Majhiguda is my favourite village. I have been there three times now and enjoyed it every time. It is the village we selected to create a livelihood strategy plan as it is struggling a lot. After the Kolab Dam was built in 1984, 18 families had to leave their fertile land to settle here. Majhi means "middle" in Oriya and duga "village". They chose this name because it is basically situated between two villages and surrounded by mountains. You can only access it through a mud path that floods during monsoon and leaves the 37 families that now live in the community completely isolated. On top of that, the government compensation schemes that promised monetary rewards and irrigated land were never delivered. In fact, from the Rs40,000 (580€) that each household was entitled to, they received about half. Why? Because the system was so well organised that it was given out in cheques (to illiterate tribal families!). They did not know anything about banks, let alone how to cash a cheque. Middlemen came to their help by cashing their cheques and keeping half of their compensation (which was not much in the first place if you take in consideration that they had to leave their habitat, livelihood and the lifestyle they had led for thousands of years). Thanks Mr Middleman. So kind of you to help. Furthermore, the land around the village is steep and dry with no irrigation facilities. Great conditions for agriculture. All in all, unfulfilled promises and limited opportunities.
Since Majhiguda was created in 1984, it has almost doubled its size. Most families live of farming but as I said, the conditions are very difficult and they rely on the monsoon for irrigation. This means they have to work on construction sites, building roads and basically anything that adds a little to their anaemic income. They struggle. Yet they are kind, welcoming, smiley and caring. All families look after each other and the community spirit is outstanding. The children are the best. I have discovered a slight obsession with taking pictures of kids and trying to speak to them. I often fail at the second yet they appreciate the effort. As you can see from the pictures, they love being in photographs, too.
SOVA has been working with Majhiguda for over 5 years now. They have established a village development committee that is literate and is now aware of government schemes and services and how to claim them. For our livelihood plan, we used PRA tools (Participatory Rural Appraisal) to collect the data. Basically, we mapped out all the households in the village to understand who lives where and how (tin/asbestos/thatched roofs, electricity access, etc). We also created a resource map that pictures the territory around Majhiguda. This helps in identifying the available resources such as water for irrigation, land that can be used for agriculture, etc. Then we drew up a mobility diagram (to see how far institutions such as schools and hospitals are), a seasonal calendar (to identify when people suffer more hardship, unemployment, diseases...) and, most importantly, focus group discussions. We held two, one only-female and a mixed one in which basically men were the only speakers. Trying to identify gender issues is quite difficult. Although tribal people are apparently a matriarchal society, this only really applies to household issues. I had heard that women are the strong ones in their culture. They are the ones who build roads and houses, they travel miles to sell their goods in the markets and they look after the children and cook. So, it seemed right to say that matriarchs are prevalent. However, when we were doing the exercises, men dominated all of them. In fact, women did not really want to sit near us. When we asked the women about this, they did not really know what to say. It was normal. It is just the way it is. Men lead the village, drink and plan and women work and look after everyone else. Right. So fair. What I found more frustrating is that I was working with a male team from SOVA so I did not feel I could speak freely with them (due to the constant need of a translator). Nonetheless, it was really interesting working like this. Everyone in the village was involved as even children can help out and the results were similar to what you can get from a questionnaire or a survey.
The Plan is now finished and I will upload it for anyone who is interested. We have exactly two weeks left and I am experiencing a mix of emotions. Sadness because of leaving Koraput and leaving our friends here and because the whole experience of tribal India and development has been incredible. At the same time I am so excited for my upcoming trip. I guess I just have to make the most of these two weeks! The yearly tribal festival, Parab, has started today. People from all over Koraput come to show their arts and crafts, singing and dancing and general fun. SOVA has three game stalls that will raise awareness on education rights and HIV/AIDS. Puppet shows, darts and prizes when you get the answer to HIV related questions. It sounds great. More on this on the next post!