Just over three months after we received the final approval of the global project “Evidence based advocacy for low-carbon, pro-poor sustainable“ Eco-Village Development ”(EVD) in South Asia” Christian and Lykke went to India to start the project up with the partners involved.
Our Indian partners INSEDA and WAFD had planned an eventful week of project meetings in Delhi, Rishi Kesh and Haridwar, site visits to existing eco-villages in Ranichauri and visits to the local hospital in Chamba that has a wind turbine installed. In addition to the aforementioned partners, INFORSE from Denmark, CRT / N from Nepal, Grameen Shakti from Bangladesh, IDEA from Sri Lanka, AIWC from India and CANSA from India participated. With a crowd of 20 people, it takes a lot of preparation and patience, and just getting a group photo (where everyone looks the same way) was a bigger challenge.
Project meeting in Rishi Kesh
We started out with the inaugural project meeting in Delhi on April 7. Here, the partners were given the opportunity to present themselves and the different roles in relation to the project, we looked at the implementation plan and summarized the project's purpose and objective. Actually, we also had budgets, financial reporting and contractual issues on the agenda, but we soon had to realize that it was enough for optimistic planning on our part. On April 8, the trip went north by train to Haridwar and then the bus to Rishi Kesh, where we were installed at a hotel right next to the holy river of the Ganges. The sunset was supposed to be absolutely fantastic, but most of us missed it when we got started on the project talk.
The project partners had prepared presentations on the national situation in relation to development, climate, environment and relevant decision-makers in their respective countries, while Sanjay (CANSA) and Gunnar (INFORSE) gave a quick insight into the regional opportunities for low-energy solutions and the status of the international climate negotiations. It was really exciting to hear what opportunities and challenges the different partners face and to what extent low-energy solutions are being prioritized at national level. There is no doubt that, the main priority for decision makers is to provide access to energy and development, where reducing CO2 is just a side benefit. So we just have to push on with our low-energy solutions, which both help to develop the land, improve the living conditions of the local and reduce the countries' CO2 emissions.
Visit to eco-villages
The next two days we spent on site visits to the aforementioned hospital in Chamba and to existing island villages in Ranichauri, where WAFD and INSEDA have been working for a number of years. Both places had meetings with the locals and at the hospital the local press was also invited. The towns were 2-3 hours from Rishi Kesh and the drive was not for people with delicate stomachs, so we had to make a few stops along the way. But the view was amazing.
In the village of Guryali we met the volunteer women who have been involved in the eco-village project for a long time and who have become the project's first women. They were totally cool and had no trouble standing in front of the entire assembly and telling them what eco-solutions they had implemented, what challenges they had run into and what other initiatives they had initiated themselves. Among other things, one of the women had started drying vegetables and spices in a solar-powered 'dry house', which she could then sell. Part of what the women highlighted as a positive part of the project was that they experienced increased social recognition in the villages, as well as the personal satisfaction of providing a service for the benefit of the villages and its residents. However, it could be difficult to convince people to implement the solutions if some had not already tried it before, a dish-shaped solar collector for cooking. They had also tried beekeeping, but they had failed to keep the bees for a variety of reasons.
Before we turned our heads towards Rishi Kesh again, there was also just time for a game of cricket. However, the game lasted no more than a couple of throws as the batter knocked the ball down the mountain well, so the kids had to go out and look for their ball. Although a week is not a long time to start a project with seven partners who all have a lot of unresolved issues, the visit to the hospital and in the villages and the meeting with some of the people involved were well spent. It helped inspire our partners as well as a common frame of reference for what an island village in India might look like.
Contracts and spices in the suitcase
The whole project start-up tour ended in Delhi, where we signed the remaining contracts and concluded on the various discussions we have had along the way. So we had our suitcase filled with contracts, organic spices from Guryali and of course a lot of work impressions when we returned to Denmark a week later.