Colourful sari scarves from my photoshoot last week

scarves

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Pictures from Christmas at RIDE

In a hurry to catch a flight now, but wanted to get the pictures up beforehand so you can all see them. We ended up giving gifts and dresses/shorts to approx 250 children, all associated with RIDE, many of whom live on hand-me-downs so to receive their own dress was a very special occasion! We also added a few little extras; balloons, tea, cake, and a little toy car or bangles. Mad and hectic day but oh so rewarding!

Enjoy the pictures!  Emma x

Weighing up our Christmas loot!

Thanks to the generosity of the Sew Scrumptious ‘Dress a Girl’ campaign, along with donations from family and friends, we are proud to say we have a huge amount of clothes to distribute to the children at RIDE‘s 2nd Christmas bash (you can read about RIDE’s 1st Christmas Here)!

The parcel of clothes arrived last week. All the hand made dresses and shorts (made by people in the UK) are just so cute I couldn’t help but start photographing them. I was on my own, looking through the suitcases, and just had to share the excitement! I couldn’t photograph all of them, there’s about 150 dresses and 70 shorts, but they really are all beautiful, even more so because they are made with love.

As with last year, we will be gathering children selected by RIDE organisation, they will include children from RIDE’s Love to Learn project and those who are living at the orphanage. We are looking at up to 150 children, that’s more than last year eeekkkk!

The afternoon will start with some fun and games (I’d like to say organised but not sure it will be), followed by tea and cake. We will distribute the wonderful clothes and take as many pictures as we can so we can share the day with those who made it possible.

The remainder of the clothes will be distributed by RIDE in the coming weeks, during their regular visits to smaller, local charities, and amongst targeted groups and villages.

Dirty White Gold : The film set to make waves

Image from Dirty White Gold film

Ethical fashion advocates have been pushing organic cotton into the spotlight for some years now, even a few mainstream retailers have committed to switching some production to organic. H&M has been the biggest user of organic cotton since 2010. But how many consumers actually know why conventional cotton is bad, and organic good? A new film in the pipeline is setting out to raise awareness of just such issues, and make some waves across the whole supply chain along the way.

The producers of the film Dirty White Gold are giving the public the chance to be a part of the change by asking them to directly support the making of this ground-breaking film.

What are the issues?

The people affected most by conventional farming practices are farmers and farming communities who work and live with these chemical pesticides on a daily basis. Serious health issues caused by inhalation of pesticides are common There are also major adverse affects on the natural environment and complete destruction of delicate eco-systems. These issues and many more face thousands of small scale Indian farmers caught up in the cycle of conventional cotton farming.

All farming started as organic, reliant on well balanced eco-systems. Then came some clever representatives who persuaded farmers that using chemical pesticides and GM seeds would bring them greater crops. Excited by this huge potential many farmers converted.

The sad truth is that although they may experience increased yield initially, the pests build up resistance and the farmers are forced to use more and more chemicals to sustain their crops. After a few harvests the natural ecosystem becomes so damaged that any benefits provided by the once rich soil has completely disappeared, creating a total reliance on chemical fertilisers, pesticides and GM seeds.

Just a small number of multinational agro chemical companies control all sale and distribution of pesticides, seeds and chemical fertilisers in India and across the world. They have the power to control the market and create demand for their products, increasing prices as they wish. The farmers have no choice but to pay, they must purchase their seeds.

While the majority of organic farmers use local seeds stored from their previous harvest, the pesticide reliant farmers must purchase seeds from the same companies selling them their pesticides. And there is no guarantee of a good harvest; if the crop fails the farmer has no come back on the companies who supplied the seeds. They must start over again by purchase and re-sowing more seeds.

The ever increasing price of seeds and pesticides, along with failing crops, are causing farmers to get into spiralling debt. They are leading simple, rural lives and do not have the knowledge or power to challenge the system they find themselves in. They take loans to pre-pay for their seeds and chemicals, and when their crops fail, many have taken their own lives with the same chemicals that had promised them a better future. The irony is sickening.

Organic Cotton – a way out?

Organic cotton farming is one way to stop the heavy reliance on chemicals, but converting to organic is a transitional process which takes up to five years. Only then can ‘organic’ status be applied for. Many consumers are aware of organic cotton, but at the moment there is little awareness of ‘transitional’ cotton; cotton on the journey to become organic. One other lesser known classification is ‘better cotton’, identifying that not all farmers will have all the right conditions to produce organic cotton, but still want to work within improved ecological systems.

For farmers to consider converting to organic they need to see the financial benefit. This can often be gained through the higher premium offered for organic cotton, but at the moment there are few companies who pay high premium for ‘in transition’ or ‘better’ cotton. Education is needed to show farmers the wider benefits of pursuing more sustainable farming practices which include increased health, more fertile land, possible crop diversity, no reliance on third party, possible self sufficiency and less financial risk. But going organic or making said improvements is not an easy process and requires an initial capital investment which for many is enough to scare them off. It also involves re-learning farming and eco-systems which will differ from farm to farm, depending on their location, availability of water and many other factors.

The solution?

If governments and multinationals put as much effort into supporting the organic movement as they do into promoting, supporting and selling chemicals and GM seeds to farmers we would no longer have a problem. But that may well be the problem; multinational agro chem companies are happy travelling to all these remote farms promoting and selling their own brands as they get a nice financial return.

But who will pay for the organic farming training programs? The Indian government? it is the government who for many years have been offering subsidies on chemical fertilisers. Earlier this year they announced that they would reduce the subsidies on chemical fertilisers to encourage the use of more ecological fertilisers. But this kind of action needs to go hand in hand with educating the farmers about the alternative options, otherwise it is just taking more from those already reliant on chemical fertilisers.

The team behind the film ‘Dirty White Gold’ have decided enough is enough, they are out to make some waves by exposing the truth about conventional cotton production and its link to the many thousands of farmers committing suicide in India.

I hope this film can not only raise consumer awareness on the cost of cotton, but also ask serious questions about why only a handful of companies are allowed to control the livelihoods of vulnerable farmers. It is too late for so many, but this film has the potential to instigate lasting change. The more people involved and backing it, the harder it will be for those in power to wriggle out of their responsibilities.

Dirty White Gold : The Cotton Film:

This film will illustrate the horrific fiscal and physical effects of pesticides on cotton production, explore the viability of fairtrade and organic alternatives and try to prove that you don’t have to look like a patchouli-scented 60s throwback to have an ethical fashion industry.

Filmed in the fields and factories of India and the high streets and catwalks of London, this film and campaign incorporates reportage, video montage, direct action, artistic intervention and a multi-platform transmedia distribution plan. It will call for supply chain transparency across cotton industries….

Here is a great article from Urban Times which gives an overview of the film, including interview with the director Leah Borromeo. CLICK HERE

You can show your support by sponsoring the film : CLICK HERE

And follow Dirty White Gold on FACEBOOK

Here are a few links to further information on the subject:

PAN North America : Chemical Cartel – This is a real eye opener, we should be worried.

Times of India – Farmer Suicides You just need to search on Times of India for farmer suicide to see the scale of the issue.

PAN Europe – Pesticide Campaign Lots of info about pesticides including health and environmental risks.

EJF Foundation – Have you picked yours carfully EJF campaign for organic cotton and have evidenced the negative impacts of pesticide use.

Article: Greenpeace and farmers welcome government plan to shift subsidy from chemical fertilisers to ecological fertilisation

People Tree – Organic Cotton Fibre – Comparison between conventional and organic cotton.

Power of the Senses

Yesterday RIDE (Rural Institute for Development Education), the NGO I am volunteering with, hosted a program for a group of which included both visually impaired and blind participants from Austria. The day was enriching for all those involved and began with children from RIDE’s school presenting some of their recent work to the group, sing songs, rhymes and recite text in English. I was then given the opportunity to explain the work RIDE does and answer questions from the group, imparting some of the things I had learnt about the weaving communities, child labour, customs and village life.

In the afternoon they were taken to a local village where they were given the opportunity to wander freely, meet locals and get a taste of village life. They also participated in a variety of activities including a visit to the silk worm farm, visit to a silk weavers house, and a visit to some of the more remote temples around Kanchipuram.

The groups own tour guide did a fantastic job relaying the unique visual experience of travelling around India to those who were partially sighted or blind. Describing the landscape around, the dramatic colours, the ever present ‘cow in the road’. The experience gave me a renewed sense of wonder. When we have had visitors stay with us for the first time it is always amazing to see India through their eyes. Spending time with this group made me ‘see’ it differently again, with the senses rather than the eyes. India is a full on attack of the senses; the noise, the smells, the piles of rubbish, the heat, if you can get through this initial onslaught I guarantee you can learn to love it!

A humbling day at work

This week RIDE (Rural Institute for Development Education) carried out a program for a group of 15 women who are all day labourers from the village of Arpakkam in Kanchipuram, in order to make contact with these women while also giving me the opportunity to learn first hand about their lives. The women work mainly in agriculture and sometimes stone quarries and struggle to get work on a daily basis. The process for labourers to get work on a daily basis is to stand at a collection point first thing in the morning and wait for a land owner to come and offer work. The landowner will chose their workers based on their looks and build alone and if you are not picked you go home.

RIDE provided the women with half a days paid work (paying more than their usual rate) to clear the ground of weeds at the RIDE training centre. I attended to be a part of the later discussions, however could not stand back and watch these women work. So I got the chance to be a day labourer, for all of about 1-2 hours (2 being a very generous estimate) in the searing Indian heat. It was an extremely humbling experience, especially as these women get paid so little for their work. The will usually get paid between 100-150 rupees for a days work (160 rupees = £2) and will only have very short lunch breaks eating basic rice with a watery broth. I suppose you get used to this situation but I don’t see how you can be upbeat, however we were laughing and joking and bonding with one another, the support of the group felt very strong.

At the end of the day RIDE held a discussion with the women to find out about about the problems affecting them and their families. Their main issues were not having a sustainable income, with many only getting work for 1-2 days a week, much less during monsoon rains and flooding. Also, many of the women have husbands who work in the stone quarries and are dependent on alcohol, which is where a lot of their wages end up being spent. Some are also beaten by drunk husbands. One woman told the group that she finds it best not to ask her husband for money or challenge him and instead she makes do with whatever little money he gives her plus whatever she can earn. This highlights how important it is for these women to have their own income in order to support themselves and their children, the majority of whom are now in full time education and changing their future paths. I also heard some enlightening stories from the women, many of whom have continued to send their children to school against all odds, two women have children in higher education and are so enthusiastic about their future prospects.

What is important for RIDE is to have a presence in these women’s lives and for them to know that they have people on their side who they can turn to. Jeyaraj the director of RIDE, gave a talk about human rights so that they may understand a bit more about their rights both at home and within society. They were also given a talk about multi-crop farming and the possibility, even with little land, to grow some vegetables in order to feed their families during hard times.

After the discussion the women were given a free lunch, provided by RIDE and served by RIDE staff, plus a gift of a sari each, donated by members of a local doctors surgery. Most of the women only have one sari which they wear every day so this gift was especially poignant.

Kishkinda Trust women’s empowerment project in Hampi

My partner and I visited Hampi last month and stayed in one of their homestay rooms, living within the village of Anegundi and eating home cooked meals at a local family’s home. The trust has done tremendous work in supporting the local people to realise their true potential, capitalising on the tourist trade passing through Hampi while also staying true to their own roots and cultures. Anegundi is clean, well presented, friendly and happy. While there we saw very few other tourists, and were waved at by almost every child we passed.

I visited the production centre for the Kishkinda Trust craft shop, where they have developed banana fibre production and now produce all kinds of products from bags to sandals. The banana plant is so abundant in India, and at the end of a plants life it is cut right back to make way for new shoots from the root, therefore discarded trunks are in abundance. The Kishkinda Trust manage their own banana plantation providing them with endless potential for products. I don’t think there is one part of the banana plant you can’t use. You can eat the bananas (the obvious one!), the inner stem and the flowers, the leaves are used as plates and to wrap food, and now the fibres from the outer stem are used for a multitude of products!

The production centre supports women from the local Self Help Groups and forms part of a wider female empowerment program. The women are encouraged to develop products themselves and look to really enjoy their work, sitting in groups working away while chatting to one another.

‘At The Kishkinda Trust (TKT) in Anegundi, Conservation empowers communities and creates a way of life that considers culture as an intangible element permeating all activities in life- ranging from functional to ideational-  ecology, cuisine, crafts, design, agriculture, technology, education, markets and festivals.’ The Kishkinda Trust

Children’s day at RIDE’s Sevilimedu school

This week I was invited to accompany Jeyaraj to one of RIDE’s school in Sevilimedu village to participate as guest of honour in their Children’s Day celebrations!

The children, with the help of parents and teachers, dressed up as people of India past and present and included a mini Gandhi, Nehru and other key figures as well as fruit sellers, doctors, flower ladies and more. It was such a fun occasion and the children are so bright and cheerful. A real testament to the success of RIDE’s work!