Silpa Kaza: Community-Driven Public Services
Mid-Year Public Progress Report
Silpa Kaza graduated with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from MIT in 2007 and a Masters in Economics from the London School of Economics in 2008. For her fellowship year, Silpa will be partnered with Sahjeevan, focusing on a number of projects designed to alleviate public health issues in the in the urban slums, including a solid waste management program and a safe drinking water initiative.
NGO & Community Background
Sahjeevan is an NGO in Bhuj, Gujarat focusing on natural resources management in the Kutch region. It links society with technology, building relationships with communities and collaborating to integrate traditional and modern methods of natural resource management. The organization connects communities with technical resources, and monitors progress within the community until the projects are sustainable. Sahjeevan has focused on the rural areas of Kutch for approximately twenty years. In the past few years, it has begun working in urban areas as well.
Sahjeevan has four main units: Water, Renewable Energy, Animal Husbandry, and Urban. The first three units focus on the rural poor in their respective areas of expertise, and the urban unit works in the city of Bhuj and its slums on drinking water and solid waste management projects. One of the reasons that Sahjeevan developed an Urban team is because of the toll the 2001 Bhuj earthquake took on the city.
The communities I interact with through Sahjeevan consist of slums in the outskirts of Bhuj, sakhis (group of women that collect waste from households), staff at other NGOS, and the local government. Earlier in my fellowship I spent quite a bit of time in the slum communities where Sahjeevan works on drinking water projects. While there was a language barrier (not just Gujarati, but also local Kutchi) I was able to build relationships with a few women in one of the slums called Kumbarvaas. Even now when Nita a co-worker and friend that works on the drinking water projects announces that she is going to Kumbarvaas, I jump on the bike with her. We see Aminaben and Upsana and how the community continually progresses towards managing their own water resources. I also used to spend time earlier with sakhis. Sahjeevan and another NGO, Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) both work training these women and monitoring their work. I used to spend time with sakhis in the morning before they began their route, and while work has disrupted our regular meetings, I hope to spend more time with them through a new project.
The community I live in is Darji where every single household has a tailor. All of the men in the community are tailors and all of the women embroider as their livelihood. My NGO is not a presence in this community, but I start and end every day here. Most of the girls embroider Of those who attended school, most were pulled out by the 7th standard. The boys are sent to school for longer, but it is expected they will also tailor once they complete school. The community is vibrant and close-knit, and has welcomed me into their family.
I currently focus on two projects – one relating to water and one to solid waste management.
The water project is a study of the water governance and distribution system of Bhuj. There is a water crisis in the region of Kutch, due to the heavy dependence on groundwater in this arid region. In Bhuj, the Municipal Corporation provides water for its citizens, but it does so in an uneven manner, distributing more to some and not at all to others. This study serves to understand the current water governance and distribution systems. It hopes to provide a factual platform where a discussion with the community can begin. It also serves to consider decentralized water systems as a potential solution for the citizens of Bhuj. The study originally consisted of collecting data from secondary sources (i.e. Municipal Corporation, Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited, Arid Communities and Technologies) on the rules and regulations of water governance, the current and potential water sources, the distribution process, the purification process, and the finances related to maintaining the water distribution system. The study has expanded to include a household survey/dialogue component and a case study on decentralized water systems managed in Bhuj. The household survey/dialogue will consist of community meetings where an information exchange can occur and Sahjeevan can aid the community to address their own water needs. The case study of decentralized water systems in Bhuj will enable Sahjeevan to understand both best practices and pitfalls faced by areas managing their own water system. It will also analyze how it compares to the Municipal Corporation’s services.
The objective of the solid waste management project is to understand the current waste situation in Bhuj and strategize a long term vision for solid waste management. Currently much of the waste generated, both organic and non-organic, is thrown out onto the streets, consumed by cows and dogs wandering the streets, sorted through by rag pickers, eventually ending up at a dumping site. Sahjeevan and KMVS have worked together to create and implement a door-to-door household waste collection system for approximately half of Bhuj; however, this is only one step of the solid waste management process. Sahjeevan has taken the initiative to take a step back and analyze the current situation to be more proactive. This project will consist of first understanding the current waste generation and management system in Bhuj and then using this information to create a long term strategy with partner organizations in Bhuj.
The best part of these projects is knowing that I am contributing to the foundation of integral systems in Bhuj. Both water and solid waste management affect the health and well being of our planet and its people. Being a part of these projects every day excites me. This spark has pushed me to be more environmentally conscious and appreciate the diverse ecosystems that surround us. The speakers, issues, communities and ecosystems that Sahjeevan has exposed me to have left an impression on me. I hope to turn these impression into action in Bhuj and in the US once I return.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
Both of the studies are underway, and hopefully will be mostly or fully complete by the time I leave.
I consider the water study to be broken into three sections: collecting secondary source data, speaking with the community, and understanding case studies of decentralized water management systems in Bhuj. The first portion of the study is almost complete, with one interview pending. We have interviewed many involved in the water management system from the systems engineer to the main well operator. We have better understood how water distribution in Bhuj works. The immediate next steps for this project are to finish collecting information on water governance in Bhuj and its related finances, and to visit areas in Bhuj that manage and distribute water sources independently of the Municipal Corporation. The last step will be the crucial and the most time consuming – dialogue with citizens. The hope is to create a structure in Bhuj with water committees with whom Sahjeevan can have a two-way exchange. The citizens will voice their concerns regarding the water they receive and Sahjeevan can inform them about the current water distribution structure and water situation in Kutch.
Solid Waste Management
This study consists of researching the solid waste management situation in Bhuj, researching potential options, preferably with income generating aspects, and strategizing with partners for a long term plan for solid waste management based on Sahjeevan’s study. Researching the current situation in Bhuj is about half complete, with the household survey of approximately 250 properties finished, and the garbage analysis-understanding its amount and composition-and interviewing of remaining stakeholders pending. We intend to interview the Solid Waste Management Officer at the Municipal Corporation, people that recycle, sakhis, etc. The Urban team has created an initial plan for the garbage study which should be implemented within the next two months. This is quite a large task, as it consists of gathering waste from over 3000 properties multiple times to ensure accurate and statistically sound data. Once this task is complete, then the team will gather the remaining information by interviewing. Based on the information our team gathers on the waste situation in Bhuj, we will research potential solid waste management options for Bhuj. I hope to be planning a long-term vision with our partners before I leave Bhuj. Sahjeevan and KMVS have already made a huge impact in local solid waste management. This has motivated residents, the local government and all of us to completely revamp how waste is generated and handled in Bhuj.
These past six months have enabled me to understand Bhuj, its ecology and the role of waste. Local realities quickly taught me that my ideas for water and waste management were not appropriate. The experience of living in Bhuj, being exposed to issues through Sahjeevan and my interactions in a high level of Gujarati at a much high level have empowered me to appreciate my experience and move forward.
On a personal level, there are ideas that have yet to be turned into action both in my community and within my organization. One of these includes learning more about why people in my community do not have taps but open pipes that cause more waste, and taking action together with the community. Another involves implementing a training at my NGO with my team on aligning our daily habits to the environmentally conscious philosophy of the organization. I’d also like to set and example and pick up trash around my neighborhood regularly, since it usually just ends up where the cows eat it and it eventually gets burned. I also hope to plan more activities with the children in my neighborhood.
I chose to serve as an Indicorps Fellow because I wanted to immerse myself at the grassroots level, learning how to work with communities and, in the process, more about myself. I thought it would enable me to understand development through a perspective that can only be gained by doing. While I did expect the Fellowship to impact me personally, this year has unfolded far differently than I imagined. I thought my personal growth meant learning more about myself as I had arrived here. Instead, Indicorps and this Fellowship have challenged me to be more aware of how I approach life and challenge myself to approach it from a place of love and consistency through my actions. Indicorps has encouraged us to think big, take risks, grow from failure, and lead from within.
I have become more conscious of my actions, and have learned to balance them to achieve the outcomes I wish to inspire. I am still learning how when it is that I should learn to rely on others and when to change myself internally to make something happen. This year has made me question my thinking, especially when faced with something negative and I am able to choose how to think. A personal challenge that has enabled this change was being struck by typhoid for almost 2.5 months of my fellowship. By staying at home and resting, I felt powerless and unable to contribute to my community and at work. My physical weakness led to a process of questioning of all the actions I had taken and planned to take. Dealing wit negative thoughts and physical powerlessness head on ended up making me stronger since I had the power to change how I thought. I had the power to act in a way to make myself happy and that I owed it to myself to love myself. I realized that the best thing I could do for my community was to take time to rest and take care of myself; investing in myself meant that I could contribute more as a stronger individual.
My co-fellows in Bhuj have been an amazing influence on me to push myself as an individual and as a member of society. There is a quote by David Foster Wallace from one of the Indicorps readings, “learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think,” that resonated with me. That reading, and more importantly Asha, one of my co-fellows, have inspired me to assume the best in others. Her ability to trust others, share her love, and constantly make her space beautiful is incredible and I admire her greatly for it. Her faith in me and my actions has made me question how I perceive others and has made me give the benefit of the doubt to most situations. Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious and have made me realize how beautiful expressive inner energy can be. Alykhan, my other co-fellow, has encouraged me to shine and give voice to my thoughts. He turned our shared weakness into a productive force so that we could both become stronger individuals together. Working together has allowed for growth from each other in addition to growth from our communities and experiences.
I have noticed positive changes in myself that include being a force of love and an energetic optimism, searching for beauty in chaos that normally overwhelms, and identifying with other perspectives. I know there are more aspects of myself that I can push to improve on if I let down my inhibitions. I want to make the most of the rest of my fellowship trying to do so. I am still making my way towards finding my center and hope to be closer by the end of the year.
I want to build on the lessons I have learned and this experience after the fellowship by going to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for a Masters in Public Administration and International Development. I hope to develop a varied perspective and accumulate knowledge on approaching development as a practioner to make a larger impact. I already know that how this fellowship has begun to reshape me and will remain far beyind my coming learnings, because the change is now within me.
Silpa Kaza, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow