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Seeds of Resilience: An update from our Seed Savers in India

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Our Seeds of Resilience project has been underway for almost a year now and we are excited to share the progress being made to date in Southern India! This project, in partnership with Vanastree, aims to build communities’ seed and food sovereignty, catalyze intergenerational traditional knowledge sharing and strengthen women’s leadership, especially in the face of chemical-based agriculture’s influence on the Western Ghats region and mounting threats of climate change.

Photo Credit: Vanastree

Organic Home Gardening and Seed Saving

“Women lead their communities in intergenerational knowledge transfer advocacy and behavior change for small scale food systems.” -Sunita, Founder of Vanastree

The project began with a series of trainings, gatherings and projects that brought a select group of 20 women farmers from Karnataka, India together to gain new home-scale food production skills, micro-finance management skills,leadership skills, and self-empowerment skills. More recently, the gatherings for seed saving practices and gardening skills have taken the shape of communal knowledge sharing spaces, where experienced master gardeners share the skills they have accumulated throughout their tenure with those women farmers who are newly learning. This element of the project has been extremely successful in transferring knowledge between women and keeping these intergenerational traditional practices alive!

Photo Credit: Vanastree

From the start of the project, the women farmers and seed savers were also encouraged to maintain home garden journals to help them know the plants they are growing in their gardens, what they eat from there, what problems they face and how they can improve their food gardens. This tool has been so successful that the women plan to continue keeping a new journal in the coming year.


Micro-Enterprises and Financial Management

A core aspect of the trainings  has been building the micro-enterprise and financial management capacity of the women participants. Trainings focused on helping women become more cognizant of the financial demands of running a profitable seed saving business, a concept the women found challenging to master.  A recent refresher training shed light on their struggles and led to Vanastree’s decision to provide ongoing support to the women to help ensure the long-term sustainability of their businesses.

Photo Credit: Vanastree

One master home gardener and seed saver, Suvarna (photo below), has a nursery from which she sells her very well-known dahlia flowers. The Seeds of Resilience trainings have taught her how to maintain accurate financial records of how much is going into maintaining and growing her nursery as well as what she is receiving for her life’s work.  

“The finance management and micro-enterprise training workshop made me think for the first time about money and resources that go into producing something. I learnt how to cost expenses, and to track profit and loss. It will take practice and time, but I can see how much more careful and aware I have become now.” -Suvarna, master gardener and seed saver

Photo Credit: Vanastree

Kusuma, another woman participant, has also been keeping financial records in order to help inform decisions on how to grow her enterprise of bamboo curios (earrings and things).


Growth and Leadership at Home and in Community

One of the most important things we believe at WEA is the power of women to become influential leaders in their communities. Our Seeds of Resilience training included a leadership workshop that was organized and facilitated  by Vanastree. After leaving the workshop, the women participants had a new understanding of what characteristics make up a leader:

“A leader is someone who is capable of listening to everyone’s joys and sorrows, melding it together, and taking people forward as one group, hands entwined.” -Vinoda Naik, woman farmer and trainee

“A leader is someone who inspires courage in people, gets them to boldly cross thresholds they have not crossed before…who wants progress for all, regardless of their caste or religion.” -Vasumati Bhat, woman farmer and trainee

In fact, one of the most powerful drivers emerging from this project is that although the women enjoy their time in their gardens, growing various things and sharing what they grow and learn in their communities, they have become even more motivated by the leadership skills they have acquired and wish to share with other women.

One woman, Gayathri, who grows a lot of vegetables in her home garden, told our partner — “I never left my home alone”. Her daughter did brilliantly in her high school and was admitted to an engineering college 100km away. Post-leadership workshop, Gayathri felt empowered to be solely responsible for accompanying her daughter to this new town, pay her daughter’s college fees, find and settle her daughter into a hostel, and then return home.  She said “If you told me this last year…that I could do this… I would not have believed it!”

Photo Credit: Vanastree

We are so excited to how these women grow their seed businesses and home gardens.  We also want to say a big thank you to our partner Vanastree for all the amazing work they are doing in this region!

For more on WEA’s work with women farmers in India, visit our Seeds of Resilience Project.

Together for H2OPE Project launches storytelling workshop

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Here at WEA, a core component of each of our projects aims to encourage our partners to create and collect compelling emotional stories that help to link the women-driven, environmental work they do with our collective global community. These stories — told and shared by the women who experience them — ultimately strive to educate and inspire, change attitudes and behaviors, and can even be a call to action for critical movements supporting women’s leadership, land rights, climate change, and strong and healthy communities.

We’re excited to share with you a recent update from the launch of the storytelling component of our Together for H2OPE Project in Assam, India. Together for H2OPE, a partnership of WEA, Numi Foundation, Chamong Tea Company and local NGO partners such as Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET), aims to ensure clean and safe drinking water to all 6,500 residents of India’s largest organic, Fair Trade tea community, for generations to come.

Last month, our Together for H2OPE team invited Nassif Ahmed, a local cameraman and filmmaker, to the Tonganagaon Tea Estate to lead a digital photography and storytelling workshop for community members. This 3-day workshop focused on training participants in how to handle the technical aspects of cameras as well as some technical photographing principles such as the rule of thirds. Nassif also showed participants how to use their own smartphones creatively, since they can often be less intimidating to subjects and are easily accessible. 

Nassif was joined by fellow trainer Banamallika Choudhury (Mamu), who led discussions during the workshop on taking a feminist approach to digital storytelling. Together, Mamu and Nassif teamed up to lead demonstrations and exercises which allowed participants to gets hands-on experience and support with the skills they learned. In one such exercise, participants spread out over the tea garden to take photos that they then presented to the group along with the story they hoped their photos conveyed. Nassif and Mamu were then able to provide constructive feedback on ways to improve both photos and stories so that it truly conveyed the narrative and experience participants were “shooting” for.

We’re honored to have had Nassif and Mamu lead this important training, and look forward to the photos and stories that Tonganagaon residents are able to share with their new skills.

Thank you to the entire Together for H2OPE team for all you do, and to Nassif and Mamu for sharing your knowledge and expertise!

To learn more about the Together for H2OPE Project, please visit our project page.

Running the Salmon Home: Celebrating the Women Leading the Way

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This blog is part of a series on the Winnemem Wintu’s Run4Salmon, a two-week long prayerful event and call to action for public awareness about the need to restore the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon to the McCloud River in Northern California. To learn more about the Run4Salmon, read our first post in this series here and our second post here.

Photo: Toby McLeod

From the historic gathering of Indigenous Nations at the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock last year, to women-led grassroots groups organizing environmentally-centered social movements in South Asia; from the Lenca peoples’ effort to obstruct the Agua Zarca Dam alongside Berta Cáceres in Honduras, to West African women working to solve the water crises in their communities, women are at the forefront of environmental movements around the world. As Mohawk elder Katsi Cook teaches, “Women are the first environment.”  

For Indigenous communities –– particularly Indigenous women –– this connection between land, body, and community is deeply felt; our previous post about the Winnemem Wintu’s sacred responsibility to Salmon shared that the harm caused by environmental destruction and environmental violence affects both the physical and spiritual health of landscapes and the lives that depend on them, both human and non-human alike.

This is why extractive industries and large-scale infrastructure projects like the Shasta Dam that alter –– and often damage –– indigenous territories are so harmful. The same can be said about the proposed construction of a $1.4-billion, thirty meter telescope at the summit of sacred Mauna Kea, which has activated strong resistance from Native Hawaiians and their allies. It is also why the Dakota Access Pipeline, which cuts through sacred territory and burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux and poses an insurmountable threat to clean water sources in the region, led to historic inter-tribal gathering of Indigenous Nations and allies standing together in solidarity as water protectors.

A participant in the 2016 Run4Salmon demonstrates outside the California State Capitol. Photo: Toby McLeod

The relationships and networks that exist between these movements for social change, environmental justice, and Indigenous rights are more visible now than ever before with technology and social media networks emerging as powerful tools for global connectivity. But these ties existed long before online platforms provided the accessibility and ease of information exchange we are used to today; this is work that indigenous communities and women leaders have been doing for centuries.

The Women of the Run4Salmon

“In a way I do this work to honor my ancestors and to fulfill my purpose and my duty on this planet to protect Mother Earth and to protect our waters. If you have a belly button, and if you bleed red, these are your causes too.”

–– Niria Alicia (Xicana), Honor the Earth Fellow

Here in Northern California, women leaders like Chief Caleen Sisk (Winnemem Wintu), Corrina Gould (Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Ohlone), Niria Alicia (Xicana), and Desirae Harp (Mishewal OnastaTis, Diné) are working with a coalition of native and non-native supporters to organize the Run4Salmon, a prayerful journey that highlights the intersectional nature of Indigenous peoples, women, and our collective sacred connection to the environment. During the Run, for example, security teams will be led by women volunteers, and women activists and organizers have been instrumental in guiding this year’s journey.

Widespread support for the Winnemem’s efforts has come pouring in from allies around the world and is visible on the Run4Salmon Instagram, and the movement has also brought together women from many different places and backgrounds, uniting under a common cause for Indigenous rights and environmental and social justice.

Here are a few of the inspirational women leaders involved in the Run4Salmon and other movements for Indigenous rights and Mother Earth:  

  • Chief Caleen Sisk is the spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu. Guided by the mentorship of her great-aunt Florence Jones, who was the Winnemem spiritual leader for 68 years, Caleen has led the tribe’s resistance against the Shasta Dam, as well as their efforts to return to customary Winnemem ceremonies and bring the sacred Winter-run Chinook salmon home to their traditional spawning waters along the McCloud River.
Chief Caleen Sisk at the 2016 Run4Salmon. Photo: Jessica Abbe
  • Corrina Gould is the Co-Founder and Lead Organizer of Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC), an organization working on Indigenous issues in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most recently, IPOC has been facilitating the resistance against proposed development of an ancient Ohlone shellmound site in West Berkeley. Led by Corrina’s guidance, activists recently put forth an alternative proposal for the site, which features a museum, a monument to the Ohlone people and their sacred sites, and would re-surface Strawberry Creek, which was diverted underground during the first developments of the land. As the Run4Salmon begins in Ohlone territory, Corrina has been involved in organizing the opening days of the event, which will include a ceremony at the West Berkeley Shellmound to honor the Ohlone people and their lands.
Corrina Gould at the site of the historic Ohlone shellmound in West Berkeley. Photo: Toby McLeod.
  • Pua Case and Hāwane Rios (Kanaka Maoli) are a mother-daughter team whose efforts to protect sacred sites and lifeways in Hawai`i have brought them from Mauna Kea to Mount Shasta, to stand with and sing alongside Indigenous peoples around the world in a collective effort to preserve the mountains and waters that give and support life. Their songs are unforgettable, their message unignorable, as they call for solidarity and strength in the name of aloha ʻāina. They participated in the 2016 Run4Salmon and will be joining the Winnemem again for this year’s run.
Pua Case and Hāwane Rios at Coonrod, an annual Winnemem Ceremony, in 2015. Photo: Toby McLeod.
  • Winona LaDuke is the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, which she co-founded with the Indigo Girls in 1993, and has worked for decades to advocate for the preservation of tribal land claims and traditional Indigenous lifeways. Winona is an environmentalist, activist, and orator, and she has been an active presence in Indigenous movements from Standing Rock to the Run4Salmon.

“It’s the Winnemem Wintu’s right to exist and the right of an ecosystem to live . . . And to stand here with the Wintu is important to my own person, as a spiritual being and a person who is a beneficiary of this ecosystem, and then also because it is this chance to do the right thing.”

–– Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe), Executive Director of Honor the Earth

Winona LaDuke and Caleen Sisk. Photo: Toby McLeod.

In a video called “Salmon Will Run,” which was recently released by Nahko and Medicine for the People, the voices of many of these women leaders help us understand the vital importance of supporting efforts like the Run4Salmon and standing in solidarity with movements for the protection of Indigenous peoples rights and lifeways, and the amplification of Native voices everywhere.

Nahko Bear at the 2016 Run4Salmon. Photo: Jessica Abbe.

For more information on the Run4Salmon, read our previous posts in the Running the Salmon Home series here and here. You can also follow the Run4Salmon journey on Instagram and Facebook.

To learn how you can stand alongside the Winnemem Wintu in their immediate efforts to bring the salmon home, visit here.

The Run4Salmon begins with a Shellmound Ceremony at the West Berkeley Shellmound TOMORROW, September 8th. You can see a full schedule of R4S gatherings and the official itinerary here.

To volunteer for the 2017 Run4Salmon or register to participate in the journey, visit here.

 

Blog post by Fiona McLeod, WEA Program + Operations Intern

Together for H2OPE begins training community leaders in WASH

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Our Together for H2OPE: India Project team  — led by implementing partner Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) — recently brought together a group of community leaders and volunteers from the Tonganagaon Tea Estate to build good practices in water management, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) through demonstrations, home visits, and educational events. The goal of this “Training of Trainers” (ToT) program is to give these volunteers the background knowledge, skills and experience that would be helpful to them as they go on to provide training and technical assistance to members of their community.

One of the primary activities of the ToT was the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) activity facilitated by a water expert from the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED). The activity asked participants to draw a map of the tea estate using different colors to represent different areas (e.g. roadside, temple, etc.) and highlighting where open defecation still occurs — an ongoing and complex issue in India. The water expert then led a discussion of where this fecal matter goes and how it travels, and participants were able to make the connection that some of it might even flow into the food they eat and water they drink.

It’s been incredible to support these community leaders as they step into their new roles as trainers, growing their own commitment to providing their families and neighbors with critical information on access and practices to ensure safe and clean water.

In addition to the CLTS activity, the ToT phase of our Together for H2OPE Project also included a trip for these emerging trainers to Digboi College. There, they were able to view water samples under a microscope, learn the more technical aspects of safe versus contaminated water, and solidify their awareness about the water their tea community consumes and where it comes from.

We look forward to seeing these leaders implement their new training skills as they share their knowledge and expertise with other members of the Tonganagaon Tea Estate. This is truly a community-led efforts, and we are honored to be a part of it!

To learn more about our H2OPE project, please visit our project page.

WISE Clean Cookstoves Training: An update from our Clean Cookstoves Women Entrepreneurs

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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On August 15th, the Atan Care Business Enterprise Team (one of the 15 two-person teams participating in WEA and WISE Nigeria’s Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training) hosted a community outreach event to share more about life-saving clean cookstoves with women in their local village.

Countless studies point to the adoption of affordable, effective, and durable clean cooking technologies as a key influencer on our planet. WEA works in Nigeria with women-led NGO, WISE, to train women in clean cookstoves entrepreneurship and to build a replicable training model for other regions. Around 93,000 people die each year of smoke-related illnesses in Nigeria, and globally 3 billion people cook over open fires, producing 2-5% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Shifting to clean cookstoves reduces emissions while also protecting women’s health.

The training participants (in teams of two) have returned to their communities, equipped with new skills and seed grants to launch clean energy initiatives based on their business plans. They’ve hit the ground running – hosting outreach events to demonstrate the benefits of cookstoves and to motivate community members to purchase this life-saving solution.

Check out photos from an outreach event below, where clean cookstove entrepreneurs Anna Avong and Angelina Boye presented clean cookstoves to their community. Anna and Angelina’s Atan Care Business Enterprise Team chose to demonstrate the benefits of these stoves by cooking Nigerian jollof rice – a local favorite. Not surprisingly, participants immediately lined up to purchase stoves!

It continues to be such an honor to stand alongside these women leaders as they grow their business and advocacy skills, and create demand for clean cookstoves in their communities. It’s even more uplifting to see the collaboration, support and solidarity they offer each other – the key to success in our WEA training model.

Photos: WISE

To learn more about the WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training, visit our project page here.