With nearly a billion and a half people, India is the second most populous country in the world, on track to surpass China. The latest census reveals a worrying trend: among the Indian population, there are only 940 women for every 1,000 men. This is a compelling case in favour of education, in particular for girls.
After decades of economic stagnation and population explosion, India has developed significantly over the past two decades. Today, the country is one of the major emerging powers alongside China and Brazil, etc. Its population is still 70% rural, but it is very unevenly spread out over an extremely diversified territory that includes desert regions, such as the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, on the one hand, and overcrowded areas, such as the valleys and deltas of the major rivers, on the other hand.
India is a cultural mosaic where tradition has a strong influence on the daily lives of its people. At first glance, the gap between rich and poor is striking with the economic boom of recent years serving to widen this gap.
It is against this backdrop that Ecoles de la Terre intervenes. In terms of socio-economic conditions, India stands out on account of its disparities and glaring inequalities. The disparity in living standards between a middle-class family in Mumbai, India's largest city (22 million inhabitants), a working-class family in Kanpur, a provincial city in Uttar Pradesh (3 million inhabitants), a normal family in Dehri, a large poor and isolated town in the state of Bihar (approximately 120,000 inhabitants) and a poor peasant family in Shergathi, a large village (30,000 inhabitants) in the same state is enormous. Housing varies from a modern residential area in Mumbai, to a densely populated working-class neighbourhood in Kanpur, to a dilapidated old house or small farmhouse in Dehri and Shergathi, giving a general idea of the inequalities inherent in the living conditions between these four social environments where family structure and access to education also differ.
Ecoles de la Terre has endeavoured, within the limits of its resources, to develop its educational programmes in four regions of India, namely the federated states of Bengal, Bihar, Rajasthan and the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
West Bengal is a state in north-east India with a population of more than 90 million. It has a tropical climate and consists mainly of plains, except for the northern part, which is located in the foothills of the Himalayas. West Bengal is often considered the cultural heart of India with Calcutta the first capital of colonial India. A major jute producer, it is famous for its Darjeeling tea plantations in the north and its silk saris. The majority of its population lives off agriculture, with industry found in the capital Calcutta and the Dhanbad region along the Damodar River. To the south lie more than 100 islands in the Bay of Bengal. About 30 of them are inhabited by fishermen and farmers, and this is where Ecoles de la Terre works.
Bihar is a state in north-east India, located east of the Indo-Gangetic plain and bordering West Bengal. A very heavily populated region with more than 100 million inhabitants, the state is struggling to get its economy off the ground and suffers from poor local infrastructure. Its particularly disadvantaged inhabitants very often migrate to other Indian states in search of work. The great plains of Bihar, fertilised by alluvial soil from the Ganges, make the region suitable for agriculture. Ecoles de la Terre runs programmes here, mainly in the districts of Gaya and Rothas.
The state of Rajasthan, with a population of approximately 70 million, is located in north-west India and borders Pakistan. It is made up of two distinct regions, the Thar desert to the north-west and the fertile valley of the Chambal to the south-west, which is separated from the desert by the Aravalli mountain range. It is a predominately arid region that has suffered from drought for a long time. Despite this, Rajasthan's economy is geared mainly towards agriculture. Industry came late to the region in the 1960s, with the emergence of textile production and mining. From a cultural point of view, the state of Rajasthan is the descendant of a mosaic of small bellicose princely states, where 'male' values appear an obstacle to promoting the education of girls. Ecoles de la Terre is committed to providing schooling for disadvantaged children in small villages in the Thar Desert.
The National Capital Territory of Delhi is one of the seven territories that in addition to the 28 states constitute the federal state. Located in northern India, Delhi is home to the headquarters of our Ecoles de la Terre organisation in India – specifically, the Ecoles de la Terre Welfare Society. The second largest city on the Indian subcontinent after Mumbai, Delhi has been transformed into a huge metropolis. Like all major urban centres in India, Delhi suffers from problems related to pollution and traffic congestion. As an administrative capital, Delhi is experiencing exceptional growth in the service sector.
Today our activities can be summed up as three main programmes: education, health and micro-credit. Below are the main figures illustrating these activities during the 2018-2019 school year, which is based on the period from 1 April to 31 March of the previous year.
We run 28 schools in 73 villages and five urban districts for 4,376 pupils, including 2,285 girls and 2,091 boys. These schools are located in the three federated states of West Bengal, Bihar and Rajasthan, and in the cities of Calcutta and Delhi. There are five training centres in these same three states for 1,289 apprentices, comprising 1,182 girls and 107 boys.
Travelling health centres, staffed by doctors and nurses, provide regular medical check-ups for pupils and apprentices in Bengal, Bihar and Rajasthan. In Calcutta and Delhi, a nurse and, if necessary, a doctor are responsible for these check-ups. In Bihar, a field hospital is in charge of follow-up care for the inhabitants of 23 poor villages in the Gaya district. This clinic provides medical treatment to more than 1,500 patients every month.
In order to provide as many people as possible with safe drinking water, eight water purification plants supply water to schools and villages in Bihar and the Sundarbans Islands in Bengal. Two new mineral water production plants supply water to disadvantaged families in Sunderban. The construction of two new mineral water production plants is planned for Bihar and the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. A treatment system for water in tanks and reservoirs is being considered for schools in the Thar Desert.
Micro-credit for mothers
In Bodhgaya, Bihar, a micro-credit office staffed by a team of four manages more than 2,000 loans granted to the mothers of disadvantaged families, including those of our pupils. In Raidighi, a Sundarban island in West Bengal, our micro-credit office – also staffed by a team of four – manages a volume of loans similar to the Bihar office. In Jaisalmer, in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, our micro-credit office with a team of two manages about 500 loans over the year.
Total loans for the entire 2018-2019 school year are forecast to amount to 35 million Indian rupees, or the equivalent of just over CHF 500,000. During the period from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019, no fewer than 4,500 mothers will receive loans to finance their micro-enterprises.