A week ago...
The rains, the rains.
The local civil construction team wouldn't arrive before 10am, and wouldn't start work before 11 am. The rains came on time every afternoon though, which meant shortened work hours. We shrugged, but the super efficient prefabricated structure erection team from Chennai has lost valuable time since they've spent most of their stay here just waiting for the civil guys to finish their end of the job. The rains made being outside so much more bearable, but they made construction work so costly, so costly.
Below are more scenes from the construction site over the past week. All daily labour comes from the slum itself. The civil work at present - walling, flooring etc - is also being done by skilled construction labour from the slum.
And as of yesterday ...
August was a challenging month in that the project facility construction activities took up much of my attention at the same time as we were gearing up to get some larger project activities started over the coming few months. On the other hand, once the initial stress had died down and the pace slowed back to normal, it felt as if not much was happening at all! I've come to realise that projects advance in bursts, and the smartest way to deal with that pattern is to use the slower periods to take stock of what exactly happened during the burst. Mostly in pictures, here is that accounting:
Tailoring / Professional Stitching
Above left: Last week. The first kurta made by a trainee without any assistance. With a little more refining of technique, and some better designing, these women should be good to go! (the girl holding the kurta is our office manager/all round supervisor/records keeper; the little girl next to her has adopted our entire team as her family).
Above right: Our two tailoring trainers (themselves getting quite entrepreneurial and excited by the prospects of having a 30-40 individual strong tailoring team under their supervision).
Everybody can do community development...the MBC as a hub for skill volunteers
Below left: The same Chennai gentleman, teaching pattern making techniques late in the evening to our trainees and to our trainers. After an entire day of having been at the construction site. Everyone in my team is a little shaken by the kindness of his gesture in offering up his time like this.
Below right: Our trainees have been making consistent progress in their ability to use these industrial stitching machines, and have begun doing really good finishing stitching for basic garments.
Construction of Project Facility
Local Work Pace, Rains, and Should-have-been-anticipated Delays
The rains have delayed much of the work on the construction front. The ground gets uneven overnight, water accumulates everywhere on the site, material has to be frantically rushed on site when the sun shines and off site when the rains start, and of course the cooler grey weather makes everybody take off for long chai breaks.
Of course the notoriously aggressive laidback attitude in eastern India does nothing to make up for time lost because of the weather. The local construction team arrives on site around 9:30 am, they commence work around 10am, and by the time they get done with their breaks, the rains have started in the late afternoon.
This puzzled the hyper efficient Chennai team. The gentleman shown teaching tailoring techniques above did not understand why the local Oriya team started work around 10am during a season when rains start in the afternoon with clockwork precision. Why didn't they adjust their monsoon work schedule to earlier in the morning, he asked me. I called and yelled at the contractor of course, yelling has become my modus operandi, my solution to solving just about anything. But I do hope he stops asking me such answerless questions after a few more weeks here in Orissa.
At present we're looking at completing the construction around October if all goes according to the current pace of work. Then November through February would be devoted to setting up equipment and infrastructure in the new facility, and transferring current project activities into that new building.
I'm grateful for having the good sense to have started our project activities long before the construction was even discussed, let alone begun and then completed. This is allowing us to actually do work instead of waiting around. Our work does necessitate a large space and appropriate structural resources, but so much of our time has been spent in mobilisation and community engagement that if we had waited for the facility to be done before commencing project work, we'd have been in a deep hole by now!
Student & University Engagement
We had invited the folks from the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) to come hold a workshop for our students on urban development and planning challenges including urban slum development. IIHS organises an annual nationwide innovation challenge for youth in India, focusing on creative solutions to urban problems. Seen on the right is the pro VC of our School of Management, himself a long serving faculty at India's famous Institute of Rural Managament Anand (IRMA).
Besides the above introduction to urban development issues, I am also working with faculty and a set of 30 - 32 MBA students at our university to research and help implement various components of our Micro Business Centre project.
Above left: Since we are an authorised LIC micro life insurance collection agency and work closely with the Kargil slum community, the LIC guys wanted our help in organising an all day health camp here. Basic blood pressure testing, chatting with doctors about simple ailments, and so on.
(I'm still working at making our insurance collection operations smoother. The first field collection guy has dropped out because a more lucrative job came his way. So I've offered the chance to the girl who used to be our office supervisor (also a slum resident) but wants to do something more entrepreneurial, preferably people and sales related. Insurance sales can be very lucrative and there'd be nothing better than having an excellent sales person like her make a good income off of bringing micro life insurance to the slum community).
Spotting high potential entrepreneurs in the community
Above right: The new and improved schoolroom in Kargil slum. The two women in the background are teachers, NGO workers, and community residents.
The one on the left was pretty much my first close acquaintance in the community - super sharp, energetic, and just one of the warmest people I know. She's extremely excited about the newly expanded scope of her NGO work and about going to far away Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) for training (I don't think she's ever been too far out of Orissa).
Experiments with local vegetable vending linkages
Now to discuss this linkage, I shall have to write up a separate blog post. It's a long story, and a very interesting one from the point of view of project implementation, and the need for monitoring outcomes constantly.
Suffice to say, this experiment entailed linking a few local, traditional vegetable vendors to a newly emerged local vegetable retail franchise.
I am currently a PhD student at the Graduate Institute of International & Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. My interest lies in inclusive governance - participatory governance in cities, political participation by women, making local government work better, and community-based approaches to environmental sustainability. You can read the "about" page for more!