Every day is an eventful day in Naga Valadia. We can plan as much as we want beforehand, but we will inevitably have to change our plans when we actually reach our destination and put our plans into action. But that’s precisely what I like so much about Project RISHI – the feeling of conducting your very own grassroots movement and bringing it to fruition is a feeling of satisfaction like none other.
We started the morning off by visiting the local elementary school to give a tobacco awareness presentation to the students, the first step in our anti-cancer intervention initiative. While we had originally planned to do smaller presentations with each grade level, it became immediately clear when we arrived at the school that it would be difficult to move our entire set-up from classroom to classroom. Quickly adapting to the situation, we set up our presentations in a single room and gathered as many kids as possible to give two presentations: one for the elementary school students and one for the middle school kids. It was overwhelmingly obvious that the children truly enjoyed both of the presentations, and it was clear that we had made some impact on their perspectives towards tobacco. The beginning of our mission seemed to be a promising one.
Meanwhile, we continued to film various parts of the village in accordance with our media division. We spent some time filming the layout of the village, but we devoted much more time recording the interviews of villagers we were surveying. We partnered with college students from the local Tolani College (who were conveniently fluent in Gujarati) to assist us with the interviews. Their knowledge of both colloquialisms and slang was exceptionally useful, and it lent a depth to our interviews that we would not have otherwise had.
There were several immediate insights we gained from interviewing the villagers, the most important being that many of the villagers actively and frequently used tobacco as a stimulant (almost as a veritable substitute to an energy drink). They knew full well that tobacco had negative repercussions for their health, but they also wholeheartedly believed that the ability to keep working until sunset (thereby earning more money for their families) was far more important than the prospective loss of health. Our role in the village became that much more urgent - to help these villagers find alternative ways to stay stimulated without the harmful effects of tobacco.
The kids remained very fond of us, even pleading with us to join them during their school recess. We spent time bonding with the children, even getting to know some of them by name. A young boy named Tushar stuck out to the entire team, as he could speak Hindi as well as Gujarati (an impressive feat at such a young age), simultaneously making it easier for us to communicate with him. He even stuck around the operations camp and helped clean up the surveys while the RISHI team conducted interviews. Several young girls of the village also showed us a dance set they were preparing for the village’s Independence Day celebration, a truly spectacular performance.
The day was long and inevitably arduous, but we felt that the reward was well worth it. We received a treasure trove of data through which we could sift and refine our initiatives (both present and future), we kicked off our anti-tobacco initiative in admirable fashion, and we managed to bond even further with the villagers of Naga Valadia. Needless to say, our hopes and expectations for the days to come remain higher than ever. It is a truly satisfying feeling when we can see our hard work unfolding before our eyes, and even more so when we observe our projects truly making a difference.