India Yankee 2 – Venkatagiri Colony

30th July 2014

IY1B1P1

Hello readers of this blog post; and welcome to Yankee 2! At the time of writing, we have been in our assigned village, the Venkatagiri Colony, for the best part of 10 days, and the UK volunteers have not been on their home soil in 2 and a half weeks.

The days spent at field base passed quickly- adapting to the heat and many ants / mosquitoes chasing in a disproportionate game of human – insect cat and mouse. The weather in our first days varied from sweltering to torrential downpour, giving those unaccustomed to the climate a hearty induction to the Indian monsoon season.

IY1B1P1

After days spent bonding, and respective Indian and British culture nights (a particular highlight being the British boys donning a face of makeup and ladies clothes for a convincing rendition of the Spice Girls etc), on the Tuesday morning that we all ventured into Mysore, we were put into our teams- and this year’s Yankee 2 was born. I feel now would be an appropriate time to introduce the team, so without further ado-

The In Country Volunteers: Laxman, Shivu, Krishna, Navya, Anand & Rajesh

The UK Volunteers: Alice, Al, Asma, Huzzy, Enfys & Cesca

After a lovely few hours exploring Mysore, we returned to Field Base and relished our remaining night as a large group of volunteers until mid phase review, by talking, laughing and generally hanging out, Indian Volunteers and UK Volunteers together.

Yankee 2’s journey from field base to our village is one of the shortest, but worlds away from the now apparent luxuries of field base. That said, I personally wouldn’t change our village for anything (though iced coffee right now would be amazing!). The Venkatagiri Colony is in Karnataka, and has been named such since 1980, beforehand being called Salagatti. The village is set against a backdrop of rolling, tree covered hills and a simply jaw dropping open sky. The villagers themselves are stupendously friendly and hospitable, and playing games with the children who attend the school (of which we are staying in one of the unused school rooms), have been enjoyed by everyone.

In type / on paper, our village is one of the most challenging of this year’s batch. But from each challenge, an advantage in respect of bonding has completely outweighed them. I’ll elaborate;

There’s no running water source, and the pump from which we take water is sporadic, coming on for roughly 25 minutes per evening. From this, the sub-group whose job it is that day to collect water, excitedly runs, clutching as many jerry cans and buckets as they can carry to the spout- with the promise of impending showers and washed clothes spurring them on.

From the scarce electricity to the school building, we are all cheered up tenfold when the porch light finally flickers on around dinner time. A system has been formed whereby everyone has the opportunity to charge their phones and iPods, and now we are rarely without access to 10 minutes of music, and more importantly, we are never without a phone to contact Field Base.

From the villagers only speaking Kannada, and occasionally Hindi, the UKVs and ICVs have bonded especially through a mutual understanding of the importance of communication. There is also the common knowledge that despite our wildly different cultural upbringings, we share the goal of wanting to make our village a better and safer place for the wonderful people who live here.

That said, the ICVs have found us hugely entertaining whist adapting to the chili laden (but delicious) food that our cook in the next village, Bankali, brings for us.

Another amazing thing about the village is the night sky. Being a native Londoner, I’m used to the murky purple fog and bewilderment upon noticing a rogue star hanging above the city. But here, the sky opens itself to you, and there are more nakshitra (stars) than you can shake a forest of sticks at. Even the short trek to the bathroom block at 3am because you drank too much water before the unenforced but now assumed 10pm bed time is made tolerable from the glimpse you get of the sky whilst rushing to the bathroom.

At present, our days are mostly filled with hand-washing and tooth-brushing sessions in local schools, and schools in villages a few kilometers away, and planning our actions for the remaining weeks of phase 1.

From impromptu hand-washing sessions at Hediyala bus stop, to the wildly popular, orchestrated at Village Meetings and schools, we are all slowly beginning to make a difference- and are itching for the construction that phase 2 will bring.

Though at the time of writing, we had been in the village for almost ten days, at the time of typing up, we have been here for 15 days, and are 12 days off returning to Field Base for mid phase review. There’s a buzz around being able to catch up with the other groups, and find out how they are faring in their villages. On the Sunday just passed, we walked the 5 kilometers between our village and the Channagundi Colony, where Yankee 1 is staying. Spending an afternoon with our brother Yankee team was great fun, and hugely reassuring that any teething problems groups may face once in a blue moon are completely normal.

IY1B1P2

Yesterday morning, we completed the Social Mapping we were taught about at the PRA training we attended on the Monday and Tuesday of last week. The entire village crowded into a school room, and helped us draw out their village in bright coloured pigments, flowers and leaves. It looked awesome, and there was such a sense of pride and unity amongst the volunteers and the villagers that we were on a high for the rest of the day.

Receiving letters and blog post comments have been hugely anticipated and loved by every team member- so if you haven’t written to a loved one yet, then please do! The grins when the loop comes around and drops off a few hand written envelopes from home are wonderful, and it’s so nice to know you’re missed by those at home.

To summarize, in the format of reassuring a perhaps nagging parent;

Yes (insert family member name), India is wonderful and I’m having a good time. Yes I’m brushing my teeth and showering, and yes, we’re going to make a difference. We’ll tell you all about it when we get home.