A trip abroad to the “other side”

This year in September/October I’ve taken three young skateboarder from Janwaar and Kovalam, India, to Europe. Ramkesh, 10 years old, Arun 14 years old – both from Janwaar, and Sujin 16 yeras old from Kovalam. We’ve spent five and a half weeks touring Germany, Belgium, France and Spain. Our goal was to interact with the local skateboarding scene, to skate and to explore new surroundings and cultures. It was quite an experience …. as one can imagine.

When Arun saw his mother at the airport in Delhi after he returned back home he was always speaking from the “other side”. He never said Europe, he said on the other side. I found this quite remarkable and it gave me just a glimpse of an idea of what they must have been experienced on this trip and how much different it must have been for these kids to go on such a trip – when you’ve hardly been out of your remote village. Ramkesh packaged it in some very nice words – when he was asked in Berlin: “When they asked me if I want to go to Europe, I thought I’ve never been away from home and now I will go so far away. I was so scared to sit in an areoplane. I kept on thinking and thinking about it … and then it all happened!” …

Here is a short video which provides some impressions from Heidelberg and Berlin … Thank you Decathlon for documenting this and making the video possible! Thank you Blam Studio for bringing these lovely memories all together …

Only recently we asked Ramkesh about his memories … here is what he had to say:

How do you feel about Europe?
Very good!

And how do you feel now that you are back in Janwaar?
Since I am back, I felt the village is deserted but it also felt good to be back.

… deserted?
So many people have left the village for work in other places. No one is in the houses. The village seems to be empty.

What has changed for you?
What has changed for me is that earlier I used to just roam around in the village and do nothing. I didn’t go to school regularly. In Europe we had a routine. We kept on doing things. Coming back, this has become my habit. When I sit at home I think why not got to school instead. So now I go more to school.

So, what about school?
Much better than earlier. I study at school even during break time. I hang out at the school with the kids and play. After school I go to the skatepark. Then I go home and I do the work I have to do there. That’s it!

What is the difference between your village and Europe?
In Europe there were a lot of cars. My god! At one place there were so many cars I thought they could not even fit into Janwaar. I never thought that this could be possible. In Janwaar we don’t have many cars. And it was colder there. When I came back it was really hot. In Europe it was raining. Here, we didn’t had a single drop of rain.
And the time difference. When it was 11 am in the village it was very early morning in Europe. So whenever we were talking back home, I would ask what is the time back home. They said 11am. We told them we had just woken up and it was early morning. Everyone wondered, the sun comes up from the same side, but why this time difference …?

So when you came back, did you wake up in the middle of the night?
In Europe I would wake up at night, here in Janwaar, no. When I sleep here, I only wake up in the morning. In Europe you could call me any time at night, I would always answer. In Janwaar I sleep tension free.

Whom do you remember from Europe?
The best person was the guy who drove us in France, Jerome. The guy who had this funny dog, Choko. I got sick in Biarritz. I was crying a lot and I don’t remember what was actually happening. He really took good care of me. Finally when we reached our place Barcelona, I rested and immediately got better 🙂

Choko – best skateboarding dog in the world!
Choko – best skateboarding dog in the world!

Do you want to live in Janwaar or outside?
Outside. Outside there are so many different things to do, places to see. For example, here it will be like going to Panna one day, to somewhere else the next day. I can live anywhere.

What do you like about Janwaar, that you didn’t like in Europe?
Food 🙂 The fish, chicken – everything was different. I didn’t eat much (remark: still he gained at least 3-4 kg).

What do you think about Deepa’s and Priyanka’s trip to Australia?

Now they already know that the food will be different. So they’ll be prepared.

If you have to tell them something, what would you say?
I’d tell them that there must be a different currency there. So they should bring some of those to show it to the people.

…something that helps them?
The better should learn English so that they can interact with more people. Arun was pretty good. He would talk more to people than me.

Who will bother us the most in between Deepa and Priyanka?

Priyanka for sure. She talks a lot, fights, runs, you’ll go mad 🙂
Deepa won’t bother that much. She will bother in a different way. For food, calling home, these will be her issues 🙂

we_India #2 – Stories

This we_magazine is different from the ones we’ve published before.
It’s much less Internet related.
It focusses much more on stories.
Stories about various “We’s” I’ve encountered over the last 4.5 years living in India..
It’s also a very personal edition because all the topics we’ve covered are covered by people with whom I have a personal relationship – we’ve worked together, we travelled together, we became friends.
They all have a somehow special place in my life in India.
And I actually didn’t realize this until I saw the entire magazine.
It took me almost one year to complete.
That’s my very first project were I was absolutey running on Indian time … 🙂
Too many things happened that kept me away from finishing it.
But now it’s there and I am very happy with the outcome.
I love the stories – they show India like I experience it on a daily basis.
I hope you have fun reading them!

Here you can flip through!

The Barefoot Skateboarders

This is what I do in India …

“A sport which has long been identified with urban neighbourhoods across the world, is being used in a village in central India as a trigger for social change. Ulrike Reinhard – a German national – established a skate park in Janwar, Madhya Pradesh in February 2015, with the help of a few Indian and international skateboarding organisations. The region to which the village belongs is notorious for being one of the most socially and economically backward areas of the country. Untouchability, gender inequality, illiteracy, and alcoholism are rampant here. Through the voices of Ulrike and the children of the village, the film documents how the skate park is gradually changing the social fabric of the village and addressing some of its most deep rooted issues.” 101india.com

A village bursted into life

“This is the first time that kids themselves change the scope of a rural village in India, in an area – Bundelkhand – which is known for its resistance to change and its tremendous poverty. I’ve never seen a village changing so fast!” said Mehmood Khan when he returned to Janwaar after nine months last week.

Mehmood is my guide for the change process we’ve started almost a year ago when the construction of the Janwaar Castle skatepark began. He is a well-known change agent in India and he has decades of experience when it comes to innovation. Last year at Christmas when he was in Janwaar the vibes and energy of the village were pretty much like in any rural village in India. There was no hope. No work. No fun. Villagers were following their daily routines and struggling to survive. Yes, there was some kind of suspicion in the air because of our ongoing construction work – the villagers didn’t know what was going on. And even when we would have told them about the skatepark project – none of them would have understood. Even the local stakeholders weren’t very clear about the project but to their credit I have to say they trusted and supported me. So when Mehmood and I walked around in Janwaar late in December last year and spoke with the villagers and the stakeholders of the project – it looked like a long way to go and many hurdles to overcome until we would spark interest and drive change.

But all this has changed.

The Janwaar children have changed their village in the last six months. The children who initially whiled away their time aimlessly and skipped school and often indulged in chewing tobacco, smoking and drinking and had a lack of respect for each other in general abusing violently, now work together and believe that there is something for them that could shape their future. The positive energy they bring in with their activities around the skatepark trigger their parents, their teachers and everyone who is there! The principal of the nearby government school said: “The skatepark has really helped the kids – they are clean, follow a routine and are cordial in their behaviour. They now want to be champions of a sport they never heard about one year before. We see a lot of social change with kids moving in and out for competitions in the village.If this continues it will bring change in other nearby villages, block, district and even in the entire province. Kids have a lot of potential here – be it academics, sports or painting. Its just their circumstances that drive them to become labourers. We believe in this approach and would be happy to keep supporting this initiative.” I never thought that this was possible in such a short period of time …. a rural village in Bhundelkhand has started a wonderful journey and bursted into life.

So this was the right time to enlarge our circle beyond the children and involve all stakeholders, teachers and villagers to discuss Janwaar’s urgent problems and the potential for solutions. I invited Mehmood to conduct a (design-thinking) workshop with all of them. Just like we did in Patha two and a half years ago. The workshop took place last week. We’ve held it at the far end of our skatepark under our huge tree – the spot which also suited so well during our summer camp. A diverse group of people participated: surprisingly many women of all ages, the teachers and the principal of the school, many of the children and the usual crowd of male villagers who hardly work but have the say.

crowd

The process was collaborative in all phases. In small groups of 4-6 people they were asked to write down their main problems in their own words. Every group presented the results afterwards – and slowly our tree – which was providing shadow on very hot October days – was functioning as a bulletin board.

IMG_1131

After three hours of hard work we were losing the villagers’ attention and all of us were ready for a break. So we collected the chart papers and translated and summarized what was written on them in the afternoon. Below is the list of the chief problems the villagers identified:

  • Unemployment and poverty
  • Scarcity of water for irrigation and consumption
  • Inefficiencies and corruption in government officials at an operating level in various areas of farmers interface
  • Lack of secondary, higher secondary and technical education
  • Lack of cooperation with the Forest Department with respect to forest boundaries

The second day was “solution” day – Mehmood explained the villagers what we’ve done in summarizing the problems and he was trying to get them into “solution” mode. Again they were intensely working in small groups, discussing and writing down potential solutions. Co-creation has started. At the end each group presented their solutions and all of them were debated and evaluated. At the end we’ve had the following five suggestions on which we were planning to focus.

  • Setting up a Farmers Producers Company (FPO) to create a critical mass of farmers to generate employment and economic activities.
  • Request the government to create a second water reservoir for the village.
  • Create an interface through the collector to get various government schemes delivered to the farmers. eg. meeting of agricultural officers with the farmers.
  • Request to the member of parliament to get approval for the 10+2 school and skill development initiatives.
  • Installation of fencing around all the fields of the villagers to avoid damage of crops.

A funny thing happened at the end of day 2. A woman stood up and basically said, that they’ve now all said what they need and now she asked me to get it done 🙂 And she left with a smile on her face.

If it were all that easy …

Finally at our last day our goal was to bring all the solutions together into what we call an action plan – a joint venture of all the stakeholders and villagers. The action plan includes the necessary actions to be taken and by whom and when they will be taken. And at the end Mehmood – as a symbolic act – took the oath from everyone to follow the plan. We were very lucky at this day, a couple of coincidences happened and fueled the process with positive energy.

First on our way to Janwaar we’ve met postgraduates from an agriculture university in Rewa, a city 150 km from Panna. They are doing their field work in Janwaar. We invited all of them to the workshop, including their professor and the official from the Panna Agriculture Department who accompanied them. All of a sudden we’ve had access to all the farmers and to the details of the land. The second very helpful coincidence was that the entire management of the close by Taj Safari Hotel came – they’ve been to the government school the day before and the principal has told them about the skatepark and our activities. They were so surprised to find a skatepark in the middle of nowhere and immediately understood the potential it has to offer. So they’ve decided to join the team and showed up with a very clear vision of what they can contribute (see further down in the action plan). And their medical officer immediately initiated his work by explaining the children the first aid box I’ve brought in from Germany. In the future he will hold periodically first aid workshops to train and prepare the kids for accident cases and he also committed himself to be available for medical emergencies. And thirdly Vini, my landlord and son of the member of parliament for the district in which Janwaar is located, encouraged the farmers to join forces and get things done – he envisioned the solution on how to do the fencing and how to strengthen the farmers in all their activities. Furthermore he will file an application for a higher secondary (10+2) school – because many families can not afford to send their kids to Panna for higher education. So our action day really turned out to be empowering and everyone could feel it.

action

My job now is basically the job of a project manager.
I will bring together all the people needed and I follow up where needed.
I truly feel we’ve reached a point where we can bring this village and the surrounding area to the next level and that all the causes on our action plan are within reach.

A huge thank you to the kids of Janwaar Castle – its them who bursted the village into life!

Sandstorm in Delhi, May 30, 2014

Last few days we’ve had a horrible sandstorm in Dehli coming in from Rajasthan … the entire day you couldn’t see the sky and then in the afternoon the wind began to catch up. Within minutes you could hardly see anything. 10 minutes later rain came and washed all the dust down.

9 people died during the storm …


Seen from Hauz Khas Village

Day 9, Physically in Palestine, mentally in Syria. August 21

I woke up early. When I opened Twitter I was paralyzed. I read a BBC tweet that chemical weapons had been used in the rebel controlled suburbs of Damascus – and literally within less than an hour, Twitter was swamped with tweets blaming Assad for having used chemical weapons against his own people. And many of my likeminded friends from around the globe were pushing the message. Horrible videos and pictures of dying kids, women and men were circulating in cyberspace. Dead bodies everywhere. Everybody was blaming Assad.

I asked myself – where is the evidence that these chemical weapons were used by Assad? All we saw were videos and pictures … not a single source was quoted to proove that it was the Assad regime!

Only speculations! It drove me crazy …

For the last few weeks – since we knew we were traveling to the Middle East – I was watching the reports about Syria even more closely than before. I looked for other than western sources because I wanted to get a more balanced view of what was going on. I’ve learnt that video footage which was held against Assad, and that you see around the whole world, is prepared in editing rooms of Amman and Turkey; scenes of killed children were reproduced from Afghanistan and Kosovo; hit Syrian planes were reproduced from the Russian invasion in Afghanistan (same plane models ).

Only the BBC and The Guardian (who later implemented a live blog of the unfolding events) on the Western media front were hesitating to accuse Assad – both of them wrote that there is no evidence it was him. It could have been done by the insurgents equally as well. BBC even went so far to question if there was a chemical weapon attack at all. In a TV report aired by the BBC later the same day, many videos and pictures had been investigated to make sure where they had originated from, what they really prooved, and where they had been produced. No final conclusions were reached and there was no concrete proof that, firstly, a chemical attack had happened at all and, secondly, that if it did happen it was executed by Assad.

I couldn’t help myself, I had to write to my friends from the social networks and ask them why they acted like this. And I asked them for evidence – unfortunately they couldn’t proove it was Assad. And, by the end of the day, I was happy that they had changed the headline of their coverage. 2 days later I met one of the “Tweeters” in Ramallah and put to him those same questions. All he could say was that he didn’t have evidence … He, like many others, followed the crowd blindly. This is dangerous!
We need to check sources and if we don’t have evidence, we should say it! We should point out clearly that we ASSUME … even if we don’t like it! If we walk down this path our “network news system” which we are trying to build up – beyond mainstream media – won’t be worth a penny.

Below is a list of sources which provide a slightly different view on Syria from that which we have been told in the West. Western media, including online activism, is biased, just as biased as other media around the globe. Syria and the entire Middle East region is a battlefield of interests. These sources might help you to get a more balanced view of what is going on.

Franklin Lamb – ex legal advisor to the US Congress (just read his latest article: Why is Obama declaring war on Syria?)
Georges Gallaway – British member of parliament and activist on explaining whats going on in Syria
Thierry Meyssan – french activist living in Beirut
Orient Tendencies – in English, French and Arabic
Haytham Manna, head outside of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (Syrian unarmed opposition)
www.Press TV.ir (in English)
Syria News
Syria 24 English
Syria Tube
RT.com
Hala Jaber, Journalist Sunday Times

To follow blindly and uncritically Tweets, Google search results, Facebook status updates, Youtube videos and instagram picts can’t be the only way. Especially when we learn at the same time more and more about the role that the above mentioned companies play in the NSA affair. Read this essay by Julian Assange. It takes an army of idiots to believe that all this is NOT linked.

And PLEASE, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT saying Assad is a good guy. NO! I am perfectly aware that his regime suppressed people, and put them into jail when they spoke up against the government, and against the ruling mafia. Assad was a dictator. But what I am saying is that one should at least try to get a more balanced view.

For me, western media AND western governments – once the embodiment of the enlightenment – are failing badly and loosing all the credibility they’ve built up over the past 200 years.