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The Rafe Bullick Travel Scholarship: Two Months at Seva Mandir, Udaipur

During my Masters year at The University of Edinburgh studying Environment and Development I completed a number of modules that focused on South Asia and India in particular.

These modules included; Roots of Poverty and Development in South Asia and Gender and Development. Furthermore, having visited India in 2013, I had a keen interest in this region. For this reason, the opportunity to apply for the Rafe Bullick Travel Scholarship to be an intern at Seva Mandir a development NGO based in Udaipur, India, was particularly appealing. After finishing my dissertation in August I flew out to Udaipur to volunteer with Seva Mandir for two months before returning to Edinburgh for my graduation in November.

This Travel Scholarship administered through the Centre of South Asian Studies (CSAS) at the University of Edinburgh forms part of the Rafe Bullick Memorial Foundation. This foundation was set up in memory of Rafe Bullick, an University of Edinburgh graduate, who was closely associated with Seva Mandir. He regularly returned year upon year to volunteer and involve himself fully in work and life at Seva Mandir. He was a loved and respected presence there, which I found continues today, with the staff who remember him fondly, to the work he inspired and the installations in his memory.

Seva Mandir, is a non-profit development organisation that works with around 360,000 people across 700 villages in southern Rajasthan. In this region, over 90% of the population relies on subsistence agriculture, with the majority of people living on less than Rs. 20 ($0.35) a day. Seva Mandir has worked together with these people for more than 45 years to both advance their material well-being and to help them to build stronger and more ethical communities. Seva Mandir is committed to programmes, ranging from governance, health, education, sustainable use of natural resources, women’s empowerment, youth development, childcare and social enterprise.

After expressing an interest in working in Seva Mandir’s Natural Resource Management department. I was tasked with conducting a research project to investigate the impacts of ponds and anicuts for farmers in Kotra, the least developed of Seva Mandir’s working areas. Ponds and anicuts are two of a number of different types of water-harvesting structures (WHS) that are being constructed by Seva Mandir. These WHS form part of Seva Mandir’s work on water resource development and are part of a wider aim to increase farm-based livelihoods in the area. My project was the first study on ponds and anicuts by Seva Mandir and provided a preliminary look at the impacts and benefits identified by the farmers from these structures.

This research project involved staying during the week at the Seva Mandir block office in Kotra. Kotra is a rural tribal area 125km from Udaipur, the journey there involved a beautiful but often bumpy and cramped two and half hour drive in a jeep. During the weekdays, along with a local Indian volunteer as a translator and a local field staff member as a guide, we would go from house to house conducting my questionnaire. We covered a total of 75 households from seven different villages over a six-week period. During the evenings at the block office compound I would watch the sunset from the roof and tuck into a delicious dinner served from the canteen. Before rolling out my sleeping mat in the room I shared with two lovely Indian girls with whom I became friends.

During my weekends I stayed in a dorm at Seva Mandir in Udaipur. I was also lucky enough to have two wonderful roommates who were also from the UK.  We took the opportunity to use the weekends to travel around Rajasthan visiting the cities of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, the hill station Mount Abu, Kumbhalgarh Fort and the beautiful Jain Temple at Ranakpur. We were also there to witness and celebrate Diwali, India’s bright and noisy Hindu festival of light.

I am very grateful to the Rafe Bullick Memorial Foundation, Seva Mandir and the University of Edinburgh for this experience. It was an incredible opportunity to see and put into practice some of the theoretical knowledge I had gained throughout my MSc in Environment and Development. Seva Mandir is a fantastic organization doing some excellent work in rural tribal development in Rajasthan. Not only that but the staff were friendly and welcoming and I have made a number of friends both local and international making my experience all the more fulfilling. I could not recommend the Rafe Bullick Travel Scholarship highly enough to students from any background but particularly to students undertaking any form of development studies.

Posted on 22 Dec 2016 3:44pm

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