|Future growing in the wheat field.|
”I think these people don’t wan to change their lifestyle” said my interpreter when I asked what kind of impressions did she get of the villages of Dungarpur. My first reaction was denial because it seemed to me like claiming that people’s lifestyle (or poverty) is their own fault. On the other hand it could be seen as a form of empowerment giving people the agency over their own lives. Change or not, own decision. However, people are not always in the position to make changes or to see alternatives to their lifestyle. Sometimes people who want change are not given the right kind of support to make it happen. When looking at the larger picture we also need to ask: what is development? What would the ‘right’ kind of lifestyle include? What kind of change are we (or the NGO’s) suggesting to these people?
Another question is, where does the change begin? With Swallows (Finnish development organization cooperating with SEWA) we have tried so many times to put the content of the project into words for the purpose of communication, etc. The project is compiled of many parts including SEWA membership trainings (empowerment of women), agriculture trainings (supporting livelihood), promoting micro entrepreneurship (washing powder and incense stick making, nurseries), child care centers, water pumps… So what is the essential substance, the heart of the project?
In Dungarpur I have got to know another development project by Save the Children India (as it happens, in cooperation with Save the Children Finland). The project is about promoting child sensitivity. The multifaceted concept is not that easy to turn into action but what it really implies is changing the attitudes of people. After discussions with people from STC, I have started to perceive more clearly that essentially SEWA’s work is about changing attitudes as well. The objective is to empower people to help themselves. In order to do this, they might have to absorb and embrace new ideas and ways of arranging their lives. Although SEWA is a women’s organization, I’m writing about people because SEWA has to work hard on persuading the men as well. The benefit of changing perception is not always immediate and there lies the difficulty. People who are living from hand to mouth don’t necessarily have time to think about the long term benefits. So changing attitudes takes a lot of persistent work and the results of the project may also not be immediately seen.
Comparing SEWA’s work in Dungarpur and Vadodara districts (Swallows’ project is in work in these districts) provides a good example of the results that can be achieved. SEWA has worked in Vadodara since the beginning of 1990’s and in Dungarpur since 2006. When meeting members in Vadodara one can sense the change that they have embraced. Women are more used to talking and speaking in public whereas in Dungarpur women may come out as really shy in the presence of strangers. In Vadodara many members are very much used to organizing their lives and taking decisions, planning for the future, managing things. I Dungarpur this change has just started and members are starting to internalize new ways of doing things, that is saving money and making long term plans instead of day-by-day-living.
To return to the initial comment about people not wanting to change their lifestyles… It might be true in some sense. However, the many members of SEWA that I have met last year and during the last few weeks, have proved to me that there are women in Dungarpur who do want change and who are strong enough to go for it too. There are many success stories, big and small. Big changes might bring changes to the whole lifestyle. Smaller changes might be about just having drinking water nearer to the house. To some people this change is adequate.
I guess the point that I am trying to make is that changes are happening but they won’t happen overnight. In development projects it is also difficult to predict the so called end result, since change is a process. We can’t know all the effects of the project 20 years from now. Neither can we assume that development and change will follow the same path everywhere but cultural and social factors have their part to play. All in all, change is inevitable but people have the power to decide the direction.