Vibhuti, Ashley and I have been in Koraput for almost two weeks now and we are finally settling in. It has been a bit of a nightmare to find accommodation for us so we had to stay in a "hotel" for the first week, the Raj Residency. It is the nicest hotel in Koraput and it would probably be a 1 star in the West (you share your room with cockroaches and bugs...). Yet, it was comfortable and acceptably clean. The journey was long and tough. We left Delhi at 3am and arrived in Koraput at 4pm after a cab ride, a flight and a vertiginous journey on crazy mountain roads. If the driving art in Delhi is wild, the countryside is outrageous. They do not even have traffic lights or lines on the road here. Sometimes it is not even paved so a countryside driver must be highly skilled and concentrated. Although we were knackered from the early flight, I could not fall asleep; the road was too bumpy and the scenery too beautiful to miss. It was lovely to see the green countryside after Delhi's urban jungle.
This is us on the day we arrived at SOVA (Vibs, Kim, me and Ashley):
The first week in Koraput has been one of adaptation. Kim helped us in defining our learning objectives and trying to fit into SOVA's programmes. The organisation works trying to help the excluded tribes in Koraput district and focuses on four key areas; livelihood, health, education and governance. About twenty years ago these communities had to leave their homes because the valley they used to inhabit was flooded to create a dam and produce hydroelectric power. 147 villages were affected by the construction of this reservoir and more than 3000 families were displaced. They had to leave their fertile farmland to live in rehabilitation camps that were promised by the government. This “promised land” turned out to be unfertile and desolate and the assured compensation packages are yet to arrive. SOVA started working hand in hand with the displaced families and the excluded communities around the area to achieve their reintegration and development.
The view outside the office
The view outside the office
The first day we arrived at the SOVA office we found a very positive surprise; his name is Corey. He is an American VSO volunteer who has been in Koraput with his wife for almost two years. With an IT background he has managed to change a lot around the organisation. He has also been really really helpful in showing us around, telling us where to find everything we need and how SOVA operates. Him and Gina, his wife, will be leaving Koraput at the end of October and I can already say we will miss them a lot. Their advice and experience have been incredibly valuable and I do not know what we would have done without them... Thank youuu!
After a couple of days of adaptation, browsing through the village and learning about SOVA, we have finally settled on the projects we will work on throughout our placements. I have been assigned to work in the livelihood department. It mainly deals with employment and income generation. I will be working on a strategy paper that will focus on two villages. It is basically a piece of research that analyses the current situation of two tribal villages and creates a 5-10 year project based on their needs. SOVA works with more than 250 villages around the area. It is therefore a very small sample. However, the aim is to create a template for a new model that can be used in the future by SOVA’s employees. We have a very normal day-to-day routine, bearing in mind that we are in the middle of nowhere in rural India and power cuts, bugs and cockroaches are our constant partners:
7.30am-8am: Wake up
8am-9.30am: Shower, Breakfast
9.30am -1.30pm: Office
5.30pm-11pm: Free time where we go to the village, have dinner, walk around, read and watch films
All in all, it is a very normal routine that I could be having at home. It is not obviously because it is your surrounding that determines your sense of comfort and “normality”. Indian toilets, food, people and traditions all add to the exotic environment I am exposed to which makes this whole experience so enriching.