Building Understanding through International Learning and Development (BUILD) is an interdisciplinary student-led program that immerses students in the theory and practice of sustainable development through partnerships with rural communities in the developing world. BUILD members study and implement projects for human, social, and economic development generated through focus groups with partner communities.
BUILD has worked in Nicaragua since 2002 and in Guatemala from 2007-2011, where it launched an income-generation and sustainable agriculture project with Santa Anita, a coffee farming community. BUILD: India began after an initial scouting trip to Thottiyapatti, India in August 2010, followed by another in January 2011. BUILD: India has identified three main focus areas based on conversations with Payir, a rural empowerment program, and residents of Thottiyapatti:
1. Learning Center
BUILD: India enriches education. In 2011, BUILD supported the construction of a learning center housing a small library and two computers with Internet access that is used for 6 hours each day by 25-30 children. These children attend tutoring sessions hosted by three Center Administrators, learn from an additional curriculum created by rural development group AID: India, use the library, and learn basic computer skills. College students use the center to supplement their coursework and develop computer skills.
Recently, a committee of community members has been created with the aim of transferring ownership and responsibility of the center to the village while liaising between BUILD: India and the rest of the village. This committee also creates programs and monitors the general functioning of the center. The center has become a real source of pride for many in the village. Perhaps its impact is best captured by Janani, one of the young women who administrates the Center, who said: “For a long time, Thottiyapatti was seen as the village that had nothing, but now we have this Center with computers to be proud of.”
2. Health and Sanitation
BUILD: India addresses local sanitation and hygiene issues. The village of Thottiyapatti lacks access to toilet facilities, forcing residents to use the fields and open roads to relieve themselves. This has raised security and privacy concerns, especially for women. Roads are also lined with open sewers, exposing all people to health risks. BUILD has partnered with SCOPE and the local government of Tamil Nadu to implement two blocks of public EcoSan toilets. This model was chosen based on its low water usage, success in nearby communities, and sustainable fertilizer production. A committee of men and women have volunteered to work on advocacy, outreach, and joint maintenance of the toilet facilities. Along with the toilet infrastructure BUILD is promoting a hygiene initiative carried out by the committee and community health workers from Payir.
3. Skill and Enterprise Development
BUILD: India focuses on promoting local entrepreneurship and skill-building. With most villagers in Thottiyapatti living hand to mouth, there is an urgent need for additional sources of income. From feedback through community discussions and with guidance from involved NGOs, BUILD has supported the launch of a soap-making enterprise led by several women in the village. BUILD is looking to connect the people of Thottiyapatti with a financial literacy program that, through workshops, will teach the essentials of household budgeting and resource allocation.
To get involved in BUILD: India, please contact one of our group leaders or plan to come to an early-semester general interest meeting.