The People of Rural West Bengal Are Planting As Many Trees As | Milaap

The People of Rural West Bengal Are Planting As Many Trees As Possible

On my way back to Kolkata from my week of training in Bangalore the pilot announced that we would be shortly making the decent for the airport.  I looked out the airplane window and noticed a vast and vibrant patchwork quilt of paddy fields below me and it dawned on me that this was the area I would be heading to for the next six months. Before I started this fellowship program with Milaap I had many pre-conceived notions and reservations about the rural communities that surround the bustling metropolis of Kolkata.  I figured that even though I had already lived in Kolkata for a year and knew the language quite well, I was a city-slicker from the U.S. and it would be impossible for me to adapt to life in rural India.  I realized soon that many of my doubts were baseless and that the people of these communities were extremely hospitable and friendly. Within West Bengal Milaap has partnered with a small non-profit micro-finance organization called DCBS (Dhosa Chandaneswar Bratyajana Samity).  Their main goal is to empower the women of rural West Bengal through small loans for enterprise development, solar energy and other areas.  My first trip down to the DCBS headquarters in Dakshin Barasat involved taking the local train which is something I had never done before. I normally avoid them because these trains are notorious for being extremely overpacked and rowdy. Yet it is the most convenient way to get to Dakshin Barasat which is an hour away by train.  It was announced that the train was about to arrive so I casually walked to the platform.  My eyes grew wide when I saw the train rolling in.  Atleast six or seven people were leaning out of the entrance to the train car because there was clearly no room to fit them inside.  I wanted to take a picture of the scene but when the train stopped, the chaos ensued.  Before I could even take my camera out the press of people behind me pushed me up and into the train. I squeezed in with my backpack without even really knowing how I managed to do so.  Once inside the train I realized there was no hope in me finding a seat so I grabbed the nearest hand rail and held on right.  [caption id="attachment_4079" align="aligncenter" width="450"]download Just an average train commute in Kolkata[/caption] I looked around to the people I was squeezed in with and was confused by all the  smug grins and laughter i saw.  I realized that within the train compartment there was a "well, we are all in this together" atmosphere and instead of people complaining and yelling at one another about toes being stepped on or elbows in the face, they were understanding and accommodating. I saw more acts of kindness than I had expected.  For example, a poor food vendor had entered the train with a large basket of fruits balancing on top of his head, and without any hesitation a few of the other passengers  helped the man remove the heavy basket off his head and place it on the floor.   Another lady had come in carrying her baby and three different people got up and offered their seats to her.  For me personally, the train ride was pretty exciting (and grueling) because it was so completely different from what I was used to.  In the States,  train rides are solemn affairs where no one dares smile or even open their mouths, so it was nice to see how lively it was here. Half an hour into the ride I got a call from the CEO of DCBS, Mr. Animesh Naiya.  He told me to get off two stops early because he wanted to take me to a tree planting ceremony that was happening at one of the other local branches of DCBS. So I eagerly got off early and met Mr. Naiya who was waiting for me on his motorcycle at the end of the platform.  After brief pleasantries he wisked me away to the home of a borrower who had been associated with DCBS for many years where the ceremony would be held.    We reached the large mud-brick long house and met the various women who would be receiving tree saplings  from DCBS.  The ladies who were all sitting on the floor of the veranda immediately got up and went to go fetch chairs for us and started making tea before i even knew what was going on.  I of course refused the chair and insisted on sitting cross-legged on the ground with them and all the women could not help but laugh at my awkward  attempt to sit on the floor and be comfortable. After sipping some tea and lots of readjusting the ceremony started and Mr. Naiya explained the days events. [caption id="attachment_4080" align="aligncenter" width="620"]IMG_1307 Some of the nice ladies at the ceremony.[/caption]The main goal of this event was to supply these families with three types of trees: one banana, one mango, and one amla (local fruit) saplings.  The planting of these trees in their fields would hopefully allow them to harvest their own fruits within a few years and create a more self-sustainable supply of fruits.  DCBS also went onto explain how important trees and plants were for the larger environment and how we as humans needed the help of trees to breath and survive.  The ladies seemed to already know about the importance of trees and  I was very impressed by their awareness of global environmental issues.[caption id="attachment_4075" align="alignnone" width="501"]animesh Mr. Animesh Naiya presenting a banana tree sapling[/caption] Most of the ladies at the ceremony were smart entrepreneurs who all had some sort of tailoring or embroidery business.  I learned from them that a particular style of embroidery called "Chikan & Jory" was very popular here and that much of the business received was for this kind of work.  Later in the day I was lucky enough to be able to see the process and noticed how detailed and labor intensive the needle work was.  The results of all this work were beautiful, shimmering designs placed throughout the length of the sari.  I asked the ladies if they would be able to make a cool design on my own shirt but they just giggled and told me I'd look like a girl, which is not the first time I heard that statement. By the time the days events were over I was just blown by how amazing these women were.  They were some of the nicest and most hospitable ladies I had met during my time in India.  Our different socio-economic backgrounds did not matter at all and everyone seemed to treat each other with respect and kindness, which is something you often don't find in the city.[caption id="attachment_4078" align="alignnone" width="697"]IMG_1104 All the ladies with their new saplings.[/caption]