- Development work here really is actually rather similar to how the city's traffic flows: very slow pace, progress inexplicably stalled for long periods, then sudden jolts and periods of hurtling forward a few steps.
The problem with delays: community credibility
Now, the delays are not going to prevent our project from meeting mandated (and self-imposed) deadlines. It would be very impractical to not allow even 6 months for the teething problems that an on-ground, micro-level project of this kind will necessarily face... which 6 months includes the survey and assessment phase.
The problem is that delays are resulting in resentment on the part of the community, namely the women with whom we've engaged. From their perspective it appears like we said a lot of things about training and income-earning activities, we bought a bunch of machines and rented an office, we got them especially excited about the tailoring training and work, and yet the outcome has been minimal: while the hand-stitching courses went well, we have not been able to graduate the interested women to machine-based tailoring and production (because of the "utilities" related reasons detailed below).
Some of the resentment has been ameliorated by the fact that we've laid a small foundation in the following areas, and that we're constantly engaging in some activity that involves a few community women:
- spice-making (initiating the production-&-training process)
- vermicomposting (buying & installing the kits for 4-5 community members who own cows, have been selling cow dung in bulk for a small price but will make about 7 times as much after compositing the same amount of dung)
- bamboo store front (completing the basic framework, talking to community artist for further beautification)
- incense-stick making (visit to an incense-making peri-urban community, and mobilisation of 15 community members to start producing incense sticks for a local vendor)
The big move forward: Land
Further, one critical thing has also moved forward, even though the community doesn't see its impact yet: access to land near the target community, to construct the facility for micro enterprise/entrepreneurship training & production. The land that was allotted to us by the government has finally been handed over to us (via the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation). It's right opposite the slum; project participants will literally have to cross the road to earn a livelihood and access entrepreneurship and enterprise development training and support.
This is a huge step forward for a project that - (i) being done in partnership with multiple levels of Indian government (ii) being done in the poverty alleviation sector (iii) being done just around election year - seemed destined to almost never see the light of day; not for any straightforward reasons, nor for reasons I'm at liberty to share.
The pictures below are from a particularly hot day when this handover finally happened (after months of knocking on doors and carrying dust-covered files from one government office to another, but that's another story), and when the land mapping official finally came over to measure out the land. The 'Micro Business Centre' shall be set up on this land - training & production facilities, small classrooms and office space. I'm really looking forward to the day when this facility is up and operational. Else, the project is starting to stall; I can feel my team (and the community) getting irritable and thinking that this is a futile, failed project. Perhaps this is true in other parts of the world, but certainly true of India - when physical infrastructure is under construction, everyone feels things are moving and everyone feels happy. Else it seems difficult to gain credibility and buy-in, both from the government and often, even from your target beneficiaries.
It is what it is I suppose.
From end March through end May there was death inducing heat here, just as in most parts of India. Scorching. At this time, most of our work comprised laying the foundation - household-level community surveys, community mobilisation, legwork to scout around for successful local entrepreneurs, and going around the city to identify future market linkages. Since this was outdoors work, we were restricted to working for about 2-3 hours in the morning, and for 3 hours in the evening. The period from Noon - 3:30 pm was entirely wasted; everything in the city came to a stop during these hours in the interest of surviving the sun and the heat.
The household surveys were done from 6 am - 10 am, and that allowed our survey team to catch every household member including the wage workers who left home for work around 7 or 7:30 am. But our networking with local entrepreneurs and businesses couldn't start too much earlier than 10 am because this is a very laid back city where things don't really start before 10 or 10:30 am on any given day. So that gave us from 10 am - Noon to get much of our day's work started.
For any work that required going to local government offices - paperwork for electricity connections, following up on our project funding, paperwork for the funding - the problem was compounded: government officials come at 11 or 11:30 am and leave at 5 or 5:30 pm. So all in all, matching our work hours to the work hours of the businesses, the government, was made very difficult, very difficult.
And this week the monsoons have started. The rains are a dramatic, thunderous respite from the intense summer. I'm returning to monsoon country during monsoon season after nearly a decade, so I wanted to be as excited as possible.
- But the monsoons impede our mobility work almost as much as the summer does.
- Water and mud are piling up in the slum so walking through it for community mobilisation is difficult. The bamboo work for the store fronts - which we should have started earlier and finished sooner - has stalled.
- The combination of unpaved streets, open defecation by people, and gatherings of cows don't make for sanitary or pleasant work conditions. Everyone's falling sick.
- It makes me wonder, should be spending my time helping build public health related urban infrastructure instead?
There are currently 15 automatic sewing machines stowed in one of the apartments that we've rented for our project. The other apartment houses our office rooms, and a small-scale spice making unit - pulverizer, manual plastic package sealer, weighing machine, packaging material, sieves and other paraphernalia for sorting spices. Unfortunately the electrical wiring for these residential apartments wouldn't be able to withstand the electrical load that would be generated if we operated all these machines. In fact, just operating the pulverizer is causing the electricity to trip.
So we decided to convert the electrical power supply for this building to three phase. Once that is done, we'll be able to get the tailoring training underway, and start some small-scale production of garments, home furnishings, and the like. But this has already taken us 3-4 weeks. Our program coordinator had to go every single day to the relevant local public authority, do the paperwork and pay the deposit. The house owner had to speak with residents of the 2 other apartments in the building, and do more paperwork. Then the public official in question got transferred and a new person came in his stead, so much of the discussion had to be re-done.
And of course, everybody in the region will be off work this Friday through Sunday or even Monday. It's a big festival here in Orissa and everyone's off to their villages to visit family. So no electricians or government officials will be available after 5pm on Thursday.
It's slow. It is what it is.