Of Medieval Villages and a Thirst for Self-Reliance

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So we left Mumbai at 35 degrees Celsius for Kashmir in the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) for as low as -3 degrees Celsius.  The mountains and valleys of a beautiful picturesque landscape makes this area of India a paradise, though you would think you are in some medieval village in the UK that you see in the movies.     J & K lies on the border of India with Pakistan and China; it has been the centre of border disputes between India and Pakistan and as such has a major military presence.  On arrival at the Srinagar airport, you are not only hit by the low temperatures but also by police and military monitoring all of the foreign visitors like a hawk.  Thankfully, we were travelling with Vaishali M., the head of the Operations Audit Team at KSWA’s Yuva Parivartan so we had a local with Samy Emam and I.

Now if I thought visiting the rural areas in Maharashtra was remote I was in for a new adventure in Kashmir. Firstly, some of these villages are so remote they don’t even interact with any outsiders and in other regions they are right at the border with Pakistan so due to safety concerns we were not allowed to venture to those villages. On that day, we had an outing to the Gulmarg Gondola, and I must say though it was not my first time seeing snow, it was still breathtaking to see the snow capped mountains and have some fun time.

Snow capped mountains in Gulmarg

Snow capped mountains in Gulmarg

At the summit in Gulmarg

At the summit in Gulmarg

It was really great to see the enthusiasm shown by these young women and the young men being trained by our partnerships in Kashmir.  The students were clamouring for more camps ( Mobile Rural Livelihood Centres) and wanting to have other courses like basic computer and tailoring as they wanted to be self-reliant.  Secondly, these training camps were really a big deal for the students as most of the villages do not have schools going past the 8th Standard thus anyone wanting to do further education would need to travel very far to get to another school, or they have to relocate and live with a family member in another area with an upper secondary (high) school.  Kherwadi Social Welfare Association’s Yuva Parivartan camps in Kashmir are fully sponsored, this means that the youth in this area are given a great opportunity to learn a skill free of cost.

Apple Packaging at an orchard in Kashmir

Apple Packaging at an orchard in Kashmir

The majority of courses conducted via camps in Kashmir are not done in any other area due to the uniqueness of the territory.  Courses like Medicinal Plants, Apple Packaging, Kashmiri Handicrafts, and Jari designs on prayer mats are not taught in any of the other states that Yuva Parivartan is located.

As a visitor, I was awed by the beauty of Kashmir, and I was not surprised by the kind hospitality of the Kasmiri people as that is a general trait I have found in India.  These field visits have made me even prouder to be associated with Yuva Parivartan as they continue to provide livelihood for underprivileged school dropouts in India.

Yolando and Vaishali battling the cold while working in Anantnag, I am using a Kangri (an earthen bowl with hot coals; used to keep warm in freezing temperatures).

Yolando and Vaishali battling the cold while working in Anantnag, I am using a Kangri (an earthen bowl with hot coals; used to keep warm in freezing temperatures).