This year, my colleagues and I spent an informative and enjoyable weekend visiting a group of villages in the Sittilingi Valley. The valley is in a remote part of southern India, surrounded by hills ideal for walking and exploring. This was our annual outing, which is usually spent at the beach or at a hotel, but this year I wanted us to do something different.
I have always had an interest in a more ecological way of living and the pure, back-to-basics lifestyle of the tribal villagers appealed to me. I wanted to know more about their attitude to nature and their approach to organic culture. After putting forward my idea to my MANN+HUMMEL India colleagues, it was put to a vote with two other options and the trip was confirmed! So, my colleagues, twelve guys who all report to the CFO and come from Finance, Controlling, Legal, IT and Tax, prepared for an exciting weekend getting our hands dirty!
The start of a weekend of discovery
We arrived late on Friday and the next day we started to explore the village. After a good breakfast, we visited the nearby paddy fields. This was the first time that many of us had come so close to one. We were given the task of weeding out the unwanted plants around the paddy plants (paddy is the name for the rice still in the husk). As you walk around, you sink into the water up to your knees (and sometimes beyond) as the plants grow in water-soaked clay fields. This makes it almost impossible to move and is a very squidgy experience!
Farming first hand
In the afternoon, we tried our hand at ploughing. The villagers use bullocks to drag the plough through the fields. The animals were quite frightened of twelve strange men approaching them in the field! However, they soon calmed down and we each had a go. Everything the farmers produce is sold to a co-operative society that is owned by the people of around 80 villages. The society processes and sells produce to end-consumers. As everyone is a member of the society, the villagers share the profits made.
We also had an opportunity on Saturday to learn how natural fertilisers and insecticides are made by the villagers. Panchagavya is made by mixing five ingredients produced by cows: urine, dung, milk, yoghurt and ghee (clarified butter). After letting it brew for over 30 days, you get a concoction which, when diluted with water, is a very effective fertiliser. Furthermore, a very special pesticide is produced in the villages by mixing cow urine with the leaves of many plants poisonous to humans. After 20 days, you get a humane pesticide that discourages worms and insects from eating the plants, but does not actually kill them.
Keeping up good health
Sunday was another busy day. After a three-hour trek in the nearby forest and hills exploring the countryside and rivers, we visited the Tribal Hospital. Unique and rare in India, the Tribal Hospital has 40 beds with 24/7 surgeons, seven doctors and medical support. It is run by a charity, the Tribal Health Initiative, which offers treatments at subsidised rates for the tribal villagers and normal rates for others.
We were lucky to have a session with the doctors, talking about their experiences over the last 25 years or so. They explained the initial trust level was very low. This has improved greatly over the years through the actions of the hospital and the positive results from the medical team’s services. As a charity, the hospital relies on people voluntarily contributing to its welfare fund. The participants from the trip individually contributed 30,000 Rupees (about 450 Euros) in recognition of the work done by the doctors and surgeons.
A lasting impression for everyone
We learnt a lot during the weekend. The village was very clean and the people were extremely courteous, treating my colleagues and me as their honoured guests. It was a unique experience and an opportunity to learn about another way of living. Reactions from my colleagues were very positive: “awesome eye-opener”, “other side of the world”, “go back to the roots to rediscover yourselves”. As a bunch of guys who basically sit at desks most of the day, it was a physical challenge but one we were delighted to tackle!