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BUILD student development projects in India, Nicaragua aim for sustainability

Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 02:02

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Courtesy Ben Berman

Students travelled to Nicaragua this winter break with BUILD to meet with partner NGOs.

From opposite sides of the world, two student groups working through the development organization Building Understanding Through International Learning and Development (BUILD) in India and Nicaragua have dedicated parts of their college careers chase the goals of sustainable development and local involvement in projects from toilets to . While the two Institute for Global Leadership (IGL)−sponsored BUILD teams share a mission statement, they diverge in their goals and structure. BUILD India

Tufts has served as the base for a student−run BUILD project in Thottiyapatti, Tamil Nadu, India since April 2010. The volunteers have contributed to projects to improve education, public health and the economic situation in the village. Its participants originally struggled to find a compatible nongovernmental organization (NGO) to partner with in the community, eventually settling on an NGO called Payir. According to its website, the NGO’s mission is to “facilitate the transformation of Indian villages into socially stimulating, self−sustaining, growth−oriented communities.”

“Our philosophy as BUILD and Payir’s philosophy really meshed well together, so that is why they settled on this [NGO],” BUILD India member Angad Bagai, a sophomore, said.

According to BUILD India participant Jahnvi Vaidya, a sophomore, the program strives to allow for communal ownership and continuity of its projects.

“Sustainability is a big part of our philosophy,” she said. “We work through our projects with the intent of leaving Thottiyapatti in a couple of years. We want the projects to be completely sustainable and successful even once we’re gone.”

Bagai added that the BUILD projects are designed to avoid the pitfalls of short−lived, disconnected development projects.

“A big part of our work there has been making sure that the community understands that they have to have ownership of whatever is taking place there,” he said. “It’s not that we want to go there and throw ideas and projects at them. It should be what they want, and it should reach a point where whatever happens there belongs to them.”

A committee of local Thottiyapatti stakeholders formed a year and a half ago has pushed for community ownership of the various programs that BUILD and Payir implement there. According to a Sept. 21 release on the IGL’s website, the committee consists of three women, four younger men, and one elder man who developed a constitution with a mission statement, rules of membership, and a plan for keeping in touch with BUILD as the projects’ implementation progresses.

Vaidya emphasized the importance of local involvement by both Thottiyapatti residents and Payir in BUILD’s projects.

“It’s best having local people involved because we usually don’t know any better than people on the ground, and there’s a language barrier as well,” Vaidya said. “[Payir] is very accepted and respected in this village. Its sort of awkward for us to sort of otherwise just show up.”

BUILD India began several of its programs in the summer of 2011. This included a laptop and computers donation program called the Learning Center.

The group also began a campaign for ecological sanitation (ECOSAN) toilets with the help of SCOPE, an NGO based in Tamil Nadu. The projects’ toilets provide composted material that can be reused as fertilizer for agricultural purposes.

Bagai said cultural norms meant the toilets weren’t readily accepted at first.

“It’s taken a long time to clarify in the village whether toilets are something they desire because open defecation has been practiced for a long time,” he said. “We had to make sure that this is something they wanted.”

After receiving a $3,000 grant from the Tufts Energy Conference in the spring of 2012, as well as receiving approval from the local government, the ECOSAN project is now under construction.

BUILD India’s third project focused on generating income for locals through silk production. According to Vaidya and Bagai, this project has been particularly challenging because the profits did not match the amount of effort and the cost that went into producing the silk. According to Vaidya, the group is considering partnering with two NGOs that specialize in financial literacy.

Until the next trip this summer, BUILD India will continue to contact the administrators, NGOs, and villagers at its weekly meetings in order to keep in touch about the projects’ progress and feel connected to the community.

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