Harish T. Mohan works as a Mechanical Design Engineer in AMMACHI Labs. He has a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering and Masters degree in Environmental Engineering. Currently he is traveling all over in India on an assignment with Women Empowerment -Sanitation Project. Here’s a Q/A with Harish!
One whole year living in the remotest villages in India, and still going strong ?
Field assignments in the villages always thrilled me. I am a people’s person and would love to work in the society in real life situations and deal with real life crisis and find solutions. Before joining AMMACHI Labs I was a Project Engineer at a Bangalore NGO which was devoted to promoting sustainable development through technological interventions. AMMACHI Labs’ Women Empowerment -Sanitation project gave me an opportunity to volunteer myself and go on assignments in the 101 villages adopted by Mata Amritanadamayi Math. And I am enjoying this task taking a break from engineering and research works.
How was the very first expedition and what was the inspiration ?
My first assignment was in Rajasthan. During the train journey towards Hari Rampura village in Rajasthan, I spent two days reading In The Shelter of Her Arms by Gretchen Kusuma McGregor. That reading experience gave me a sense of purpose and certainty.
Hri Rampura, Rajasthan, Nala village near Guptakashi near Utharakhand ,Gutapada village in Odisha, Byse village in Karnataka, Ratanpur in Bihar, Gudipaducheruvu village in Andhra and many more. I have been living in these villages,facilitating Computerized vocational education, Life enrichment education, building toilets and engaging with the rural community.
Tell us more about your village experiences.
Each village is unique and has its own stories ,culture and heritage even though it came from a single structure. As a male specie it was a challenge for me to be actively involved in a project like women empowerment. Conservative nature which forbids women to come out from their comfort zone and apprehension of any possible danger from outsiders especially men coming from different part of the country were strong barriers. I had to spend lots of energy and time to to establish a healthy and personal relationship with the elder women and kids by playing with them,entertaining them by funny conversations and sharing stories. This is how I could connect with the women community in the villages.
All the villages I have been to till now, have accepted me as one among them and made me feel like I am living with my own folks. This is the one thing I am most proud of and giving me strength.
Care to share some stories of the women participants ?
The facilitator we hire in villages are new to an office environment and its system. So our lab took enough attention and considerations to take care of it, each facilitator has her own story on how they came out of just being a house wife to become an inspiration to the village and how other women are getting inspired and joined them learning skill enhancement in the pursuit of a better tomorrow.
Let me tell you about Mausum (our facilitator in Ratanpur village, Bihar). Despite the fact that she hails from a Rajput family, facing all kind of constraints as a married woman , with the help of her husband and family she came forward to participate in the women empowerment sanitation project in her village. This particular project was for the downtrodden Mushar community women. She took the initiative to lead the project in her village against opposition from her upper cast community. She believes, as woman more over as a human being its her duty to help the people in need and this is real worship.
This is the story of one village but there are many Mausums in our rural India. Likewise AMMACHI Labs is taking efforts to train the women participants to help them realize the ability and potential they have within them.
In our women empowerment project we have students in different age and character,a 15 year school drop out urmila from Bihar to Sariya Naik(70) from Odisha. Initially they had some resistance towards interaction but after 2 weeks they accepted me as a brother,friend,well wisher and some as their son.
Another woman who inspired me was Geetha (16) her husband left her in this young age but she came to AMMACHI Labs training sessions to learn the mason job and seeing her confidence during the course made me realize the importance of empowering such abandoned woman.
What about some learning experiences from people you have met with ?
I always took each field visit as an opportunity to learn from the village, how is their life, how do they manage daily chore . Their life is so simple and they know how to give away the things that are not meant for them.
Like the father of our Rajasthan village coordinator Rajeshji , how that old man silently watching the heavy rain,confronting the fact that his hard work, struggle everything going in vain.When hail storm and rain happens 70 % of the crops get destroyed and farmers suffer a huge lose. But rather than being depressed he accepts the reality and move on with his efforts.
And seeing the women doing hardwork through out the day made me realise that there are people who work way harder than me ,
Have you witnessed any social discrimination or oppression during your field days?
In our perspective we may feel like social discrimination are there in the community , but the way I feel is some discrimination is irrelevant for the community and some we may feel it is like that, like purdah and covering the face and lowering voice when elders are around ( like in Rajasthan) . so what my take is giving respect to elders and taking their suggestion in life can be a good thing but feel purdah is an outdated ancient practice.
Do you see any solutions to the problems you have witnessed? How would you approach that kind of a situation?
I tried to do some research on cooking biomass stove, as they where using smoky inefficient stove that hurt them and the people around when it is used. So I tried to build biomass stove with the available materials what I have got around in that village. We had positive results and some went wrong but still I am happy that I tried my level best.
How did the field visits help you to evolve as human being/social worker?
The field visits and the women empowerment project help me to gain value in my life and learn to respect women as I am coming from the Mechanical Department (a typically male dominated and macho environment.)
How have your perceptions changed from the beginning of this project to now?
When I went for my first field job, I was little nervous but was having enough confidence that I have the grace for doing the things that was meant to be done.
Have experiences have really made a positive impact on your personal and professional life?
Spending one whole year in different villages in India has given a new meaning to my life. It taught me rural development is one of the important thing that has to be done in our country and as a citizen more over a human its each and everyone responsibility to be part of it.
What is AMMACHI Labs for you and how it has changed your perception about life?
We have to speed up, spread out more and more. We can start exploring other sectors and deploy as same as we have done in sanitation which we know that will have a great impact on society.
I would like to thank AMMACHI Labs for giving this opportunity to be part of this great movement that is one among the best . I don’t see my village assignments as a job and I believe its my responsibility to help others. I am learning from our inspiration and our everything Satguru Mata Amritanandamayi Devi Amma.