The seeds of Adivasi were planted in 1989 when I traveled to India for the first time with the School for International Training’s Semester Abroad Program. We traveled in northern India but spent most of our time in the town of Udaipur, Rajasthan. I was immediately drawn to the Indian culture. I was thrilled by the beautiful and colorful chaos of it and also intrigued by the deep peace I found within this ancient culture. Living in Udaipur was a bit like stepping back in time. The streets were filled with bicycles rather than cars. Televisions and telephones were a rarity. Vegetable carts and bangle sellers roamed the neighborhoods. Neighbors spent time together and people slept and awoke with the sun.
Two years later I returned; a recent graduate from the University of Vermont’s Environmental Studies program. I was ready to “save the world” and began working for a reforestation project with a non-governmental organization based in Udaipur. Our job was to “teach” the locals not to cut their forests while they were being replanted. The fact of the matter was that people had been living harmoniously with their environment until industries harvested their trees for cricket bats. They knew each tree; their medicinal properties and how to care for them. They had been living in a delicate balance with their harsh environment for multiple generations. I did not have anything to teach them.
Quickly I became disillusioned as I saw organizations fighting over villages, forming alliances with people that disrupted the local form of governance, even building helicopter pads in remote villages to take their donors on tours. I wanted to find a way that I could make a difference in a respectful way. It was at this time that I met Shram. He had a deep understanding and respect for the tribal communities; having been raised by a mother who was an incredibly devoted and powerful social worker in the villages. We shared our frustrations and agreed on the importance of helping tribal villages achieve financial viability and stability. This allows communities to develop in ways that best suit their circumstances and eases the pressures of migration to larger cities in search of work.
For twenty years we have worked with families of traditional artisans, women’s cooperatives and those supplementing their incomes through cottage industry. We have developed long lasting and equitable relationships that continue today.