Sunday, 17 June 2012

Reminiscing about Ghana

7 June 2012
It has become my favourite, remembering my time in Ghana and comparing what happens around me here in India with my imaginations of what would have happened in the similar circumstances there in Ghana. I shall be shortly completing one year of my return from Ghana. I spent only an year there but it has left such strong and permanent impressions in my mind that these cannot be wiped out easily.
I recall the months before I departed. These were a very difficult patch in my life. I had a determination to get out of the country to experience some different part of the world. Coming from a middle class Indian family I could not just go out and buy air tickets for some destination and start to move. When I came to know about something called as overseas volunteering, it seemed to me a good opportunity and a better fit in my career path which involved working in the professional field called Development Sector. Further volunteering was supposed to take care of my own expenses even if it was not going to help me earn enough to take care of my family or save for the future. I opted for it and left my job just to find that I had to go through hell lot of problems. With problems in my passport renewal, my departure got delayed. During the same period my son got ill and with his hospitalisation my savings were almost gone. I had to borrow from my parents and also had to leave them with responsibility as my wife and son were going to live with them till the time I returned back. Though not being able to get rid of all those bad feelings, I entered Kenya Airways flight and started my journey for Accra, capital of Ghana. 
After that moment, every day brought something new. It was as if the whole world had changed for me. Actually it was the other way round as I started to see things differently. I came across many kinds of people. I had interacted a lot with foreigners before but here in this land I myself was a foreigner. Having a fairer skin than the locals always gave me a kind of privilege in this country of black people remained under colonial rule sometime back in the history. At the same time it also gave me a glimpse of what could be your life like in this country which also has its fairer skinned lower caste called Fulanis. While on the road, a number of times I was confused by the people as Fulani and I could perceive the way people look down upon them. That touched me at the emotional level and even being in that foreign land I could then empathise with the lower caste people in India for their sufferings, which have been brought on them from the higher castes which I come from for generations altogether.
There were many similarities and dissimilarities between Ghanaian and Indian culture. I started to appreciate them and saw many aspects of my culture in the completely new light. Once at the Bongo District Assembly, we were waiting for the District Chief Executive to arrive and as usual being a political leader everybody took his late arrival on the scene for granted (so similar to India!) To somehow pass our time we were chatting and discussions were centred on traditional gods and spirits. I could see striking similarities between the Hindu beliefs and the traditional African beliefs prevailing in that area. In Hinduism, an elaborate system of rituals and a beautiful mythology has been evolved around all these whereas African gods and spirits have been subjected to either voodoo or a systematic neglect due to influence of Islam and Christianity.
I travelled. I knew I had to save some money and take back home to recover from earlier borrowings and meet the expenses till I found the job. I was saving as many cedis as I could and kept watch on all the pesewas leaving my hand and still I managed to travel. Ghana does not have Taj Mahal or Eiffel Tower but the travel in Ghana has given me so many simple but beautiful moments which I can still cherish. These include eating Kebabs at a street side stall on a cool evening in Bolgatanga, spending a night on roof top in a very remote village, taking a dip in the swimming pool located on the verge of the forest, seeing the wild African elephants from very near, watching a football match in a modern stadium with a very high spirited crowd and enjoying a cultural festival giving a glimpse of the entire country.
Dissatisfaction about my performance on the work front still lingers behind sometimes. Initially I used to always question myself whether I was really needed by the people in my office or they were just seeing me as some liability of having a foreign volunteer or they just didn't care. Always after seeing my boss Mumuni, who eventually became my friend and other people like Joshua, Godson, Henry the question used to disappear, since I always got an unspoken positive answer from them. The highest point of my work satisfaction was reached during a meeting when illiterate rural women members of a shea processing cooperative made all efforts to understand my strategic study and appreciated my work and asked me whether I could continue one more year to bring all of my thinking into reality. However my decision was already made then when I had started from home eight months back.
After I came back home I did some enquiry about the outcomes of the work which I had done. As I think on it as an afterthought, some of the things were not supposed to work at all since their premise and the conditions were totally wrong. These things did not work. Others were based on the right premise in the right conditions. These worked to the right degree of efforts, direction and attitude put into them. This sounds so universal that actually there is no point in comparing what could I have achieved while in India and what could I have achieved as an overseas volunteer in Ghana. These days I can see what I could have done differently to make myself more effective on the work front to get more and better results. It’s too late.
I decided the date on which I would return home about four months before. It was a practical decision in view of the bonds I had back at home and my need to solve the problems which I had created myself. With that date mentally set, my determination just took charge of the things. It was last month and I had to accomplish certain tasks. For me personally it was also a kind of giving a due and proper end to the work and its process, which had started 11 months back. At an odd situation while I was visiting my friend Raj to do some shopping in Tamale for the gifts to take back home, I came to know that I could no longer stop Malaria. While lying on the bed in his house struggling with very high fever, I could actually tap into my deeper levels of consciousness. After every breath, for which I was having a great difficulty, I could actually visualise my future course of action step by step. This was one great spiritual experience which has left lasting impressions on my consciousness.
When I was lying there on the bed in Raj's house. There were people of three different nationalities present in that house taking care of me. People from two other nationalities though not on the scene were having great concern about my health and were in touch with me on phone. When I recall this it strengthens my belief in something I can term as global brotherhood. It made me rethink my nationalist world view which has been inculcated in me while I was growing up and brings my thinking near towards globalism. These days I experience a great improvement in the way that I have a new widened perspective about world. I am very happy that I could find people with same values as mine across cultures and could get many new friends sharing those values.
While I was there in Ghana, I was fed up with all that music which my neighbours used to play loudly throughout the day as well as night. I never did any special effort to understand it while being there though music as a subject interests me a lot. Now back to my life in India, I carry the Ghanaian music always on my mp3 player and whenever I am not travelling out of the city my daily commute to the office does not complete without playing those. These days when I hear these songs, I appreciate the beautiful tonality of Ghanaian languages and many finer aspects of the music. Though I don’t understand them language wise, the sheer energy expressed through them makes a good start of the day.
Though these fourteen odd songs have gained importance, memories of my days in Ghana are getting blurred day by day, as I move forward in my life with my better than before kind of job and responsibilities on home front. Life has become very much easy, as the earlier problems which I had got myself into are gone, and I am back to my comfort zone. However it has reduced the intensity of experiences in my life. But suddenly and unknowingly the memories come forth and remind me of the sharpness of life, I had felt there in Ghana and the broadened horizons of my own views and capacities.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

हाक परदेशी समाजसेवेची

महाराष्ट्राला फार मोठा समाजसेवेचा आणि प्रबोधनाचा वारसा लाभलेला आहे. फुले, शाहू, आंबेडकर, आगरकर, गाडगेमहाराज अशी कितीतरी नावे आपण मराठी भाषिक लोक अगदी सहजतेने घेत असतो. सुधारक विचारांची तसेच कृतींची परंपरा असलेले मराठी भाषिक देशाच्या व जगाच्या अन्य भागांमध्ये जाण्यात, नवीन अनुभव घेण्यात, शोध घेण्यात मात्र तितकेसे पुढे दिसत नाहीत. कोणे एके काळी अटकेपार झेंडे नेल्याचा आपल्याला अभिमान असला तरी ह्या आघाडीवर मात्र पुरोगामी महाराष्ट्र पिछाडीवरच म्हटला पाहीजे.
कृषि, आरोग्य, माहिती तंत्रज्ञान, शिक्षण, महिला विकास, ग्रामीण विकास अश्या अनेक क्षेत्रामध्ये महाराष्ट्रामध्ये अतिशय उत्तम प्रतीचे मनुष्यबळ उपलब्ध आहे. आज आपणां महाराष्ट्रीयांना ह्या अनुभवांना अधिक विस्तृत करण्यासाठी जागतिक पातळीवर अनेक संधी उपलब्ध आहेत. ओव्हरसीज व्हॉलंटीयरींग ही अश्या काही संधींपैकीच एक आहे. आजमितीला अनेक आंतरराष्ट्रीय स्वयंसेवी संस्था तसेच संयुक्त राष्ट्रसंघाच्या संस्था परदेशात जाऊन समाजसेवा करण्याची संधी देत आहेत. व्हॉलंटरी सर्विस ओव्हरसीज (व्हीएसओ) ही अशीच एक संस्था आहे. सदर लेखात व्हीएसओ मार्फत उपलब्ध करून दिल्या जाणाऱ्या ओव्हरसीज व्हॉलंटीयरींगची माहिती वाचकांना करून देत आहे.
सर्वप्रथम व्हॉलंटीयरींग म्हणजे काय ते माहीत करून घेऊया. स्वयंस्फुर्तीने जे सामाजिक काम केले जाते त्याला इंग्रजीमध्ये व्हॉलंटीयरींग म्हटले जाते. अश्या व्यक्तीला व्हॉलंटीयर असे म्हटले जाते. मराठीमध्ये व्हॉलंटीयरला स्वयंसेवक असा प्रतिशब्द आहे. जवळजवळ सर्वच समाजांत कमी अधिक प्रमाणात स्वयंसेवक प्रवृत्ती असतेच परंतु जागतिक पातळीवर पाहू गेल्यास मानव वर्ण, भाषा, धर्म, राष्ट्र अश्या अनेक घटकांद्वारे विभागला गेलेला आहे आणि खूप मोठ्या प्रमाणावर स्वयंसेवकी प्रवृत्तीला ह्या विभागणीमुळे मर्यादा येत असतात. ह्या मर्यादा पार करून जागतिक दृष्टिकोन ठेवून काम करण्याची खूप मोठी गरज आजच्या काळात आहे. व्हीएसओ ह्या संस्थेच्या स्थापनेचा उद्देश नेमका हाच आहे. मुळच्या ग्रेट ब्रिटन मधील ह्या संस्थेमार्फत आज जगातील १२ देशांमधून व्हॉलंटीयर निवडले जातात. आजमितीला दरवर्षी १४०० लोक जगातील ४० अविकसित व विकसनशील देशांमध्ये कार्यरत आहेत.
व्हीएसओ व भारतातील चेंज-एक्स ह्या दोन संस्थांच्या संयुक्त विद्यमाने आयव्हीओ हा उपक्रम भारतामध्ये सुरू करण्यात आला आहे. आयव्हीओचे कार्यालय नवी दिल्ली येथे आहे. ह्या उपक्रमाद्वारे भारतामधून व्हॉलंटीयर निवडले जातात व अन्य देशांमध्ये पाठवले जातात. साधारणत: सध्या उपलब्ध असलेल्या व्हॉलंटीयरींगच्या संधी १ ते २ वर्ष कालावधीच्या आहेत. व्हॉलंटीयरकडे उपलब्ध असलेल्या क्षमता व स्थानिक यजमान संस्थांकडे असलेली गरज ह्यानुसार व्हॉलंटीयरची नियुक्ती केली जाते. व्हॉलंटीयरने त्याच्या कालावधीमध्ये ज्या यजमान संस्थेमध्ये नियुक्ती केलेली आहे अश्या संस्थेमध्ये पुर्णवेळ कार्यकर्ता म्हणून काम करायचे असते. सध्या भारतीय व्हॉलंटीयरसाठी पात्रता निकष म्हणून पदव्युत्तर पदवी, किमान ३ वर्षांचा कामाचा अनुभव व इंग्रजीचे ज्ञान आवश्यक आहेत. त्याचप्रमाणे संगणकाचे व इंटरनेटचे किमान कामचलाऊ ज्ञान असणेही अत्यावश्यक असते. व्हॉलंटीयरना ह्या कालावधीसाठी व्हीएसओद्वारे एका माणसाचा स्थानिक खर्च भागू शकेल इतपत माफक मानधन, जाण्या येण्याचा विमान प्रवास, आरोग्या विमा, राहण्यासाठी घर अश्या मुलभूत सुविधा उपलब्ध करून देण्यात येतात.
व्हीएसओचे ब्रीदवाक्य आहे “Sharing skills, Changing lives”. आपल्या कौशल्याच्या सहभागातून जीवनांमध्ये बदल. व्हॉलंटीयर जरी ह्या ब्रीदवाक्यानुसार सामाजिक विकासासाठी हातभार लावत असला तरी परदेशी व्हॉलंटीयरींग हा त्या व्यक्तीलाही अनेकांगाने समृध्द करणारा अनुभव असतो. आपल्यापेक्षा वेगळ्या संस्कृतीची नुसतीच जवळून ओळख होत नाही तर अपरिचित समाजव्यवस्थेत राहण्याची व काम करण्याची क्षमताही विकसित होतात. आपण ज्या सामाजिक परिस्थित वाढलो त्याकडे पाहण्याची एक व्यापक दृष्टी तयार होते व त्यातील उणीवाही समजू लागतात. विपरीत परिस्थितीमध्ये फक्त तगच धरून राहण्याची नव्हे तर यशस्वी होण्याची मानसिकता आपण विकसित करू शकतो. आपण ज्या देशांत असतो तेथीलच नव्हे तर अन्य देशांतून आलेल्या अनेक लोकांशी आपले संपर्क विकसित होतात आणि अनेक नवीन मित्र मैत्रिणी मिळतात. अश्या ह्या अनुभवांचा फायदा परदेशातील अन्य संधी मिळण्यात तर होतोच परंतु परत आल्यानंतरही “फॉरेन रिटर्न” चा शिक्का मिळाल्याचा फायदा होतो तो वेगळाच.
आता थोडे माझ्या अनुभवांबद्दल. मी जुलै २०१० ते जुलै २०१० ह्या एक वर्षाच्या कालावधीसाठी घाना ह्या पश्चिम आफ्रीकेतील देशात व्हीएसओ तर्फे व्हॉलंटीयर म्हणून काम केले. माझी नियुक्ती बोंगो ह्या देशाच्या उत्तर सीमेजवळील एका जिल्ह्याच्या स्थानिक जिल्हा पंचायतीमध्ये झाली होती. मी तेथे त्यांच्या स्थानिक अर्थव्यवस्था मंचा समवेत तेथील उपजीविका कार्यक्रमाच्या धोरण व नियोजन निश्चिती तसेच काही निवडक व्यवसायांच्या माध्यमातून गरीब लोकांसाठी कार्यक्रम धोरणे ठरवणे असे काम केले. माझे बरेचसे काम जरी स्थानिक शासकीय अधिकाऱ्यांबरोबर झाले असले तरी तेथील स्थानिक ग्रामवासींच्या समुहासोबत तसेच अन्य स्वयंसेवी संस्थांसमवेतही काम करता आले. इतकेच नव्हे तर अन्य क्षेत्रांमध्ये काम करणाऱ्या बाकीच्या व्हॉलंटीयर समवेतही काम केले. कामासोबतच स्थानिक उत्सव व समारंभांमध्ये सहभागी व्हायला मिळाले आणि आपल्या दिवाळीसारख्या सणांची, मराठी गाण्यांची तेथील स्थानिकांना ओळख करून देता आली. तिथे उपलब्ध असलेल्या स्थानिक धान्यापासून मी केलेल्या थालिपीठांची आठवण आजही माझे तेथील मित्र काढतात तेंव्हा त्याचे एक वेगळेच समाधान लाभते.
शरद पंत हा अमरावतीचा एक हरहुन्नरी तरूण. सिएरा लिओन ह्या आफ्रीकेतील देशातील माट्रू जॉंग नावाच्या एका छोट्या गावातील एका संस्थेच्या माध्यमातून शेतकऱ्यांच्या एका सहकारी संस्थेचे व्यवसाय नियोजन तर त्याने केलेच पण त्याबरोबरच तेथील अन्य कार्यकर्त्यांना प्रशिक्षितही केले. तो म्हणतो, “मला व्हॉलंटीयरींगने काय शिकवले असेल तर तो म्हणजे संयम आणि लवचिकता.” पूर्णत: नव्याने फुटबॉल शिकूनही त्याने स्थानिक संघामध्ये स्थान मिळवलेच पण त्याबरोबरच आपले कराटेचे ज्ञान त्याने तेथील तरूणांना देण्यातही आढेवेढे घेतले नाहीत.
फक्त मी किंवा शरदनेच नव्हे तर महाराष्ट्रातील अनेक जणांनी उदाहरणार्थ रोहिणी जोग, स्वामीनाथन राजगोपाल (दोन्ही मुंबई), आशुतोष गोगटे (कोल्हापुर), सुवर्णा हुलावळे (पुणे) ह्या सर्वांनी हे व्हिएसओ व्हॉलंटीयरींग यशस्वीरीत्या पूर्ण केले आहे.
स्वानुभवावरून मी हे निश्चित सांगू शकतो की जरी हा संपूर्ण अनुभव घेणे सोपे नसले तरी ते इतके कठीणही नव्हते. परंतु स्वत:च्या क्षमतेबद्दल आपण उगाचच घालून घेतलेल्या मर्यादा बऱ्याचवेळा चांगल्यासाठी ओलांडणे महत्वाचे असते आणि त्या ओलांडल्यामुळे आपली खरी क्षमता आपल्याला समजू शकते. त्यासाठी ओव्हरसीज व्हॉलंटीयरींग ही एक निश्चितच एक उत्तम संधी आहे.

अधिक माहितीसाठी काही वेबसाईट्स
आयव्हीओ- भारतातील व्हॉलंटीयरच्या निवड व नियुक्ती करणारी संस्था
व्हीएसओ इंटरनॅशनल- व्हॉलंटीयरींगचे जागतिक पातळीवर काम करणारी संस्था
माझ्या घानामधील अनुभवांचा ब्लॉग

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Blog is now E-book

The Ghana Experience blog is now an e-book. If you want to read it without hurrying and  sequentially from start to end, you can download this pdf or read online at the following link. Wish you happy reading.

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत। उठा, जागे व्हा व श्रेयस्कर ध्येयाचे आकलन करा. Arise, awake and stop not till the desired end is reached.