DIR in India

The Janta Colony Project, Chandigarh

In a crowded slum where 8996 people live in 2,047 tiny homes, located just outside Chandigarh, capital of the Punjab, DIR has a project being implemented by the residents.  This "bustee" is called Janta Colony.

News from Chandigarh, October/November 2006

W. Frederick Shaw


[Read previous updates: June 2006]


1. DIR'S "Health Promote Evening"

The biggest event we have staged thus far, and one which we probably will not surpass in the near future was held on 7th October.  This was an outdoor event under a large sharmayana ( tent-like structure) which we had rented along with a generator, lights, chairs and a carpet to cover the grass.  The government loaned us a PA system.  Despite all our early planning, the days just prior to the event were crowded with frantic activity.  Our staff wrote a dramatic skit in which DIR workers were acting the part of Janta Colony (slum) residents who were cleaning up the rubbish that their thoughtless neighbours had strewn everywhere.  For the non-Hindi speakers, the play is still one of the great mysteries, but it was well-received.  The staff also put on two dance acts, and these were supported by an excellent “Magic Show” which was really all about AIDS, (staged by another NGO) and a fine vocal recital by an Army Colonel (who donated his talents) plus a short presentation by the Food Corporation of India on Good Nutrition, during which low-cost, highly-nutritious food samples were distributed to everyone.  Four talks were interposed between the entertainment.  The first was by Brigadier Katoch, the commander of the National Cadet Corps for this quarter of India (He is increasing our impact by providing logistic support to DIR and having his staff and Cadets provide manual assistance.)   The second was by our Sarpanch (local civic leader).  The third was by the CEO of DIR and the fourth was by Joint Secretary of Development for the Government of India, Rajendra Mishra.  The last-named was our Chief Guest who kindly traveled from Delhi to see our project and participate in this event.  

2. Festival By-Product

The recognition our work is receiving is very gratifying, and there is increased conversation about Government providing substantial financial support.  It transpires that, in India, NGOs have fallen into disrepute.  This has come about because the Government has been lax in overseeing NGO activities and some less than ethical people have found that creating an NGO is a fast way to creating a means of a large income.  The corruption has become well-known and now the UN has ruled that funds it has provided to India for development may not be given to a new NGO.  Each new organization has to be in existence and have a clean record for a minimum of three years before it is eligible for UN funds.  In three years, I have been assured, DIR can get close to all the funds it needs from UN sources.  Signs that the three-year rule is not going to solve problems showed up the other day when I heard that a group had offered “to buy” a NGO which had just completed it first three years.

3. Punjab - Land Of Promise(s):

We resolved before the Health Promotion Festival that we would not spend any project funds on it.  We would raise the needed expenses (for rentals, etc.,)  from local donations.  We followed this course in the past and it worked well and we quickly raised the money. Thus we started on a very short round of begging from the local businessmen talking them into donating this or that.  Our first promise of support was volunteered unexpectedly from the owner of the company from whom we rented the tent and chairs.  Upon learning details of our project, he said “I would like to support your work; there will be no charge for renting any of our equipment.”  We gratefully accepted his offer.

The second promised substantial donation came from a hotel owner, the President of the local Rotary Club, and was equally unexpected.    We approached him for a donation from Rotary.  “Unfortunately”, he told us, “all the funds from Rotary have been donated for this year.  However, I really respect and admire what you are doing and so I will donate the needed cash personally.”  Thus we went ahead without approaching anyone else.

After the Festival, we returned the rented property to the tent rental chap and got another surprise - a  bill for Rs.7,000 ($155)!  Despite protestations, he held firm to his demands, and we ended with the unhappy compromise of paying him Rs,4,500($100).  Still, we were saddened but not disconsolate because we had our hotelier’s generosity to keep us in the black..  We then assembled the receipts and attached them to a list of expenses, which totaled Rs.9,800 ($220).  Upon taking them to our benefactor, the owner of the Aroma Hotel, we were informed that “This is a big bill.  I cannot pay this”which let us standing with mouth agape.  Thus, we are confronted with expenses, which are impossible to get funded after the event, and we have developed new feelings about Punjab being a land of great promise(s).  However, one can learn a lot here.

4. MLA Donation:

To our surprise, we were informed toward the end of September that we would receive a donation from the local MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly).  He was attending a local Panchayat (this is the civic body of local leaders at “village level”) when the people there told him about the activities of DIR.  He expressed his approval and announced that he would give us Rs.20,000.  We have waited patiently through October and November to receive the donation, half expecting that it will turn out to be another nice promise.  If it does come this would be the equivalent of $444, not a great sum but it is a start, and we are looking forward to increased activity of this nature.  

5.  Pigs Progress

As mentioned last month we are endeavoring to rid the slum of the 621 pigs which roam freely and (very probably) spread disease equally freely.  No action seems to have been taken by the government despite our letters to the authorities, requesting their removal.  Presumable their owners are men of influence and this is slowing events.  Recently we recruited the assistance of a local reporter and she is going to write a feature article for her newspaper.  The material will probably hit the fan then and we are likely to not engender love in certain quarters; however, we will get rid of the pigs.

6. Fund-Raising In India:

During November we wrote two grant requests.  The first was to the World Bank in a competitive race to get $200,000 to fund our programmes.  The second was for a fellowship which could provide a salary of $30,000 a year for two years.

On following-up the possibility mentioned last month of getting a UNDP Environmental Education grant of $33,333 we were informed that these grants are only become available to us after we have been functioning three years.

We have developed a contact with a private foundation which wants to do some partnership activities with us.  This is the Sehgal Foundation.  It was founded by and is funded by Suri Sehgal who seems to be a very fine person.  He is an Indian who emigrated to the US, earned a PhD in agronomy, and made nice fortune in seed development.  Since retiring in Florida and establishing his foundation, he has provided some $17 million to a project for poorer communities in Haryana.  We have met Suri, who invited our CEO to see his project.  It is doing wonderful work in many ways but lacks some of the components of our health project which are proving so beneficial.  We are exploring collaboration in exchanging skills and obtaining some needed funds for DIR.

7. G overnment Health Services:

Our collaboration with Punjab State Health authorities on a twice monthly basis to get the children under five immunized against the common childhood diseases and polio has paid off.  Before November ended we had managed to get every child completely immunized.  We get the impression that few officials really believe that we have got 100% coverage, but we have, and this is a great tribute to our field staff.

In connection with starting a program in Harayana, we have had meetings with the Health and Family Welfare Secretary for that State and received a very warm reception.  We expect that the State will fund all, or most, of our proposed new program.  It will, of course, take time to complete the necessary formalities, but we should be making a start within six months.

8. Nutrition Program:

A national daily, The Times of India, did a nice article on our nutrition activities and this publicity should do us good.  The article and photographs are being forwarded to the States to be put on our Webpage.

The Food Corporation of India, a national government agency which aims as reducing malnutrition, kindly provided a one week course in the preparation of cheap nutritious food for all our field staff   This was a welcome development and is another signal of official government recognition.

9. Additions To Our Staff

We feel fortunate to have recruited some valuable new staff members although two are shorter term than we would like.  The first is Mr. Marat Yu who is in India for merely six months.  He is from Hong Kong and has just received a Master’s Degree in Development from the London School of Economics.  The second is Ms. Valentine van der Poll from the Netherlands, temporarily volunteering her services in India.  She is a Psychologist who has given our staff some good practical workshops in effective teaching techniques.  The third and fourth are two male physicians, Dr. Gaurav and Dr. Kanwaljit, both have a keen interest in Preventive Medicine, and we expect great things of them.  Dr. Gaurav is an amateur film maker and has started making a short documentary of our activities which we can use overseas for fund-raising.

10.  Achievements Of Objectives:

Tabulated below is a summary of the scheduled Objectives for September and the quantified achievement of each.  Notes are appended when elaboration was thought necessary.



% Achieved



Stage a Health Promotion Evening in Janta Colony in early October




Have an audience of at least 500 at our Health Promotion Evening


See Note A


Obtain all the funds needed for the HP Evening from local donations


See Para. 3


Immunize at least 95% of all children under the age of five


See Note B


Weigh at least 90% of all children under the age of five




Up-date growth charts for all weighed children and advise parents




Each Health Promoter will have conducted at least three meetings with his/her committee during the month




Health Promoters will have conducted Health Education meetings for at least 330 local residents



A.  Our attendance of 400 reflected a failure of our publicity efforts
B.  Much to our satisfaction we achieved 100% immunization coverage.  Easily our best achievement to date.

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