Trip Start Aug 09, 2008
Trip End Aug 2009

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Flag of India  , Uttarakhand,
Saturday, April 11, 2009

Our stay at R.O.S.E. (Rural Organization for Social Elevation) was more of a homestay than volunteering.  There are opportunities to volunteer but as we found out you need to plan before-hand and figure out where your expertise might be best used.

We stayed with Jeevan Verma and his family near the town of Kanda, in the Kumaon valley, close to the Himalayan mountains. Getting there was a bit of a challenge. We took a train from Haridwar to Kathgodam, and then rode in a shared taxi (these are jeeps that serve as mini buses picking up passengers going to specific destinations) which is a popular mode of transport in the mountains, since there are no autorickshaws.

The ride was through the mountains with spectacular scenery along the way, which somewhat compensated for the continuously winding, hilly climb for the7 hours it took to reach our next transit stop.  It is quite common to see heads sticking out of the buses/taxis as people throw up from motion sickness. Our trip was no exception, although luckily it was neither one of us who got sick. The taxi took us to Bageshwar and then we got into another shared taxi to Kanda Market, and from there the locals pointed out Jeevan Verma's house, which was nestled in the valley, amidst paddy fields and other homes. Very few tourists seem to visit this area, so when locals see foreigners or backpackers they know they are volunteers with R.O.S.E. The location is absolutely beautiful and peaceful and worth the 24 hours it took us to get there.

We stayed with R.O.S.E. for 4 days and got a sense of rural life in the Kumaon Valley and some of the challenges faced by the farmers.  Jeevan mentioned that life in the village has changed, in that where at one time, entire households would pitch in and work the farm, today, most men have jobs outside, kids go to school and so the farm work falls on the women. And the work these women do is just amazing.  They are up at the crack of dawn and take care of the farming, cooking, household and day-to-day stuff.  Most of the work they do in the field is hard physical labour. We saw women carrying large loads of wheat or grain up and down steep hills, threshing wheat by hand, and plowing fields. All of the work involved manual labour, with little mechanized practices. We were not sure if that was by choice or due to the income levels of the farmers.

We saw some projects that had been completed by previous volunteer groups, like solar lighting for houses that could not afford electric light, and construction of a community centre and provisions store where low-income farmers could purchase supplies. Seeing what could be done by volunteers working with the local community made us realize how important it is to have a plan or project to work on rather than just showing up and hoping to make a difference. We decided to leave R.O.S.E. earlier than planned because we felt somewhat useless as we had no specific tasks to do.
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