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India

Meet Kaushalya Bisht

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Sustainability, Interconnectedness, Decentralisation.

Kaushalya Bisht is an Elected Women Representative from Uttarakhand, India, a remote region at the foothills of the Himalayas. The Hunger Project worked with her to develop the skills she needs to make change for her community as a representative through our SWEEP program (Strengthening Women’s Empowerment through Electoral Processes). As part of this program, The Hunger Project trains Elected Women to read, write, speak and lead the political agenda to improve education, health, and nutrition in their villages.

Uttarakhand is the only state in India where village communities come together to protect and nurture their forests by forming forest councils. The forests are a lifeline for women. They provide wood for them to build their houses, dry wood for fires and fodder for their cattle. Ensuring the sustainability of the forests is crucial for survival in the village.

However, in Kaushalya’s village, they hadn’t held elections for the forest council in 15 years.

“We formed a collective of 30 women and decided to revive the forest elections,” Kaushalya said.

“My team of women patrolled the forests. We didn’t allow anyone to cut down the trees. Together, we planted 100,000 trees. We take care of the forests like we do our own children.”

During her term as an Elected Women Representative, Kaushalya made 45,000 kg of paddy seeds available to the farmers and distributed 300 tree samplings to encourage the people in her village to grow trees. For the women in her village, 80% of their farms are across the other side of the river, which means the women have to walk a long distance to their farms. Kaushalya secured the building of a bridge by taking the matter to her village council. She also took action to prevent soil erosion by building 11 check dams (small dams built to reduce water flow velocity) by the river.

“I want my village to continue thriving.”

Kaushalya continues to shape a legacy of protecting the environment and ensuring sustainable change for future generations in her community.

Invest in women like Kaushalya to bring transformation to villages in India here.

 

Why Women are Key to Ending Hunger

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By Rita Sarin, Global Vice President and Country Director of The Hunger Project India.

As a development practitioner working in the field of social development for over 40 years, I am convinced that women-focussed and women-centred strategies are key to ending hunger, poverty and inequity across the globe.

Why do I say so? Let us unpack this.

A major part of my work has been with the elected women representatives to village councils in India and this work has proven that when more women occupy decision-making positions, a mindset of concern and inclusive development for all starts; where women look out for the last person in their communities. Equipped with the right skills, knowledge and processes so they can access systems, women leaders not only become articulate in their vision, thoughts and action but they also strive to leave no stone unturned in achieving the ‘last mile delivery’. By adopting inclusive and equitable development strategies, women leaders tackle the issues of extreme hunger and poverty in their communities, as well as help create and sustain an equal and just society.

Why is it that women leaders adapt certain strategies over their male counterparts?

We all know that women have always centred their actions and lives around their families and communities. As primary caregivers they have always taken actions to meet the basic nutritional needs and health of their families. Therefore, there cannot be a more potent and direct relationship between women’s thoughts, concerns and actions and the wellbeing of their family/community.

Our work has shown that whenever women are in decision-making positions, their first action is to address hunger, malnutrition, hygiene and sanitation in their families and communities, followed by safe drinking water and education. These are the basic needs for any community to survive and develop. Be it food security and nutrition, health, education, sanitation, and now, awareness and support for COVID-19, women leaders are the frontline workers and will remain so no matter what.

Let me state unequivocally that when you empower a woman, the whole village and community develops. If you do not invest in her skills and capacities as the changemaker, generations will suffer from hunger and malnutrition, as is evident today.

To quote one woman leader “We do not allow even our neighbour’s child to sleep without food”. Therefore, the narrative of investing in women to end hunger is as clear as existence itself!

Animators Rise To The COVID-19 Challenge

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Many of you have been curious to hear about how your fellow Animators and Elected Women have been responding to the pandemic. You know better than most people the kinds of challenges they are facing – lack of access to clean water and sanitation, illiteracy and misinformation, long distances from health facilities and more. All this, on top of still dealing with the daily challenge of overcoming your own hunger and poverty. 

We are so proud to say that they have really stepped up to the challenge! 

What we have noticed so clearly is that rather than having a victim mindset or waiting for help to come from outside – which would be so easy to do under the circumstances – due to the years of mindset shift training with THP they have instead adopted a leader mindset and are empowered to take action. 

In fact, we have already seen the 500,000 Animators we’ve trained to date quickly mobilise and respond to COVID-19 with ingenuity and strength at the local level! 

 

Animators Rising To The Challenge – In Numbers

  • 3,326 Tippy Taps installed in villages to bring simple handwashing stations close to the homes of people. Animators have led the education and training in how to properly use them   

A Tippy Tap in Benin.

  • 8,000 Elected Women and 3,600 Adolescent Girls trained by THP formed phone trees and What’s App groups to deliver accurate, easy-to-understand health information to 500,000 people 
  • 9,400 community members participated in specially designed Water, Sanitation and Hygiene workshops so they are personally equipped to prevent the spread 
  • 913 Animators newly trained in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene best practice 
  • 81,414 face masks made and distributed – ‘sewing armies’ have been set up in some areas to learn from one another and keep collectively strong while giving back 

Sewing armies have been set up in Uttarakhand, India to produce face masks to protect against COVID-19.

  • 71,912 kgs of soap and 19,096 kgs of hand sanitiser distributed to people so they can protect themselves and their families 
  • 91 operational health units in action receiving patients for testing and treatment where possible. Animators are mobilising people to get tested if they are showing signs (where testing is available) 
  • 52,399 food rations distributed to those who have been identified by Elected Women as on the brink of absolute destitution. Although THP usually has aNo handouts’ policy, this new idea was put forward by Elected Women who saw the dire need in their villages 
  • 174,797 families receiving community philanthropy (goods and cash), mobilised by Animators in Bangladesh 
  • 87,334 public health leaflets distributed. These have often been translated into local languages or the information is shown in pictures, so that as many people as possible can understand them 

Thousands of pamphlets have been distributed as part of THPB’s information campaign.

 

And these are just the highlights…! We hope you feel as proud as we do to stand alongside our Animators and Elected Women across Africa, India and Bangladesh as they rise to the challenge to reach the 16.5 million people living in THP communities globally. 

 

Want to dive in more? If you’re wondering what the impact of COVID-19 looks like in India for example, we highly recommend watching this episode of Foreign Correspondent which shows how what started as a health crisis has quickly turned into a humanitarian crisis. 

Take Action. If you’re interested and able to, we’d love to partner with you on our COVID-19 response through our Stay In, Reach Out campaign. Go to www.thp.org.au/stayinreachout for more information. 

Life Under Lockdown — On the ‘village frontlines’ in India

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We hope you got a lot out of our discussion last night with Ruchi Yadav and Rachel Akehurst uncovering what life under lockdown in India is like, and how Elected Women are leveraging their years of leadership training with us on the village frontlines.

“We have to be aware of the different layers of the pandemic. It’s a sum of different sub-crises…. I’ve been ignited by this…We’ve said, let’s do something about this.” — Ruchi Yadav, The Hunger Project India. 

For those of you who weren’t able to join us, you can catch up via our recording here [run time 58 minutes].

Our 7 key takeaways from the call:

  • What started as a health crisis has quickly turned into a humanitarian crisis in India: because of the lockdown, many daily wage earners have completely lost their income and with that, their capacity to support themselves and their families. A staggering 140 million migrant workers are travelling from cities back to their rural villages, taking COVID-19 with them.
  • 12 million people in India could be pushed into poverty because of this pandemic – if we don’t act now.
  • The years of training by THP has directly prepared Elected Women to ask themselves ‘what can I do right now?’ (rather than waiting for instruction) and mobilise into immediate action as frontline leaders in this crisis.
  • Elected Women are uniquely placed to respond to specific local needs because they’re already on the ground, they’ve built up trusting relationships over time, and they can identify the most vulnerable people in their communities.
  • Through their established distribution network, they can easily and effectively reach every person in the villages they serve: 8,000 Elected Women together with 3,600 teenage girls have already reached an incredible 500,000 people with accurate health information and resources.
  • THP’s approach has meant we could quickly respond to the greatest need identified by Elected Women, and in an act of partnership we pivoted to extend a lifeline and deliver food parcels to 5,000 families living on the margins.
  • Even in the face of a global pandemic, one of our core principles of Human Dignity has remained at the heart of all our decision-making and actions.

“What did you do when COVID-19 hit? What was your personal legacy?” — Ruchi Yadav, The Hunger Project India. 

 

On the call, Ruchi Yadav alongside our CEO Melanie Noden invited us all to think about how we can leverage the resources we have available to us to connect with others. While staying in to protect yourself and your family, you can still reach out to keep 16.5 million people safe. If you are in a position to, please reach out and invest in our global ‘Stay In, Reach Out’ campaign.

 

Thank you to everyone who has given so far.

As you know, we’re already in action on the ground using these funds to rapidly respond to COVID-19.

In the last few days, a number of generous investors have offered to continue matching dollar for dollar your contributions. This means you still have time to DOUBLE YOUR IMPACT! If you haven’t yet, we invite you to take advantage of this extended matching period and give the equivalent of what you would spend on the things you can’t do right now – like having a beer at the pub, an overnight stay up the coast, or your weekly commute.

An update on our response to COVID-19.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges for the continuation and progress of The Hunger Project’s work throughout Africa, India and Bangladesh. Our innovative and integrated model of community-led development means that communities are empowered with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt and shift to challenging contexts and events with continued support and capacity building from The Hunger Project.

In working to build community resilience, leadership and ownership, our community partners are equipped to continue leading the way in implementing preventative measures to decrease the spread of the virus while supporting households to continue income-generating activities where possible, maintain food and water supply, and follow the advice and guidelines given by their governments.

Africa

  • Health clinics are remaining open. THP-trained Health Animators (local volunteer leaders) are working in partnership with the health clinics to disseminate information household-by-household. Clinics are also continuing to prioritise treatment of those who have serious health conditions and those who are HIV positive.
  • Rural banks are remaining operational where possible during this time with additional sanitation, safety and security measures in place.
  • Across each of our Epicentres, we are working with Animators and Epicentre Project Officers to continue our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene trainings and workshops. More than ever before, this program is vital to protecting our communities. In Benin for example, 1,200 Tippy Taps have been installed to increase the accessibility of hand washing facilities.

School students in Benin learning how to use Tippy Taps.

India

  • The Hunger Project is committed to working closely during the COVID-19 pandemic with Elected Women Representatives (EWR’s) across the 6 states where we already work. A task force has been established to get in touch remotely with every single EWR, as well as the Adolescent Girls Program participants, to spread awareness about keeping safe from COVID-19 and ensure no one is left behind. So far, they have reach 500,000 people!
  • The main priority is for every last person in The Hunger Project’s communities to have accurate information and understand what to do in the current situation.
  • EWR’s are active in monitoring the distribution of government entitlements, overseeing quarantine efforts and ensuring people are observing lockdown rules and sanitation.

EWR’s rallying to spread accurate information about COVID-19 to their communities. 

Bangladesh

The Hunger Project’s model of community-led development means that it is in a unique position where work is implemented by volunteers on the ground in villages. Volunteers are working to:

  • Mobilise thousands of community members via raising awareness with factual and accurate information on COVID-19
  • Provide sensitisation training on washing hands, good hygiene and social distancing – including the provision of soap where possible (pictured)
  • Ensure that people who are eligible for government support are connected to these benefits, and that people who are ineligible are instead connected with other locally available philanthropy funds

Providing soap to community members in Bangladesh. 

 

On the campaign trail in India.

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Rajasthan recently wrapped up the local council election season in January 2020. Women stepped out to exercise their rights as equal citizens, both as candidates (old and new) and informed voters. The participation of women in the election process continues to steadily rise.
It is mandated by law in India that one-third of all seats for village council leaders be held by women. However, the majority of these women are unprepared to participate due to a lifetime of subjugation, illiteracy, and very little experience in public, let alone leading a life in the public eye. In addition, the people in power often don’t want them to lead.
The Hunger Project works with these Elected Women Representatives to enable them to leverage their positions to create change in their communities. As part of this initiative, we work with women in the pre-election stage, identifying potential leaders and working with them on campaigns, community engagement and training.

Local council candidates taking a break after voting. Image credit: Surbhi Mahajan

Now, an increasing amount of women are running for positions in the council.

There is conflict, camaraderie and candour, there is some anger for being ignored all these years, and there is hope. These women candidates are reclaiming their right to be heard and a seat at the table. This increased awareness about the potential of women to lead has helped many candidates journey through a hostile terrain of election campaigning. 

Women waiting in line to vote. Image credit: Sujata Khanna 
As The Hunger Project India supported women candidates on their campaign trail across three councils, they realised that for many who participated in the electoral process, it wasn’t about winning or losing. Instead, it was about challenging gendered stereotypes that have defined what women can or cannot do for too long, and questioning caste hierarchies and unequal power.
Candidate Shahida Bano said, “They want to show us our ‘place’, we will continue to show up. We refuse to be overlooked.”   
How does our strategy of training Elected Women Representatives in India actually enable transformation in communities? Meet Sunita.
Feature image credit: Surbhi Mahajan

Meet Kaushalya Bisht, an elected woman saving the forests in India

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Kaushalya Bisht is a council President in Uttarakhand. After training with The Hunger Project, she is now leveraging public office to refocus attention on the issue of preserving the forests.  

“In the mountains, forests are a lifeline for women. The wood from the forest is what we use to build our houses and for firewood. The fodder for our cattle also comes from the forest. We formed a collective of 30 women and decided to revive the forest council elections. We look after the forest like our own children.” 

Deforestation and climate change are endangering the forests. Kaushalya passionately speaks about access to forest resources, equity, and justice. She is setting up forest councils to protect the forest for generations to come. This is her story:

Video credit: The Hunger Project India, Black Ticket Films.

Would you put your life on the line to save your community?

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One of the bravest forms of protest I’ve ever heard of was conducted by the women of a village in Uttarakhand. Led by their fearless leader Basanti, a group of empowered women took matters into their own hands to stop a truck, driven by a criminal cartel, carrying bootleg alcohol into their village.

They stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the middle of the road, physically blocking the truck with their own bodies.

These women said they would rather risk their lives than live in fear.

Women in Uttarakhand know that illegal alcohol is killing their husbands and sons. In February this year, just as I was visiting Uttarakhand, 70 people had died in the area after drinking a batch of tainted illegal alcohol.

Bootleg liquor is also directly linked to the dramatically high domestic violence rates in the region – a place where systemic violence against women has created a belief in women that men are allowed to hit their wives. 47% of women, and 42% of men, believe husbands are permitted to beat their wives.

Social inequality exacerbates and prolongs the devastating cycle of hunger and poverty, and impacts both women and men. To bring about a sustainable end to hunger once and for all, the gender discrimination that has been entrenched in Basanti’s community for generations must be eradicated.

The Hunger Project’s women’s leadership workshops in India are interrupting long-held, harmful social norms and gender roles that bar women from being active, valued community members.

Upon graduation from the workshops, women like Basanti become fierce leaders and champions of sustainable change in their communities. By opening the women up to the leadership and abilities already lying within them, Basanti and others go to great lengths in putting their lives on the line to eliminate social inequality and hunger from their villages forever. They look for the root causes of issues – and work to address them, in order to bring about lasting change.

You can make a difference to the people of Uttarakhand: stand with Basanti and invest in The Hunger Project. In doing so, you will enable even more champions of change to lift their villages out of hunger in a sustainable way.

Yours in ending hunger,

Melanie Noden

CEO, The Hunger Project Australia

 

A place where animals are more protected than women

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There is a place I visited recently where women are sent into forests to collect fodder to feed their livestock – despite farmers keeping their cows out of the very same forests for fear that their precious livestock will be eaten by tigers.

This is also a place where every second person you speak to believes a man is allowed to beat his wife.

The place I’m describing is in the state of Uttarakhand, high in the Himalayan mountains and distant from any infrastructure and key education or health services – where the stories you hear constantly remind you of the deep-rooted inequality and persistent hunger.

This way of life is not sustainable, for anyone. It keeps women subjugated,  isolated and discriminated against; men disenfranchised, abusing their power and turning to illegal alcohol for respite; forests decimated because the trees are sold off to big corporations with no benefit to the local community; and the cycle of hunger keeps on turning, as it has for generations gone by.

The cycle continues because to date, solutions have always been band-aid fixes, and have never been addressed in a sustainable way. A holistic approach has never been taken to social, economic and environmental issues.

The Hunger Project is partnering with champions of change to create sustainable solutions to ending their hunger. In fact, sustainability is a core principle of The Hunger Project’s work, and is key to any solution we implement in partnership with the community.

One champion of change in Uttarakhand is Basanti – a pioneer of long-term solutions, a symbol of hope and optimism, a fierce warrior protecting her people and her land.

Basanti is evidence that norms are shifting, and that – while not inevitable – it is possible to replace band-aid fixes with sustainable solutions.

On the 16th of May, we’ll share more about how you can stand with Basanti – and together put an end to lives being risked, harm being done to women, and devastating hunger and poverty.

Yours in ending hunger,

 

 

Melanie Noden

CEO, The Hunger Project Australia

3 things that will end hunger for good

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The Hunger Project’s innovative and holistic approach to ending world hunger calls for the empowerment of rural communities in India, Africa and Bangladesh to take charge of their own development, transform entrenched harmful traditional practices and beliefs, and be active citizens who know their rights and hold government to account.

All of our programs – while adapted to meet local opportunities and challenges – share three essential things that will end hunger for good:

1) Start by empowering women as key change agents

The vast majority of people living in hunger and poverty are women. Women bear almost all responsibility for meeting the basic needs of the family, yet are systematically denied the resources, information and freedom of action they need to fulfil this responsibility.

Studies show that when women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits. Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase. That’s why we focus on building the capacity of women.

2) Mobilise entire communities into self-reliant action

Our aim is to overcome the deep resignation within people living in hunger, and awaken them to the possibility of a different future, one free from hunger. We build people’s knowledge, skills and leadership, so they can take action to improve their own communities.

3) Foster effective partnerships to engage local government 

We work in partnership with local government bodies to ensure that they are effective, include women in leadership positions, are directly accountable to local people, and provide access to resources and information. We also educate and encourage communities to demand what they’re entitled to from their governments, including services, resources and financial schemes and benefits.

You can read more in our 2017 Global Investor Report.