Kanda, Kumaon Uttarakhand
The cluster of 54 villages of Kanda, near the ancient town of Bageshwar are amidst the terraced hills of Kumaon, Uttaranchal, India, in the foreground of the lofty Himalayan peaks. The bustle and chaos of the nearby tourist destinations of Almora and Nainital are a distant memory that lifts as one winds down the narrow footpaths into this hidden paradise, where Kumaoni culture and traditions reign supreme. The sheer beauty of the terraced landscape is in sharp contrast to the extreme poverty of the local population.
Here, K.S.S./R.O.S.E. (Koormanchal Seva Sansthan/Rural Organisation for Social Elevation) has been founded as a vision of responsible, volunteer-based tourism. Guests are able to interact with the community, bringing in skills, knowledge and financial support, while working beside community members on K.S.S./R.O.S.E. rural development projects.
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Mr. Jeevan Lal Verma, founder and director of K.S.S./R.O.S.E is keenly aware that environmental sustainability is an immeasurably important and integral part of a fully sustainable system of living. It is inseparable from the health, culture, livelihood and spiritual well-being of any community. Recognising this, he has spent twenty years dedicated to the conservation and improvement of the local environment. Kurmanchal Seva Sansthan / Rural Organisation for Social Elevation (K.S.S./R.O.S.E.) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization which works at the grassroots level, appealing to the community to become active participants in a program for self and community development. The primary goal of K.S.S./R.O.S.E. is to elevate the health, education and quality of life of the rural poor in this region while maintaining the cultural integrity and ecological balance.
Mr. Verma’s family has lived in the Kanda region for generations. He, therefore, has a deep understanding of the social, cultural and environmental issues faced here. Most importantly, he recognizes that these three aspects are interdependent and integral to a fully sustainable system of living. Each aspect is inseparable from the health, culture, livelihood and spiritual well-being of the community. All projects here are approached with this in mind.
K.S.S./R.O.S.E. is founded with altruistic aims. Acting as a small organisation, it has established itself as a centre of hope, aid and growth in the Kanda community. One of the most impressive feats of this programme’s work is how much it has achieved with modest, irregular financial backing. This is due largely to the fact that all profit earned through tourist volunteers and grants goes directly towards rural development projects. K.S.S./R.O.S.E. also includes the community at every level of project development and implementation.
Among the many projects undertaken are construction of earthquake-proof home, model kitchen, facilities for composting, twin-tank latrines, model cattle, goat and poultry house, community educational programs on sanitation, health, floriculture, bio-gas etc. Effort has been directed towards aforestation, creation of tourist volunteer program, maintenance of terraces/erosion prevention- soil conservation, construction of water catchment tanks, employment generation for rural needy unemployed & crafts technicians, construction of bio-gas system, greenhouse construction, clothing distribution, cultural celebrations, organized National Service Scheme camp, community meetings, facilitation of women’s group meetings, addressing community needs and generating respect and trust in the work of K.S.S./R.O.S.E.. Funds have been an obstacle that have not yet allowed this amazing organisation from reaching its full potential as a leader in social development and well-being.
An important component of the K.S.S./R.O.S.E. program is its international volunteer base. With growing interest for the Himalayas generated both among domestic and foreign travelers, there is also increasing concern in the potential exploitation of the environment and degradation of local culture. Tourism offers much needed financial relief and generates employment and can be the short-cut that simultaneously creates resource exploitation and cultural degeneration. K.S.S./R.O.S.E offers a brilliant alternative, providing a system of small-scale (no more than 15 guests at a time), volunteer-based tourism that is both ecologically and culturally sustainable.
Volunteers are deeply affected by the intimate relationships they are able to form living within the family environment, working with locals and attending cultural and community events. It is an unparalleled experience of living within the traditions of the Kumaoni people. The locals benefit through the work, knowledge and financial contributions of the tourist volunteers. There is a sense of pride that is cultivated within the community through such interactions. One of the primary projects that volunteers participate in is learning about local farming methods. Traditionally, the Kumaoni people use a fully organic, sustainable system of agriculture, regularly applying methods of intercropping, land rotation and the use of natural fertilizers. The genuine interest of volunteers gives the workers a sense of confidence in their knowledge and has helped to preserve traditional techniques of organic agriculture that may otherwise have been lost.
Beyond the structural projects that this organisation has undertaken, the awareness it creates in the community about social and environmental concerns has been an enormous feat. Mr. Verma uses his home to set up pilot projects so that locals can visit and learn about issues ranging from soil conservation and water management to afforestation and recycling. As a respected community member, he addresses the effects of environmental issues on local life. Change and action at the individual level creates positive change in the community through knowledge that is shared liberally. Lack of finances are probably the only real limitation that K.S.S./R.O.S.E. faces.
The depth and breadth of the projects organized by K.S.S./R.O.S.E. is truly amazing. Amidst the thorns of social injustice, environmental degradation, economic inequality and threatened traditions, K.S.S./R.O.S.E has emerged as a source of hope, aid and happiness for locals and foreigners alike. May it continue to grow in the fertility of perseverance and altruism.
My stay at KSS/ROSE. was a brief 10 days, but this was time enough to be touched by the depth of ROSE’s work and the warmth of Verma’s place. The hills around Kanda offer a tranquility I have found in few places in India. Away from the cars and noise of the nearby tourist hill stations, I found a place to rejuvenate and reconnect with this beautiful country. My first night and day were spent at a puja across the valley where I witnessed the ritual sacrifice of a goat, and other sacred ceremonies with the extended Verma family. There are few opportunities for tourists to experience the “real India” in the way ROSE offers. Being the only volunteer here at the time, I felt an integral part of the family. An amazing amount of communication happens beyond words when you find yourself following a story in Hindi based only on facial expressions and the family’s reactions!
Though I had come here expecting to do farm work, the time of year and the writing assignments I had to complete saw me involved, and learning an incredible amount about the many social and environmental issues of the Kanda region and the amazing work that K.S.S./R.O.S.E. has done, and plans to do. It also gave me the opportunity for many long discussions with Mr.Verma about KSS/ROSE and Indian culture. The library here looks small, but there is a fair amount of information which can be accessed. Mr. Verma is always willing to pull out relevant articles.
My time at KSS/ROSE, more than anything, has been a humbling reminder to be grateful for all the love and beauty in my life and the powers that pulled me to this place. I’ve been so touched by the generosity of the Verma family. Through their example, they inspire the generosity that allows the programme to run. I leave wanting to give what I can to KSS/ROSE, hoping that I can return someday in the future to learn and contribute more. This has certainly been one of the richest experiences of my time backpacking in India. It has been the perfect way to bid goodbye to this incredible country as I prepare to return to USA next week. Thank you to the Verma family, to Kanda, to India . . . I will hold you in my memories forever.
For more information please contact:
Mr. Jeevan Lal Verma,
Village Sonargam P.O. Kanda,
District Bageshwar, Uttaranchal, India,263631
Telephone: 91 (0)5963 241081, 91 (0)5963 241097
web site: www.rosekanda.info
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.