Saturday, August 12, 2017

Father Freddie...RIP!

We have just learned from Maggi and Ruben that Father Freddie has left the mortal body, few days back in Haridwar. Father Freddie was a SMTA board member, helping this social work organisation in those early years, with moral and material support. His services, support and help can never be captured in words- much less acknowledged or repaid. 
(Pics: he was actively involved with our programs: First pic - Giving award to a SMTA student; Second Pic -  attending a public function organised by SMTA - with Devika Chauhan and Ram Sharan Nautiyal and others)
I had had the privilege of knowing him briefly. His huge physical frame often belied his warmth and sensitivity. He had great sense of humor too. Once, I had to clean a coconut and was having difficulty. He saw me struggling and offered to help; He began plucking the coir off the coconut with his bare hands - as if it was dry cotton stuck to the head of a puppet. His big hands were working quickly and effortlessly and the coconut was bare in a few minutes! I smiled and said: Father, I will be very scared to meet you in a dark alley! 
We both had a good laugh! He appreciated the joke - silly as it was.
May he rest in PEACE. May he help many more souls. May he guide us ever.

From the archives!

Anna visited SMTA in 2004, and visited out Uppal Gaon watershed program. Seems like a dream! We were looking for a something else, when we came across this picture - and said WHOA!

Friday, August 11, 2017

New Uniform for the lil ones..

Smta primary school students were encouraged to make one more set of uniform, so that they could change and get it washed at least twice a week. You know little kids- how they love to play in mud! Few days ago, a mothers' meeting was organised wherein Shri Chain Singh  ji, the Principal, discussed the idea and got them to agree.

No need to say, kids were very happy- and got it muddied soon enough!

Grass is always greener on..

We at SMTA have been wondering how to keep our lawns well manicured- especially in Monsoons. So we bought a grass cutting machine. After opening the pack, we had tough time assembling it - since we did not have elaborate instructions nor any prior experience.

Then, we had to do some figuring out as to how to operate it without using "hard" language, sudden jerks and expletives...

Then, the savior arrived: Mewaram! He gave us a demo- and then got down to it himself, since he realized that we were no good at the fine art of manicuring a lawn, to his standards..

Believe me, it is as intricate as baking a cake, writing a python script or getting your work done at a sarkari office..

Long live Mewaram! Blessed be thy name..

Oh yes, the lawns are looking very inviting. We have tough time keeping the Leo and Moti (the four legged children) off the lawn... You can easily imagine what they actually want to do in the lawn.. :((  

Update swajal

Thus is an official letter, confirming SMTA's selection for district Dehradun under SWAJAL... (Received from Pawan with much thanks)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Approved Training Center under PMGDISHA

Just received this email:

Dear Reetika Rawat
Your Center located at TC SKCC hostel, Village Bhimawala, Via ChiranjipurDanda, Vikasnagar 248198, Dehradun, Uttarakhand,Bheemawala,Vikas Nagar,DEHRADUN,UTTARAKHAND has been registered as a Training Center (associated with P-TECH EDUCATIONAL TRUST). Please find below the login details to log-on to the PMGDISHA portal...

We look forward to start and deliver services soon.. Keep wishing us best!

Swajal and SMTA

Learned from a reliable friend that SMTA has been successfully empaneled with Swajal, as an implementing agency for District Dehradun. Cyril sahab had given us the lead a few months back. We applied and based on our relevant experience in this field, we have been selected. Now, we have to wait since the ball is in their court. This time, Swajal is focusing on peri-urban scene as well as solid waste management issues too. We are optimistic!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Plantations in Monsoon

SMTA School at Jaakhdhar: Month of July has seen much rains. The teacher and children have taken the advantage, and gotten out of class room, to clear the weed and plant some trees. Hands on environmental education!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Jhitar Fodder planting

During monsoons, construction work can not be undertaken. This is the best time for plating fodder and other plants near homes and on the village commons - so that women dont have to walk too far for fodder and fuel. This is Kathang hamlet of Jhitar and Banpur. There was a lull in the rains and the women and children loved the day out..

Friday, July 14, 2017

Garden cleaning in Jakhdhar SMTA school

Just received from Chain Singh Guru ji. Children are working in the school garden. Removing the weed and long grass.. A day out in the open!

Fodder planting

To make the best use of this rainy season, the field team has begun planting of fodder plants within and near the village, so that women dont have to do a long trek to forest.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Jhitaar (Kathang) SHG initial meeting

Sohan (Coordinator) has sent this picture of one of the first meetings in Kathang (a hamlet of Jhitaar); This meeting was planned to discuss structure, purpose etc. of the proposed women's group, under Retrieving Women's Pride project.
Keep checking this space for updates!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Gulab Ramchandani : A tribute

The sad news of demise of Mr. Gulab Ramchandani on 13 April 2017 at the age of ninety, was a great loss to all us at SMTA. Gulab was an Indian educator, an alumnus of The Doon School, he served as the headmaster of The Doon School from 1979 till 1988. He believed that good education is always based on good social ethics too. It was his visionary foresight which gave the very existence to SMTA.
In the year 1983 while Mr. Gulab Ramchandani was the Headmaster of The Doon School, he contacted and requested Mr.  Sanjit Roy (‘Bunkar’) an ex-student of Doon School and the Director SWRC Tiloniya, to extend  the Tiloniya Supported rural development activities around District Dehradun, which was part of U.P. then. So that the students of The Doon School may have exposure to the Rural Conditions and actively participate in it. In 1983,  Bunkar Roy accepted the request of Mr. Gulab Ramchandani and opened a state unit of SWRC at Chakrata Block of district Dehradun. This area is a tribal block known as Jaunsar Bawar. The inhabitants are known as Jaunsaris.
The First batch of students from the Doon School came for their midterm activities to Chakrata in 1983. It was their early efforts which cleared the ground at Jakhadhar, on which today, Smta Niketan stands serenely - the Headquarters of SMTA and Multipurpose Community training Centre for Rural Community leaders.
Up to 1986 all the activities were carried out under the aegis of SWRC Tiloniya. During this period,  under the able leadership of Mr. Gulab Ramchandani, we were able to build up a good rapport with the State and the local Government. With the active participation of the students of Doon School, a complete Socio economic Survey was taken up and a master project was drawn, known as “ Project Lakhamandal”.
In 1986 SWRC Tiloniya advised all its state units to form a separate and independent Unit so that development projects could be rooted in the needs of the local people. Accordingly, under the leadership of Mr Gulab Ramchandani, a new society was formed and registered under the Society Act; It was named Society For Motivational Training And Action (SMTA).
Mr.Gulab Ramchandani was its Founder President He Continued in   this post  for another four terms. During his tenure SMTA grew rapidly and took up various development projects in Jaunsar Bawar. The Promotion of primary education for the tribal children through our innovative school popularly known as Apna Schools was a major achievement. Through these activities we have been able to motivate the tribal community to participatory development projects such as formation of women’s groups, Youth Groups, and BAL Panchayat.
In 1994 Mr. Gulab Ramchandani Requested the Board Members to relieve him from the post of President. He continued as its member till his death. Giving the organization his valued guidance and support.
Gulab Ramchandani was a team man. Always trusted and encouraged the team members. In his death SMTA has lost a friend, guide and a motivator. May His Soul Rest in Peace.

Contributed by Ruben

Monday, July 10, 2017

Lawn Mower

Most visitors to our campus notice and praise the open green space, flowers, lotus pond, dogs... But keeping the lawns clean and well trimmed is a constant battle. Especially in the rains- with weeds growing wild all over.
Fortunately, we have a gardener- and now we have a lawn mower too. Figuring out how to assemble it was the first challenge- next was to try it out! Sultan gave it his best shot- see the picture.
We too are jumping in and helping the maali..

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Planning Meeting

4th July 2017
We had a planning meeting in Vikasnagar office today: Pradhan Mangat Ram ji, Sultan, Sohan, Kundan, Sachin. Pawan, who had just finished the Resource gap analysis in the project area, was also there. We discussed, what can be done during this period of monsoon; since construction work can not be taken up due to the rains, it was decided that fodder planting and preparation for building water tanks can be attempted during next 1-2 months. Community, especially women are quite enthusiastic about the project. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Resource Gap Analysis

As a foundational exercise, Pawan is conducting a resource gap analysis in Jhitaar and Banpur: to understand how this gap impacts women's life and workload. This will guide our up-coming activities in the field, under RWP.
The joint committee has been made in the village and the president and the treasurer will be visiting Vikasnagar soon to open a bank account for the group.

Retrieving Women's Pride

Retrieving Women's Pride is an intervention in two villages near Tiuni (Jhitaar and Banpur). It is being supported by Manos Unidas. This intervention uses the concept and approach of watershed management, to reduce the drudgery of women and bring back their sense of self-worth. Here are some pictures from the community; Sohan Singh is supervising this intervention.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Community meeting in Tiuni

With the start of our Retrieving Women's Pride Project in Jhitaar and Baanpur, a group of women meet on 17th June 2017, to discuss the intervention and their role in it.

Baanpur meeting

Women meeting with pradhan ji (Village headman), in preparation of Retrieving Women's Pride project, near Tiuni.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Retrieving Women's Pride- project.

RWP project is about reducing workload on women, empowering them and building up their natural resource base thru watershed inputs - in two gram panchayats near Tiuni (Baanpur and Jhitaad), on border of Uttarakhand and Himachal pradesh.

We had our first orientation meeting in the Vikasnagar office today - 13th June 2017. This project was delayed because of delays in our FCRA renewal. We have received FCRA renewal now and we will be making good speed now on various community level activities. First step will be to discuss, share with community and encouarge them to make a committee to implement the project. 

Early rains..

Few days ago, I was caught without woolens in Jakhdhar. It rained and then it became very cold - suddenly. But my Glacier training in ITBP came to my rescue and I knew what to do. Rains washed everything clean and the mountainside was green again..

Then, when I returned to Vikasnagar, I smelled early winter in the morning. A change of seasons is around, I feel. Dhaneshwari ji has been working on the grounds- and here is what a Sycus plant in the lawns looks like - thanks to her work. 

Growing up

A child- Arnav - was on SMTA campus a few days back. One day, when I heard a shrill excited voice coming from somewhere near the dogs on the grounds - I went out to investigate - in alarm! Then, I saw Arnav playing with dogs- as if they - Leo and Moti - were just another bunch of kids. Interestingly, they two were behaving very well with him. Caring for another animal and having someone to talk to- even if it is 'just' a dog - all these can be great ingredients to growing up. Yes, Arnav talks to them- asks them to be reasonable while eating, not to growl at each other and behave like "good Children". He regularly reminds his naani ji (Ms Dhaneshwari) to give them their lunch when due... and he wanted to take them back with him to his home in Rishikesh! He had my full permission to do so! But he did not!  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Digital literacy for rural population?

Yes, that is the theme for our collaboration with P-Tech Educational Trust of Agra (website)! That, 60-70% of Indians who still live in villages, become smart users of various IT initiatives available to rest of the world now - like cashless transaction, getting an OTP and using it safely on an android phone etc.? Can this be done in the villages of Uttarakhand? We are sure that this can be done- and this is the way forward to a vibrant future. In fact, this could bring in a revolution of sorts, by sheer numbers..

We had a visit from Sri Pushpendra Tyagi and his team. We have discussed the concept and have made up our mind to move in this direction. Mukul, Fakru and Cyril Sahab were also here to discuss, encourage and help us. We will be beginning with the most basic computer literacy course under PMGDISHA

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Parent Teacher Meeting & GOOD NEWS!

We had a parent teacher meeting in our primary school at Jakhadhar on 10th June 2017. About six women and twenty or so men, most of whom have a child studying in the school were here. We gave them the updates and the greetings from Ruben and Maggi. We also discussed pressing issues: parents big role in sending the child in a good state of cleanliness and ready to study- ie. along with all the necessities like pencil, rubber, school bag etc. We also discussed about a little riese in school fee. School management committee was also elected. Parnets have assured to ive us ful support in making the school, what they ideally wish it to. Coming months will show us where we really stand with them. 
It was very inspiring to listen to a young father, who began talking about the school as it used to be when he himself was studying here! We gave them a simile to consider: In the deepest winter, you dont doubt that seasons will change and spring will come. The school too is passing through a difficult time. But it can turn the corner provided we ALL push. 
From school side: four of us participated: Satyendra, Sultan, Chain Singh and Kedar Singh.
Finally the GOOD news: SMTA has received FCRA renewal for next 5 years! Thanks for all your support, help and PRAYERS! Let us get ready for action now..

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


SMTA has submitted a watershed proposal to Nabard for 6 villages near Barnigad. We have also submitted an EOI (expression of interest) document for empanelment with Swajal on 5th June 2017.

Swajal 2 (link1link2) is focused on peri-urban areas this time and is being financially supported by World bank. (Cyril sahab gave us a lead on this - and some more help in this regard. Thank you Cyril ji!).

We have given Dehradun, Uttarkashi and New Tehri, as SMTA's choice of area. Let us keep hoping and praying.

We are also hopeful of collaborating with P Tech (Agra) to take up digital literacy campaign in rural areas (link). Lots of ideas in incubator!

PS: A sad news: Kundan lost his father on 4th June. Our sincere condolences to the bereaved family. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Sri Tika Ram Sharma ji

Tika Ram Sharma ji has been associated with SMTA for a long time. Recently, he handed in his resignation, due to his frail health. SMTA offered him its heartfelt gratitude and assured him of our ongoing connection with him. As we are approaching Society Registration renewal process, we are requesting old members to continue being with us, if they possibly can. On the right is the little token of appreciation given by SMTA to Sharma ji for his contributions spanning more than two decades.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Gov. Board meeting at Dehradun

27th May (Saturday): We had a fruitful meeting at Central Hotel, near Barista, in Dehradun. Rachit, Rekha, Belam, Sultan, Dhaneshi and Sachin.

We talked about programs - ongoing and upcoming: Sarigad Watershed project, Digital literacy program, Swajal etc. We also talked about our heartaches: pending renewal of FCRA!

we also talked about the need for SMTA to take a little risk, welcome new talents, teach young people and move forward, instead of living in the past... which of course was great and has brought us all the way here: As Kirkegaard says: Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards...

What is this flower called?

Do you know what this flower is? I dont, unfortunately! A few days back, during teachers' training, teachers came to me and asked me the names of the various plants and trees on our campus. Alas, I did not know any- beyond Rose, cactus and Marigold! Shameful!

With the first shower of monsoons, many more flowers will bloom on our campus- and I will have to memorize many more names, I guess!

Oh, yes, we had had some early showers and some unexpected hail and thunder storms - when black clouds came tumbling down almost to the ground- with sheet lightening lighting up its belly suddenly and with a deep rumble. Some thing like this:

We are looking forward to a glorious monsoon. Here is a recent picture of our Jakhadhar campus:

Monday, May 15, 2017

Jogio Mela

Bangles for women
 Jogio is a village at about 6000 feet in Chakrata mountains. A dusty unpaved road connects it to Chakrata, 25 km away. In the month of May, a Mela is organised to celebrate a local deity. The deity (Devta) is brought in a palanquin, carried by four men (from families traditionally playing this role) and the palanquin is made to dance..
This year it was on 14th May. On the long brow of a mountain, people gathered in their colorful dresses. Vendors offered colorful sweets and salties- ice-cream too - while everyone waited for the Devta.
I met some children from our SMTA school. All dressed up for mela!

Most fairs in Himalayas are meant to honor some Deity- and offer a chance for women to get out of their villages, away from the daily drudgery. A great time for socializing in the hills where time moves slowly...
Pakodi shop

Crowd  gathers by 12 noon..

SMTA school

Story of a primary school:
This small primary school started in August 1995. First few children belonged to SMTA staff itself and couple of neighbors in this sparsely populated mountain community. Then, nearby villages began to participate and send their children. Class 5 got recognized by state education services around 1997 or so. At that time there was no school on this road from Chakrata to Lakhamandal. Vijay Laxmi, Shanti Karki and Champa Karki, were some of the early teachers - sort of pioneers. The school was affiliated with nearby Tungroli government school initially, to ensure that children would be able to sit for exams and get an acceptable certificate. UNICEF gave some aid and the school was upgraded to class eight.

SMTA was also running primary schools (APNA school) in over 100 villages. This idea was based on couple of stark realities of the last century: The state would not run a school for less than ten children at that time. The mountain villages being small, could not produce more than five children aged 4-10 years. The children being too young, could not walk daily to the bigger villages with a primary school. So, primary education for these children often began very late - and there were many such villages all over Himalayas; it was common to see a ten year old lad sitting in class one! Many children just dropped out of the educational system and were pressed by their families into other tasks: herding animals, helping on farm etc. The other option was for the family to migrate to a city for the sake of child's education. Few families could afford it and when they did migrate, it meant ruining of farm and homestead left behind in the village.
School campus on a beautiful evening
In this scenario, SMTA implemented a new idea: A class eight or ten pass student, was given a basic understanding of caring for and teaching other young children in his/ her own village- and it was called APNA school (our own school). This older child was given frequent refresher trainings, was supported by a network of supervisors and was given regularly provided with excellent Teaching learning aids and books etc.

Apna schools flourished since, those who have been denied the fruits of education for centuries, know its value too well. Decades later, state government adopted the idea as "Shiksha Mitra". APNA schools got absorbed in that government scheme. A time came when, SMTA was left with just one school: the one at Jakhadhar, near Chakrata. SMTA continued to nurture it, since local community found it useful. Many teachers contributed their precious years to this school: Sohan Singh, Satyaprakash Chaudhary, Kesri Chand, Shurvir Singh Chauhan, Hariman Pandey, Mangat Ram, Belam Das, Chain Singh (who has rejoined recently), Dhaneshi, Sultan and others. (Please let me know the names I am missing! And there are MANY, I am sure!).

This is the story of this SMTA school in brief. And some pictures of its current students. If you ever want to volunteer and spend some time with these children, in these mountains, you are welcome to get in touch.

School Meeting at Jakhadhar

Today, we had a staff meeting. The two teachers and two admin staff- myself and Sultan. The two teachers are Shri Chain Singh and Shri Kedar Singh (extreme left). Chain Singh ji is taking the charge of the campus as well as the school, so a little discussion was in order. The total children at present are about 40. A small number. But when I look at a child as this, and think of her parents, I think we are offering a valuable service.  This is Jaunsar Bawar, a tribal area of Uttarakhand. Government subsidy, reservations and confusion of identity has led to apathy and lack of enterprise among the local community. The only hope is children.