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Call for Donations: technology for storytelling

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Vanastree Ashraya Seva Trust 7

We’re excited to share a new opportunity to support women seed savers and forest home gardeners in the Western Ghats of South India! From February 1-15, WEA will be collecting donated tech equipment that will go toward our work with Vanastree, our partner on the Seeds of Resilience Project, and the women we serve on the ground.

As climatic vulnerabilities increase in the Western Ghats and the pressures of agro-chemical market forces grow, it is particularly critical that women seed leaders and entrepreneurs are equipped to raise their voices and share the inextricably connected narrative of seed and life.

A core part of our work with Vanastree will be training women in multimedia and storytelling tools that will enable them to tell their stories of seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, and the future they envision for their communities. Trainings includes how to use cameras, recording devices, and laptops, as well as how to document their stories in authentic and compelling ways that can be shared with their communities in South India, as well as our communities here in the US. At the end of this project, we hope to be able to hold an exhibit to bring this work to light and support these farmers as they share their stories of transformation with the world.

We are seeking donations of cameras, iPhones, iPod Touches, and Mac laptops. Specifically, we are looking for:

Cameras:

  • Digital DSLR or mirrorless camera bodies with lenses and necessary accessories (especially batteries). Any make or model from 2003 or later.

Hand held devices:

  • iPhones, generation 4 or up, with working photo/audio/video recording. iPhones do not need to be unlocked for international SIM card use, as they won’t be used as phones. However, they do need to be passcode unlocked.
  • iPod Touch, generation 4 or up, with working photo/audio/video recording.

Laptops:

  • Any Mac model laptop (Macbook, Macbook Pro, Air) from 2009 or later.

PLEASE NOTE: Our women partners will not be able to use anything that needs repair, like a cracked screen or a battery that won’t hold a charge. Please wipe all the devices of personal information and make sure nothing is password protected.

If you’d like to make a “Technology for Storytelling” donation, and are in the Berkeley, CA area and would like to drop off your donation, please send us a quick email to coordinate a day and time. Otherwise, all donations can be mailed to WEA at:

Women’s Earth Alliance
The David Brower Center
2150 Allston Way, Ste. 460
Berkeley, CA 94704

 

Celebrating the legacy of Vanastree’s Malnad Mela in Bengaluru

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Last month, WEA’s partner Vanastree held their tenth and final Malnad Mela in Bengaluru, India, closing such a bright chapter of work for this incredible organization. The Mela — a community biodiversity festival where farmers and producers can gather to display and share their produce and creations — has been embraced by the Bengaluru community and as the event grew each year, so did the scope of Vanastree’s engagement. With the Malnad Mela, Vanastree fostered a ripple of conservation in Bengaluru that has grown into a wave sustained by the growing community of local advocates and conservationists.

In anticipation of the final Mela, Nirupama Venkataramanan wrote a wonderful piece on Vanastree in The Economic Times. Ten years ago, she explains, a handful of members of the women-farmer’s collective found themselves traveling over 340 miles from their home base in Sirsi to spend a weekend selling their harvest and spreading the message of seed-saving and traditional farming practices in Bengaluru. A trustee in Bengaluru championed their efforts and the showcase soon developed into a beautiful and bustling annual event.

“Malnad Mela grew to be more than just an exhibition. It was a platform where women farmers could talk about themselves, their land and problems and teach others what they knew. People could buy a variety of products including honey, chips and hair colours. They could eat, listen to stories, learn a thing or two about farming, and sit back to enjoy performances or take part in activities.”

The Bengaluru Malnad Mela provided an opportunity for participants of WEA and Vanastree’s Seeds of Resilience Project to share their message about the importance of small-scale food systems and conserving traditional cultivation practices. These women seed savers and forest home gardeners made presentations to the public and sold the tubers and seeds they’ve learned how to cultivate. For so many years, WEA has been proud and humbled to support the Mela which, as the Seeds of Resilience Project prepares to grow in order to reach even more women, was a beautiful space to honor the community ties that have been built in Bengaluru.  

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The Honneru Youth Network from Chamarajanagar brought soaps and millets to sell at the Mela. The Chamarajanagar region has been hit with a devastating drought this year, so bad that instructors from Vanastree expect to shift the focus of their remaining farming curriculum to deal primarily with how to confront natural disaster.
Vendors present traditional tubers.
This is Veena at the Vanaseed stall which was a run-away hit. Kids and adults packed their tables making crafts with seeds and other natural materials and learning about traditional and native seed saving.

In her open invitation to the Mela, Sunita readily admits they will miss the community they’ve built in Bengaluru; from the head of Golden Bead Montessori School who let them hold the Mela on her school’s grounds for years to the countless customers who visit their stalls each year.

However, it is time, she explained, for Vanastree to focus their efforts on building the scaffolds of support elsewhere. “In the last decade there has been a sort of awakening,” Sunita said of the growing conservation movement in Bengaluru, “and new initiatives have come up along these lines.”

While Vanastree’s presence in Bengaluru is coming to a close, the work they started there is not ending, but will be carried forward in the hands of the Bengaluru community.

Taking steps toward clean water in an Assam tea garden

Project: Together for H2OPE

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Assam, India is famous for its high quality black tea and home to Numi Tea’s largest supplier. Yet Assam is one of India’s poorest states, in terms of access to safe drinking water. Fewer than 1 in 15 households have access to tap water. Many women and children walk up to 3 hours per day to collect and carry water for their families, facing security risks, poor health, and barriers to productive livelihoods.

In 2016 WEA and the Numi Foundation teamed up with local NGOs and the Chamong Tea Company to launch the Together for H20PE Project in a commitment to bring clean water to all 6,500 residents of the Tonganagoan tea community, and to ensure residents have the knowledge and resources they need for a healthy water system for generations to come.

Together for H20PE’s first step in the spring of 2016 was to conduct a preliminary WASH assessment of Tonganagoan’s water system. “WASH” (shorthand for water, sanitation and hygiene) is a multi-faceted approach to assessing and developing healthy water systems. A WASH program looks at resident’s access to clean water as well as the community’s sanitation and hygiene practices. A good example of a WASH approach is recognizing that improperly stored water, even clean water, can cause contamination and make someone sick. Each aspect of a healthy water system enforces the others.

Demonstration on hand washing
Building a diverse and comprehensive outreach plan is essential to widespread adoption of healthy WASH practices.

The project’s implementing partner Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) brought in Aranyak, a local conservation NGO, to help assess Tonganagoan’s existing water infrastructure and understand resident’s current water practices. Their comprehensive assessment guided the team in planning structural improvements while PBET designed an outreach approach to ensure the widespread adoption of healthy WASH practices.

From summer to fall of 2016, the team conducted a pilot program in one of the 12 villages that make up the Toganagoan Tea Garden. Over the course of two Training of Trainers workshops, volunteers learned the ins and outs of the technical WASH principles and built up their communication skills. These new trainers will be leaders for healthy water practices in their community. To support their outreach efforts, the team specifically learned some songs to remember WASH practices and developed a street play for public WASH demonstrations. (Below is a snippet of a song about hygiene!)

In the Training of Trainers workshops, volunteers learned how to conduct water tests and interpret the results from samples.
Volunteers learned songs and put together skits to engage their community in WASH techniques. Listen to one of the songs about hygiene that the new trainers teach to children.


The pilot program answered many key questions about outreach and education in the community. Extensive home visits and demonstrations helped the team pinpoint which water treatment practices are most readily adopted by residents and how to help volunteers be effective stewards of WASH practices.

Using everything they learned from the pilot program, we’re busy collaboratively designing a Master Plan to engage the other eleven villages in WASH practices. We’re so excited to see Together for H20PE take shape and make an impact in these communities.

Stewards of Food Culture and Biodiversity: Voices from the Northeast

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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In her piece for Vikalp Sangam, Rucha Chitnis shines her light on the challenges faced by communities in Northeast India to preserve the region’s rich agrobiodiversity and food culture.

“A journey on a food trail in the region [also] reveals a rich agrobiodiversity and a unique food culture that has been stewarded by local communities–from the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam to remote mountainous tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. In the face of modernization, mining, oil exploration and escalating deforestation, both, the biodiversity of species and food crops, including wild edibles, are threatened.”

As Rucha explains, since forests are a vital source of food and indigenous crops, new economic policies supporting large infrastructure projects in the area could pose a direct threat to small scale farmers.

The article uplifts the voices of four activists and advocates working for ecological justice in their communities of Northeast India. Their work takes different angles but it is no coincidence that each is concerned with empowering women to raise their voices and be recognized as key players in ecological justice. We are especially excited to hear from Mary Beth Sanate of Rural Women’s Upliftment Society (RWUS). RWUS works to promote sustainable livelihoods in the face of conflict and climate change, and was a WEA South Asia Small Grants Initiative partner. Mary Beth and RWUS’s work advocating policy and social change on behalf of women’s rights continues to be an inspiration to us!

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Mary Beth Sanate of RWUS (third from right). Photo: Rucha Chitnis.

“We need a strong gender policy in the state and women’s participation in the development of climate change policies is key…women are slowly realizing that the customary law is discriminatory. It needs to be reformed so that women can have equal access to property, political participation and other resources.” — Mary Beth Sanate

Read the full article here.

Nepal quake impact on single women highlights need for equal land rights

Project: South Asia Small Grants Initiative

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By now, we are all aware of the devastating impact the 2015 earthquakes had on Nepal. What may not have been as comprehensively covered in the weeks and months that followed was the acute impact on women.

According to this article in Reuters, “Of the more than 900,000 homes damaged and destroyed, about a quarter belonged to female-headed households. More than 500,000 women and girls were displaced and about 2,000 women were widowed, according to official data.”

Photo: UN Women/Piyavit Thongsa-Ard
Photo: UN Women/Piyavit Thongsa-Ard

“The deep gender inequality in Nepal meant that women, and single women in particular, suffered most in the aftermath of the earthquakes,” said Lily Thapa, founder of Women for Human Rights (WHR), a group campaigning for single women’s rights with about 100,000 members.

“They could not make themselves heard and they received the least assistance, which left many vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and harassment,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Kathmandu.

While the 2015 constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and established equal property rights, a deep-rooted patriarchy still denies these rights to women, and to single women in particular…

“Strengthening single women’s asset ownership is key to reducing their vulnerability to disasters and boosting their resilience,” Thapa said.

Read the full article here.