Dhamori Village Initiative, Maharashtra, India

Alpa Nawre 1/1/2018:

Dhamori! What an adventure this has been. We lived in a rest-house in Amravati and drove to Dhamori village in Maharashtra every other day, and in the last two weeks, almost every day. We were invited into and entered countless homes in the village for tea, and restroom breaks – there are no public bathrooms in the village. The village’s only café was a bit far away from the settlement. Mid-way during our stay, the rest-house in Amravati ran out of water because of a pipeline breakage so we had no water for showering for a week – every night we would go to a friend of a friend’s or cousin’s home to shower. I had not previously met any of these people who opened up their bathrooms for us! Social relationships are crucial even for fulfilling basic needs in India – it felt so nice and humane to form so many new connections with so many people in real-time.

We met with villagers individually and in groups to understand their problems and possibilities; we met with knowledge partners and departments such as agriculture, fisheries, livestock, irrigation, block development to understand their experiences, challenges, solutions, and current government schemes; we went for transect walks in the village with villagers and knowledge partners/department officers; we conducted group workshops with drawing exercises separately for women, and also combined with men and women. It is impossible to keep children out of any drawing exercise in rural India, IRB or not.

We met with a lot of different kinds of people – several hundred villagers, a few dozen officers and a dozen funders – and talked, discussed, presented, inspired, encouraged, persuaded, requested and invited so many people – it is incredible to bring people along with you to the future you see – – sometimes discouraging, or exhausting too, but mostly incredible. And critical.

We took 150GB of drone footage, photographs, videos, interviews etc. We posed for countless selfies – half the village must have selfies with us. We ate an incredible amount of amazingly heavenly food…sigh – some of it was so seasonal and local, it was new for me too. Kabir caught a cold and shared it with everyone on the team (of course)! Most importantly, he was such a refreshing stream of questions on non-adult-defined-important-topics that he put everything in perspective. He is the future that we were working for and gave us a constant reminder of the meaning in our work.

We prepared strategies for a comprehensive village development plan that addressed not only water issues but also other rural problems which we identified on site. We presented preliminary site design ideas for three sites in the village. We presented these findings in a final presentation to all stakeholders which included villagers, Parliamentarian, knowledge partners and department officials. We talked to several villagers after the final presentation to get their feedback on the design ideas presented.

One thing that came up again and again during out initial conversation with villagers was that they didn’t have any community space – that the children in the village had no place to play. So, we talked and presented to many potential funders – tire companies and paint whole-sellers, other stakeholders and were finally able to secure funds/donated material which we used to construct a simple playground for the children of Dhamori. The villagers (and children) contributed the labor over two days to construct it.

The children were ecstatic about the playground as they did not have any space to play before. The playground has tire swings, tire balance structure, tire climbing structure, a mural painted by hand-prints of villagers and children, a play equipment, outdoor gym equipment and a volleyball court. Everyone already hangs out there – the children and women, the youth and the elderly too – it has become the public place of the village. In the next few days that we visited the village, we would just hang about the edges of the playground, enjoying watching the people enjoy it so much.

People were all tears and smiles when we took our leave of Dhamori and gave us a touching send-off. We were all tears and smiles too.

Thank you to Saurabh, Astrid, Leslie, Skandha & Kabir – what a pleasure working with such a team!

Thank you to Dr. Vikas Mahatme for this opportunity!

And, thank you to Landscape Architecture Foundation and the countless people who supported us and pitched in one way or another to make this possible!