Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Madhya Pradesh: Life is Like a Box of Crayons

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of retroactive blog posts I plan to write on my final month or so in India. I've back dated to when I should have written the posts for you to enjoy. Yes, I blew it.

Over the weekend I went to Madhya Pradesh on an invitation by PRADAN. I was to end up at their office in a village called Dindori, but getting to it was really tough. I took a flight from Ahmedabad to Bhopal, where a car picked me up and we drove for 12 hours to Dindori. The good news was that the ride was very comfortable and gave me a chance to relax after an extremely busy couple months in Ahmedabad. Felt like a mini-vacation. But also I was treated to the absolutely breath-taking scenery of rural Madhya Pradesh. It is a sparsely populated country with a lot of open land. I felt it had a qualitatively different feel from rural Gujarat. The air was crisper and the colors were sharper. Above all else I felt there were such vibrant colors.

When I got to PRADAN's Dindori site I was taken to visit some of the villages where they have programs. I was taken aback by their beauty. I was especially struck by the look of the homes, their gardens, and the surrounding nature.

Look at the plants, and the field of yellow flowers. Just gorgeous. Only God can color with these crayons:

My favorite thing about the village homes were the huge squashes that grew from the roofs:

The reason for my trip to MP was to meet with PRADAN and discuss my work with DSC and to brainstorm how the same voice technology we have developed for farmers in Gujarat could apply and integrate into the programs PRADAN has going on in MP. In particular they are working with Digital Green and my friend Rikin on disseminating agricultural practices through locally produced DVDs. I think there is a natural synergy between the voice technologies and the DG approach, so it was exciting to discuss ideas with the PRADAN staff. One thing I loved about them was their level of energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to their work. PRADAN makes a point to send young talent to their field offices, so it isn't uncommon to see a 24 year-old managing programs for hundreds of villages. These youngsters, especially the females, are absolutely inspiring. Their level of commitment, and their ability to empathize and relate to rural people was very impressive to see. PRADAN works their field staff hard for a few years, then those staffers may move on to do other things in their career, a la TFA or the peace corps. Then PRADAN brings in the next batch of youngsters fresh out of college or MBA school to train and send out to the field. I find it to be an effective system, especially in contrast to a place like DSC where the older, long-term staff can sometimes act unmotivated, lethargic, and disconnected from the field.

At the end of the meetings and brainstorming sessions, we concluded that there were some gaps in their operations in terms of efficient information gathering and sharing, and that the gaps could readily be addressed through a voice-based information system. So next year I will work with PRADAN to launch a system in MP! It's exciting because it's an opportunity to extend my research project to a new context, and to work with an NGO that in my estimation is a top NGO in all of India in terms of genuine work that has a real impact.

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