Uttarakhand in India is home to our oldest and largest Cluster, made up of forty-seven healthcare organisations in the foothills of the Himalayas. Fresh from last week’s AGM, Cluster Mobiliser RAJ KUMAR shared his reflections on the last twelve months with Jake Lloyd.
Jake: So you've just returned from the AGM. What are you most proud of over the last year?
Raj: Well as you know disability is at the heart of our work. We have many programmes with that in mind, but over the last year we started our Livelihood Programme. The ultimate focus of this is to train disabled people on agriculture, horticulture and income generation, and so help them become independent members of mainstream society. It’s been really great! In the past it’s been difficult really to work at the grassroots with disability, but this programme gives me pride, because that’s what it does: it focuses on real people with real problems. I feel good about it because the help is targeted towards the people who need it.
J: So is the idea that they receive help growing produce and then selling it?
R: Yes. Nine different programmes in our Cluster identified five different families in their community, in which there were disabled people who might benefit from the project. We then designed the project based on their disabilities. The idea is that whatever the disabled people choose [to grow], our team then links their produce to the market, so that they get income back, and so all the profits go to the people producing it. So we create this supply chain.
J: What do they grow?
R: All sorts! Rice, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, brinjal, chicken.
J: And where do they produce the food?
R: Given their disability, it is difficult for them to cultivate large areas of land. So the idea is that they grow it where they live: on their terrace, in their garden, or beside their kitchen. So they just need a small piece of land and they can do it there.
J: It sounds great - I love growing food in my own garden. What else has your Cluster done this last year?
R: We’ve prepared and trained people who work in the church with some medical knowledge that they can use as they serve their communities [read more on that here]. Another focus is our tobacco control programme - tobacco use is a serious concern in India.
J: Is there ignorance about the harm that tobacco can do?
R: Yes. We have a team in our Cluster who’ve been trained in this field. So they are out there training other Cluster members as well, so that more people will be equipped and would be able to train others. So disability inclusion, supporting church leaders and tobacco control are the three main ways we try to impact our society.
J: And in terms of impacting your society, what are some of the challenges your Cluster has faced these last twelve months?
R: I would say that – as a Cluster of forty-seven programmes – my personal challenge is keeping us all together. Some programmes are more active than others, but if all of us come together to support each other, then we can meet everyone’s training needs, like on palliative care, or tobacco control. But this is a challenge, because every programme has its own priorities and agendas.
J: So how do you keep everyone connected?
R: Well I spend some days in the office, but other days I am out visiting programmes. If I get to know them, and what they do, and circulate this information within our group, people know that if they need to learn something, they know where to go. Or an organisation might come to me saying that they want to do something about tobacco control, and I can say that ‘ah there is this one NGO that is doing it and which can provide you with some training’ and I get them connected. So that’s how my routine goes.
J: I imagine that would be satisfying – getting to know all these people and different organisations, and then when somebody needs help with something you can just point them in the right direction?
R: Yes it is!
J: So we’ve just looked back a bit at the last year. What about the future? What will the next 12 months bring for the Uttarakhand Cluster?
R: The first challenge is to carry on our current projects. That’s always the first target. But another thing that’s become clear lately is that we need to work on the spiritual life of our organisations and our people. When our members go out into the field to do their social work and health work, we feel like our spirituality is important for us to grow. We are going to have an L2L [a ‘Linking To Learn’ training day] soon on that subject. We want to glorify God through whatever activity we are doing, but we can’t be drained-out spiritually, and we believe that this spiritual strength will impact our work and the lives of the people we serve in our community.
J: Yours is the first Cluster – and the biggest – and so others are keen to learn from you. What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned in this Cluster? What is the key to your continued success?
R: The most important thing is simple: that we can do more together than apart. Time and again, our Cluster provides good learning for member organisations, because we share our skills. So, people can learn something, and go back to their organisation excited, and more able to impact that organisation’s work. As for the key to this success, I would say it is leadership: our leaders here are humble, they relate to all people, they make people comfortable, and this holds the Cluster together. It makes all Cluster members feel they are part of what we do: that they are not just an invitee, but they feel they have a role, they feel that they are given importance. So this Cluster is being held together by good leadership. It keeps us moving.