preparation On the 6-19 February 2013, 12 Australians, including myself, embarked on a 14 day self-funded cycle through West Bengal visiting the people and programs of Child In Need India (CINI). Together with supporters and sponsors we raised in excess of $60 000 for CINI Australia to fund CINI projects in West Bengal. In preparation for the journey, participants embarked on exercise regimes, attended a bicycle maintenance workshop, received multiple vaccinations and raised sponsorship and community awareness about CINI. I helped design a Cycle for Change information brochure at Chil3 and edited an introductory video. Elliot Hutchinson set up a blog, which we used to update our progress along the ride.
CINI Australia Child In Need India Established in 2009, supports Child In Need Institute’s work with poor and disadvantaged families in India. In 1974 CINI was started to address the devastating effects of malnutrition in the children of Kolkata. From simple beginnings it has grown into a well-respected Indian NGO that now reaches throughout West Bengal. CINI starts with mothers in early pregnancy to give babies a healthy start in life and improve maternal health. Children in the streets, slums and villages are sheltered, nurtured and educated. Communities learn about their rights and how to work with local government for change. CINI’s workers are the backbone of this organization that respects the capacity of those in need and improves the status of women. This breaks the cycle of poverty, empowers people to change their own lives and provide their children with the opportunities and protection that we all want for our children.
For more information and to register for the ride contact CINI Australia: Jennie Connaughton P 0428538761 E firstname.lastname@example.org
CINI Australia Child In Need India PO Box 8358, South Perth WA 6951 www.ciniaustralia.org ABN: 5014249 570 WA Charities: 21143, OLGR NSW: 21754
Elizabeth Stroud P (08)9592 9332 E email@example.com
Cycle for Change CINI Australia’s 2013 India Bike Ride
Cycle for Change Brochure
MyCause webpage for fundraising
Cycle for Change blog
Accommodation From the Blog
Depart Perth at 6:00am
Arrive in Kolkata at 7:40am
CINI Share Accomodation
Hotel pick up after lunch to CINI HQ Evening meal at CINI HQ
CINI HQ Share Accomodation
We began the morning with a song at CINI HQ in Pailin. We then journeyed through the busy streets of Kolkata to CINI Asha before breaking into smaller groups to visit health, education and protection centres across the city. At 4pm we had a media conference with 10 different Indian newspapers that will promote the ride locally. We were also presented with beautiful flower garlands and bracelets from some local children. We’re all off to bed early tonight in preparation for our first day of riding tomorrow!
RanaghatTent 2 Baharampur/ Murshidabad
Today was a long and tough ride to Baharampur in hot conditions. After lunch we visited a small village where we learned about CINI’s Women and Children Friendly Community program. In the afternoon we were joined by CINI workers on motorcycles with bright yellow flags who led us to camp on a sports ground.
Baharampur- Tent 3 Suti II
A contrast of roads, newly sealed among the old pothole-infested single carriage road. Riding conditions were harsh, with a blistering Indian sun, complicated by the heat of the bitumen. Endless fields of rice and other vegetable agriculture were seen along the way. One hour stops helped keep the group’s momentum, as did the fish curry at lunch. Arriving at camp we were overwhelmed with local faces wanting to say hello and playing cricket on the sports ground where we camped. A car trip to a local school was amazing. We were greeted with flower lei’s and generous smiles. We learnt about the CINI programs the community is undertaking to improve health, nutrition, school attendance and prevent child marriage.
Accommodation From the Blog
It was a 110km day, the first 50km was rough roads until we reached a brand new 4 lane highway. The morning’s scenery was blanketed in fog, which made for stunning (and somewhat chilly) cycling. Once we reached the highway we fare-welled our Murshidabad CINI workers who had helped direct us through busy traffic and keep us safe. That afternoon we pulled into Islampur, our camp being situated on the local jail grounds. That night we thanked our amazing Bespoke Cycle guides and team and they surprised us with an amazing iced cake for our last night together. Before bed we ventured to a book fair and listened to a traditional Indian folk ensemble with some of the local community.
We cycled to Siliguri on the four lane highway, before stopping roadside for lunch next to some beautiful tea fields. With CINI workers from the Darjeeling region joining on motorcycles and riding for a short period each on a spare bicycle. In the afternoon we met with Sister Pauline (a CINI founder) and visited a train station drop in centre, red light district learning area and a temporary girls shelter. This was fantastic and a real highlight of the trip, all the children were ecstatic to see us, shaking our hands and crowding in to meet us. At the girls’ shelter they performed a concert of song and dance, they even got us all up to dance too. We went to bed with both nerves and excitement for our last day of riding.
Final day of cycling to Kalimpong (Gorkhaland). After leaving Siliguri we enjoyed the ride through the trees of the wildlife sanctuary outskirts. Soon the road began to undulate as we followed alongside the glacial blue Teesta river, until we came to Coronation Bridge to stop for photos. Throughout the day we were surprised by CINI workers lining the villages to greet us with a scarf and tilak (rice and dye placed on the forehead). We moved on through a small village where we were greeted and ate momo’s (Indian dumplings) before stopping for lunch at the base of our 4000 foot climb to the finish. The group were then free to take it at their own pace, finishing between 1 and 4 hours later. The combination of our challenging final day riding as a group and the stunning mountaintop scenery in the clouds was a memorable way to finish our Cycle for Change.
Rainy day, market wander, momo lunch and Gorkhaland protests. We drove to DHG in search of paper making and Henry—neither were found.
Overnight sleeper train
Left early due to political action for Gorkhaland. Visited a Buddhist gompa and a beautiful Hare Krishna temple. Mall crawl and coffee sitting in Wifi land before dinner and arrival at the train station. Shekar and some CINI workers arrived with a media display that children had created at a CINI centre.
Visited a famous Indian coffee house and book market lanes. Then ventured back to Oberoi and enjoyed a farewell dinner at Bhoj.
We began the morning leaving Pailin after a gracious send off by way of prayer and song by Dr Chaudhuri and his team. The group then spent the next 40km navigating the busy streets of Kolkata, short breaks were a comfort from the intensity of morning traffic and first day nerves. After riding 98km we arrived in Ranaghat, staying just off the highway at a church ground (Varsha Sharma’s first camping experience).
Today approximately 80km took us 11 hours on the bike, due to extremely bad road conditions, POTHOLES! We crossed Farakka Barrage (a huge bridge over the Ganges) before lunch in a mango grove. At dusk, after being invited in for chai, we saw a beautiful potter make clay cups and bowls on a hand spun wheel. The potter had the artists’ touch, 50 years and 4 generations of experience. Another 80km ride that took us all day leaving camp at 6:30am arriving at camp at 6:30pm. We spent most of the day off the main highway, after 40km we cruised through quiet villages, past rice fields and tranquil farmland shrouded in fog. We visited a ICCHAA (HIV affected families) focused on destigmatising HIV in the community. The highlight of the day was learning about the CINI programs in a remote village. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, the group was eventually swamped by the crowd.
Depart Perth for Kolkata at 8:55am
report COLOUR AMONGST THE POLITICAL DARKNESS “This is not like any other place. This is India. Everyone who comes here falls in love—most of us fall in love many times over. And the Indians, they love most of all. It happens often and easily for the Indians. That is how they manage to live together, a billion of them, in reasonable peace. They are not perfect, of course. They know how to fight and lie and cheat each other, and all the things that all of us do. But more than any other people in the world, the Indians know how to love one another.” Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram. p.85 In order to grasp the hardships of people living in both urban and rural parts of West Bengal, it is essential to understand the political history of the region. West Bengal has had a tumultuous political history, with Calcutta being the capital city of British rule until 1911 and later becoming the center for revolutionary groups associated with the Indian independence movement. The Japanese bombed Kolkata in 1942 and 1944, and millions were estimated to have starved to death during the Bengal famine of 1943. The Indian Independence Act 1947 caused a demographic shift due to the separation of East and West Bengal. Muslims migrated to East Pakistan (Bangladesh) while hundreds of thousands of Hindus moved to West Bengal. For much of our ride through West Bengal we were in close proximity to the India-Bangladesh border.
The hammer and sickle Communist symbol on a Kolkata side street wall
In the period between 1977–2011, the Left Front party governed West Bengal, which was dominated by the Communist Party of India (CPM). The Left Front was the world’s longest-serving democratically elected communist government. Throughout the towns and villages we visited or passed through, many socialist and communist symbols were inscribed on walls. Arguably, West Bengal’s interests have often been ignored in India due to the administrative disadvantages of being on the far eastern fringe of India, and the national government conflicting with the state’s socialist government. Yet despite the Bengali people’s hardships, they seem altogether, a happy people. Like the womens’ brightly coloured saris that shine amongst the dusty decaying Kolkata buildings and mud bricked villages, they have great optimism and energy to make the best of their circumstances and live fulfilling lives.
Brightly dressed women and children welcomed us to their village on Day 2
CINI FOR SUSTAINABLE CHANGE “Iqbal, that great poet, was so right. The moment you recognise what is beautiful in this world, you stop being a slave. If you taught every poor boy how to paint, that would be the end of the rich in India.” Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger, p.276 CINI is different from other NGO’s working in West Bengal. CINI is a secular Indian administrated and operated NGO. CINI Australia supports this framework by remaining uninvolved in decision-making roles and responsibilities. CINI Australia fully supports with confidence CINI’s work without international interference but has discretion to choose which programs CINI Australia will fund. CINI is not a service provider but a facilitator for sustainable change in impoverished areas and communities. CINI does not believe in food handouts or providing permanent shelter. On the contrary, CINI is committed to assisting women and children to make sustainable change. For example, our visits to a dropin centre at Sealdah Train Station and a temporary girls shelter in Siliguri showed CINI’s committment to providing temporary accommodation and conducting education and self help programs while solutions are found for a child’s future.
CINI worker from Bagdogara Child Labour School greets CINI Australia Co-founder Dr Jennie Connaughton
Likewise, the intention of establishing Children and Women Friendly Communities is to promote community responsibility for its own health, nutrition, education and protection. Communities become aware of their human rights and citizen rights to quality government services in the region (note the slogan “My life, My Right’s). On several occasions I was impressed by CINI’s success at being a catalyst for change. In Suti II, we visited a school where CINI has helped establish a child parliament to assists children to take responsibility for their peers hygiene, school attendance rates and protection against child marriage and abuse. We also learnt from Child and Women Friendly community leaders in the Murshidabad and Raiganj regions about how they use village maps to keep track of malnourished children, school dropouts, child marriages and abuse.
My life, my rights graphic outside a CINI drop-in centre at Sealdah Station
CINI as a facilitator for sustainable change is committed to working closely with the government social service providers. Successful programs will receive support and funding from the government with the intention of being integrated into the government’s health and social services systems. For example, on a brief stopover at a successful Nutrition Rehab Unit near Dalkola, CINI has now handed over administrative responsibility to the Indian government. CINI also has great trust in the local police for child welfare and protection. I once questioned a CINI worker on the level of trust CINI has for police and they responded strongly in support of the good work police do working with CINI. CINI’s workers are equally as impressive as the programs for sustainable change. All the CINI workers we met along the way were motivated and passionate about their jobs. CINI’s excellent reputation means it is able to attract some of the best graduates in the region. Perhaps the only stumbling block is CINI’s inability to compete with the more attractive salaries that other NGO’s offer. One great success story that comes to mind is a young schoolteacher working in a CINI red light district education centre that he too had attended as a child. We met two of CINI’s founders, Sister Pauline Prince and Dr Samir Chaudhuri, during the trip. 39 years on and they are both proud of CINI’s achievements and passionate about CINI’s current goals. From listening to Dr Chaudhuri speak I understood that the strength of CINI’s work comes from their ability to remain flexible, try new strategies and move with the times.
ACTION, NOT HOPE India is well known internationally as a developing superpower of social contrasts, housing the richest of the rich and poorest of the poor. Some may criticise the Indian government for not doing more to combat social disadvantages and the caste system. Yet it is worthwhile being reminded that India only gained independence in 1947 making India one of the youngest democracies in the world. In comparison to the histories of other western democratic nations, this is a relative short period of time to right the wrongs of India’s pre-modern imperial rulers and British colonial history. This is further complicated by India being the largest democracy in the world with majoritarian democratic principles that often ignore the disempowered minorities. Yet my recent fortnight in West Bengal, visiting the amazing people and programs of CINI, has proven to me that rapid generational social and economic change is not just possible for India, it’s happening right now and Australians are welcomed to become a part of the movement. I encourage all who have read this report to consider sponsoring CINI Australia’s programs and support the empowerment of girls and women in developing countries through education. The following abstract is from an article entitled ‘A world of Schoolgirls’ written by Shashi Tharoor, India’s Minister of State for Human Resource Development:
Mural on a school wall in Suti II where we learnt about a CINI activated children’s community parliament
“What is the single most important thing that can be done to improve the world?” It’s the kind of question that tends to bring out the bureaucrat in even the most direct of communicators, as one feels obliged to explain the complexity of the challenges confronting humanity: how no imperative can be singled out over other goals; how the struggle for peace, the fight against poverty, and the battle to eradicate disease must all be waged side by side; and so on—mind-numbingly. Then I learned to cast caution to the wind and venture an answer to this most impossible of questions. If I had to pick the one thing that we must do above all else, I now offer a two-word mantra: “educate girls.” Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-impactof-educating-girls-on-economic-growth-in-developing-countries-byshashi-tharoor#350v0PpMtHptUi6k.99
Riders Barb Madden and Thea Dhart getting to know some young student workers at CINI’s Thursday clinic in Pailin A child reading an educational book at a HIV affected family program in Kaliaganj
GRATITUDE Many thanks to the CINI workers who joined us along the way; guiding us through some very busy roads and introducing us to some outstanding and diverse programs. Big thanks to the CINI Australia riding team including: Jennie Connaughton, Peter Connaughton, Sue Hardy, Barb Madden, Elizabeth Stroud, Anne Held, Thea Dhart, Varsha Sharma, Ailsa Osborne, Stephanie Chandler and Elliot Hutchinson. Thank you to Chil3 and Becky Chilcott for getting me involved with CINI Australia and helping publicise Cycle for Change. Thank you to KD Cycle, Red Hot Designs and Discovery Learning for your support. Many thanks to all my family, friends, sponsors and supporters, together we raised $2300! Very special thanks to Jennie Connaughton, Elizabeth Stroud and Anne Held for organising the ride and youâ€™re care and safety along the way. Luke Sweet
Team photo outside Hare Krishna temple in Siliguri
A special thank you note given to my supporters of Cycle for Change