Frequently we host visitors from different organisations and institutions who arrive to assimilate the kind of work we undertake as an organisation with the indigenous communities. The visit is usually an exposure trip during which they observe, interact and learn about our areas of work.
Last week we hosted three groups of women from Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, Dhaatri Trust based in Hyderabad and Sakhi Trust from Hospet. Dhaatri and Sakhi Trusts work towards empowering women and children. They facilitated this exposure trip for women from the communities they closely work with. Most of the women who visited were single and some were students. These were women that were confined by culture but are striving and willing to make a difference within their communities
We began the day with the campus tour. Right after our customary tea at 11 am, we asked them to assemble at ‘Mandakal’ (meeting hall) to introduce each other. Speaking indistinctly among themselves perhaps due to the frigid weather that they were yet to acclimatize to, the women marched down to the meeting hall with curiosity. Later, after we introduced ourselves, we headed out to take them around. Our spin offs Last Forest and Aadhimalai that work towards fair trade and empowering community-based enterprise, caught the attention of these avid minds. In some way, they could relate to it. Even though we had to translate into three different languages, it was gratifying to see these young women showing keen interest.
As we were conversing, translating and moving from one building to another, one of the women from a community from the Panna Tiger Reserve mentioned that NTFP collection from their forest is a primary source of income and helps the families get 10 to 15 days of work in a month. People collect Tendu Patta, Harda, Baheda, Amla, Char, Mahua etc. However, she pointed out that sometimes they are deceived. She said “We are not aware of market rates of the produce that we collect. The traders buy it from us at a cheaper price but sell it for a much higher price”. They also stressed on how being part of a National Park, there is restriction in harvesting NTFPs. And hence it has affected the income of people dependent on the forest for their livelihood. This has forced the local inhabitants to work as daily wage labourers.
After briefing them on all our programme areas, in response to their hesitant request to learn about beekeeping, we gave a practical demonstration with the help of our beekeeping expert, Justin Raj. They spent the next couple of days visiting two of our production centres, at Pudukad and Hasnur, studiously taking notes to remember the process, to help them replicate it back in their communities. It was overwhelming for us to engage with a group so earnest and we believe that we have imparted relevant knowledge that will benefit them and their communities. These women weren’t looking for opportunities but were creating them.