unreported as the police often do little when such cases are reported. one of the groups we visited provides emergency help to people who have been victims of violence, taking someone from an indian (not burmese) NGO with them to the police station to lodge a complaint, and providing funds for medical care at a hospital. the two medical clinics provide a tremendous service but of course lack funds for a sufficient amount of medicine and cannot be open every day of the week.

 all the people from these groups have been so grateful and extended truly heartfelt thanks for the funding they received, in particular those that received their first-ever grant from BCP, and were able to start up a project. it doesn’t really get any better than that.

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last to the post

 i’m not even sure i am meant to write this blog as so far things have conspired against me. for two days i could not get my laptop to connect to the wifi at our fabulous b&b. christoph saved me by finding a free software download to solve what was apparently a Vista problem (doh!). now i am sitting in the dark on the floor in the hallway, beside a rather spectacular horsehead lampshade (i am not making this up) that emits a tiny amount of light. the mosquitoes have honed in on my position, despite the layers of deet on my skin. problem being that while my room has electric sockets to power up my laptop, it has no wifi signal. downstairs in the common area the houseboy (sorry i cannot find a better word, that’s what he’s called) is already asleep so i can’t turn on the light to get power to a socket. hence why i’m sitting on the floor in the dark.

but the important thing is that i can finally write something! to rush through the beginning, we arrived safely late saturday night and spent sunday getting the lay of the land and then welcoming the three czech journalists who had followed us on different flights.

today was our first big day – started out with breakfast (roti aloo, delicious) and an interesting conversation with the wife of the owner of the b&b who explained to me the life coach concept of ‘management’. ‘man is a gem’ if he understands ‘ent’ – enlightenment, nature (living with not taking from), and transformation (being able to change with the times). good food for thought.

we started out with a meeting with our partner, burma centre delhi. we made some last-minute changes to our schedule and i had my second cup of masala tea for the day, then the journalists joined us for our first visit to a local organization that helps refugees, the YMCA. we visited a class of very young burmese refugee children (as well as one somali and one afghani refugee) who happily recited “a is for apple” for us, then received a visit from a doctor for an oral vaccination. the kids all jumped up with their mouths open ready to receive the drops. the facilities at the school are of course basic, but are livened up with colourful posters and brightly painted walls.

our next stop was the don bosco refugee training center, where refugees, be they officially recognized by the UNHCR or still ‘under consideration’ for refugee status (the process can take years) can come for english language and computer training. there’s also an income generation program, where refugee women and men make jewellery, do weaving, and sewing to produce products for sale in delhi, both retail in their own shops, and wholesale. for those with refugee status, the center also has a placement team to help refugees find work in factories and local businesses. health campaigns are also a big part of the center’s work, we saw dozens of posters explaining how to prevent malaria or what to do when one is a victim of sexual violence. the center employs both indians and burmese resident in delhi, all are dedicated and hardworking.

continuing the health theme, we then went to visit dr. tint swe, who is both a physician running a free medical clinic for burmese refugees in delhi, and an MP of the burmese government in exile. dr. swe left burma in 1990, narrowly avoiding arrest for his political activities thanks to the help of family and friends. after a difficult and often dangerous journey he made it to delhi and set up his clinic. he treats an average of about 70 patients every day the clinic is open. then of course he continues his work as an MP, pushing for change in burma. meeeting dr. swe was one of those moments where you realize this person exists on an entirely different plane that you can aspire to but will never reach. his optimism in the face of the depressing and at-present-unlikely-to-change situation in burma is inspiring.

just a few doors down from dr. swe we met a buddhist monk who participated in the saffron revolution in 2007 and was then forced to flee. he also had a harrowing story about escaping from burma. we talked about many things, including the upcoming elections in burma, and his biggest wish was that we say to the world that these elections are not fair and not free, and should not be recognized by any international governments. these elections are being boycotted by aung san suu kyi and the national league for democracy party, because in the party’s view, participating in the elections legitimizes the constitution that was basically passed under duress in a referendum held immediately following cyclone nargis.

the thorny issue of the elections also figured in our final meeting for the day, with two burmese journalists, one freelance and one working for the irrawady news agency, who also fled to new delhi after what they call the september uprising (saffron revolution). one has already been granted refugee status here, the other is still ‘under consideration’ after two years of waiting. she used to work as an undercover journalist in burma and shared stories about various ‘spy cameras’ and technologies used to make untraceable calls into and out of burma. in contrast to communist countries where the inhabitants often are not allowed to leave, burmese can get passports and travel abroad. but if they stay abroad and become involved in exile (political) activities, it is no longer safe for them to return. dr. swe, for example, was sentenced to 25 years in jail in abstentia. for these two journalists, the one with refugee status can no longer return to burma but the one without cannot. she lives here under a different name than the one on her passport, so that she can still come and go to burma when possible. after we peppered this couple with dozens of questions, they had one for us: what do you think we should do, vote or not vote, in the upcoming elections? a lively discussion followed among czechs, german, canadian, and burmese – but there was no clear answer.

i will end this, my first blog from delhi, on a sobering note before i go take my bedtime shot of slivovice to avoid delhi belly: a burmese blogger who blogged throughout the saffron revolution was caught and sentenced to 56 years in prison.

r

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