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The Founding of CIVA

CIVA & The Woodcock Fund

Tony Phillips, the first president of Canada India Village Aid, remembers how and why the Woodcocks left to start CIVA, the second independent non-profit charitable society they co-founded.
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“I first got involved with TRAS at George’s behest,” he says. “George was persuading various people to go on the board of TRAS to counter-balance the influence of John Conway. This was in ’78 or ’79. I recall Shirley Rushton joined the TRAS board when I did. The Woodcocks had been off the TRAS board. What caused the creation of Canada Village Aid was their friend in India, Patwant Singh, who had created a small hospital called Kabligi. They had need of a generator. George made a request to TRAS to fund this $20,000 generator. We could see the pros and cons of it, frankly. The upshot was that TRAS decided they were not going to fund the generator. So then it was all-out war. The Woodcocks decided there was a need to create a society for the rural India situation and that’s what triggered it. The generator.”

John Conway recalls the Woodcocks wanted money from TRAS immediately. He tried to explain to him that TRAS funds had already been allocated in the budget for projects aligned with CIDA and therefore he could not eradicate those commitments in favour of a spontaneous request.  Having promised they could help their friend Patwant Singh—who had helped them enormously by smoothing the way for them in their travels and meetings in India—George and Ingeborg were appalled by Conway’s obstinancy.

Started in 1981, and very much like TRAS—but with its emphasis on rural India—CIVA adopted a mandate to foster self-help and self-reliance through sustainable development and women’s empowerment, usually partnering with local organizations in areas of economic development, education, health care and environmental concern.

CIVA has often operated in conjunction with Seva Mandir, an Indian non-profit organization that was introduced to the Woodcocks by John Friesen. Seva Mandir mainly assists the rural, predominantly tribal population in the Udaipur and Rajsamand district of southern Rajasthan.

“Operating from Udaipur and working among tribal peoples—notably the Bhils,” George Woodcock wrote, “Seva Mandir strengthened our belief in an approach based on helping the people pick their own goals and helping them achieve them; there was nudging, shall we say, but not shoving.”

Here is George Woodcock’s first-person account of how and why CIVA was created—with no mention of the generator.

Voteless Meetings: The Founding of CIVA

It was friendship that aroused and has since in many supported (Inge and I) in what has been the main cause, outside of literature, of our recent years, the small organization, unpolitical and unliterary, known as Canada India Village Aid.

It all began in the early summer of 1981 when Patwant Singh emerged from our past. Patwant is an Indian writer and editor of Design, his country’s best magazine of architecture and planning. His father was one of the Sikh contractors who, under the direction of Sir Edwin Lutyens, built the dramatic complex of rose-coloured buildings in the centre of New Delhi that was designed to enshrine the authority of the British Raj as successor to all the alien rulers of India, and is now the node of power in independent India.

Through a mutual friend’s letter of introduction, we met Patwant Singh an hour after landing in Bombay on our first Indian journey; like many Sikhs, he was a tall man; his mobile, intelligent face was framed between a black turban and a black, carefully tended beard which I later learnt he kept in a net when he slept.

Mulk Raj Anand

Mulk Raj Anand

Within a week he and my old London friend Mulk Raj Anand, now in Bombay, had introduced us to all the local writers, artists and filmmakers. A couple of weeks later, in Delhi, Patwant performed the same service all over again with almost Mogul lavishness, introducing me to most of the people we wanted to meet (though Nehru would not bite) and giving enormous parties to which everyone came because nobody wanted to be left out. There we encountered not only great Indian writers like the superb novelist and tale-teller R.K. Narayan, but also great foreign writers like Octavio Paz, who was then Mexico’s ambassador to India.

Patwant’s social adeptness, his extravagant self-projection, and his love of pleasure made one think of him in those days that extended over almost the first two decades of our friendship as the intelligent playboy, capable of writing a good book on Indian politics, which he did, of editing an elegant magazine for sophisticates, and of wearing his highly starched black turban in elegant combination with his Gucci shoes as he skittered over the tragic aspects of Asian existence.

He mocked gently our efforts to help Tibetan refugees; he refused to admit, out of nationalist pride, that poverty was a word to be applied to India; and it was I, not he, who noticed that his night watchman had no shoes and was wearing the most wretched of worn-down open sandals in the bitter cold nights of a Delhi December.

About 1980, all this seemed to change dramatically, as life does so often among Indian men who approach the darker verges of middle age, and all at once become aware of the power of karma and relation between present and future lives. Patwant suffered a heart attack. Recovering from it, he found himself considering what would have happened if he had been a peasant farmer from one of the poverty-stricken villages near his country house of Ghamroj in Haryana, sixty miles or so from Delhi. Almost certainly he would have died, for there was no hospital near enough to save him. The thought nagged, as thoughts do on sleepless hospital nights, and when he recovered Patwant went out to look at the areas near his leisure farm with a new uneasy eye.

He found the villages poorer than he had assumed, the land arid, or salinated from bad irrigation; eye diseases caused largely by diet deficiency were so prevalent that any child who survived infancy had a ten-to-one chance of eventually contracting cataract or glaucoma; survival beyond infancy was itself reduced as a possibility by the high rate of gastroenteritis; tuberculosis was on the upspring among cattle and hence among human beings. The women were still in semi-purdah, living withdrawn and repressed lives inaccessible to family planning instruction, for though these people were Jats of Hindu faith, the area had been for centuries under Moslem domination.

The decisive incident came one night when Patwant was driving back to Delhi, and came upon a group of peasants at the roadside and among them a woman in agonized labour; she needed help urgently. Patwant got the peasants to load her into his car and drove to the military hospital in Delhi where he had connections; the woman’s life and her child’s were saved. He decided immediately to found a small hospital so that such a situation might never again occur among what he rather patriarchally regarded as his peasants.

He got to work immediately, calling in the debts of years of lavish hospitality. He badgered the state government of Haryana into giving a piece of land he specified must be barren. He persuaded architect friends to design an open campus of small pavilions to be built cheaply of local materials. He talked manufacturers into giving him beds and sheets and cement. He recruited retired army doctors to staff his hospital and charmed Delhi specialists into offering services at nominal fees. He persuaded a couple of English nurses travelling in India to stay on and help start up the hospital.

Above all, he turned to the vast international circle of friendships he had built up in the years of pleasure and embarked on great annual pilgrimages to collect funds in Britain, the United States and especially Canada, where he tapped the consciences of lumber-rich Vancouver Indians and persuaded the Canadian International Development Agency that his Kabliji Hospital and Rural Health Centre was a voluntary venture worth supporting.

At this point Inge and I became involved. As old friends we were astonished at his apparent transformation, but rejoiced in it. We got together some other Old India Hands, like John and Marta Friesen; some doctors including Shirley Rushton and Douglas Forbes; a few other friends like Doris Shadbolt and Tony Phillips, a psychologist who became our first chairman; like the accountant Hari Varshney who became our treasurer; like Sarah McAlpine and Judy Brown who had attended my lectures long ago at UBC and had worked with us for the Tibetans. We called the little organization we founded Canada India Village Aid.

Patwant Sigh

Patwant Sigh

Here we had our first small difference with Patwant, who wanted us to call it Friends of Kabliji, which we pointed out would be meaningless to Canadians. In any case we had been attracted to Patwant’s suggestion that his experiment was replicable and we joined to that a basic philosophy drawn from Gandhi’s argument that village regeneration was the real foundation of India’s regeneration, an idea long and fatally neglected by Indian politicians. We hoped the opportunities would come—and they quickly did—for us to extend out help beyond Patwant Singh’s experiment. In fact Canada India Village Aid became a (major) factor in our lives….


Here George Woodcock’s describes CIVA’s first major fundraising gambit, co-authoring a book on India with painter Tony Onley. Woodcock’s narrative was combined with twenty-four full-colour watercolours by Onley based on their travels from the ancient cities of Rajasthan, south towards the green lagoons of Kerala, eastward to the temple centres of Orissa and ending in the Himalayas. “True to his word, Toni donated all the paintings he did in India to CIVA,” recalls Sarah McAlpine, “and the sale of those paintings, which exceeded $125,000, launched us as a viable organization.”

We got out our maps and planned a trip with destinations that emphasized the great contrasts of India, that continent masquerading as a country. Starting from Delhi, our general base, we would proceed to the desert realms of Rajasthan, and then swing back to Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, the Mogul heartland. Tony Phillips and his friend Margo Palmer would accompany us thus far. The rest of us would fly southward via Bombay to Kerala, where I had once stayed long enough to write a book, and stand on the tip of India at Kanya Kumari. From Trivandrum we would then go northward over the Deccan to Orissa with its multitude of ancient temples in Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konarak. Continuing north through Calcutta, we would climb to Darjeeling with its Himalayan vistas and mountain way of life, and thence return to Delhi and so, via Burma, home.

It was an itinerary that seemed to encompass the variety of India, its contrasts of terrain and climate, its contrasts also of culture that divided it like the walls of its ancient buildings, and would give the title to the book I would write at the end of it all, Walls of India. But first we would visit Kabliji, which had given us the reason for our trip…

A welcoming party around the great central fireplace of Patwant’s apartment, another in the Canadian High Commission, and we were on our journey, travelling by Ghamrog, where the Kabliji Hospital had been built, on a secondary way to Jaipur.

It was the kind of hopeless countryside Inge and I already knew from having wandered there in 1961 with Gandhian volunteers, and, like most things in India, it had got worse. The dusty soil, exhausted by three millennia of cultivation since the Aryans moved down from the mountains now grew stunted maize and sugar cane four feet high. The peasants’ abode houses were so near to literal mud huts that often we would be aware of a village only when we were about to enter it.

When we reached the hospital, in its patch of salty, scrubby land, it had the same low-squatting look, the walls of its hexagonal buildings class in fieldstone outside and whitewash within and roofed with lichened tiles from old British bungalows. Sitting on the beds in the wards, huddled under their grey-white cotton cloaks, the sick peasants were able to look out at eye level on fields like their own, where teams of oxen limped to and fro, dragging wooden plows like those used by Roman farmers two thousand years ago.

We stayed our first night on the road at Patwant’s luxuriously spartan grange and realized that the presence of the hospital had begun to transform the life of the countryside, at least in the villages from which the patients came. The squalor one sees normally in villages near the Junna was partially mitigated. Open, fly-encrusted drains had been covered over, ancient infected wells had been relined.

An energetic Sikh lady, Mehtab Singh, had lured women out of their purdah, and in a couple of big old granges deserted by absentee landlords, we heard the clatter of handmade looms and the lighter chatter of knitting machines. We halted in doorways decorated with ancient patterns of moulded plaster, and lifted our joined hands in namaskar, as we waited for the women in their bright red and yellow best saris to garland us with sacred marigolds, and dot our brows with auspicious red powder, and offer us sweet chunks of burfi. Then they would invite us in to see the work that had changed their lives.

In the open courtyards hung with the bright dhurries woven there, we found women of all ages at work; teenage girls at the knitting machines, mature women at the looms, old women preparing yarn for dying and weaving. Within a few months of the looms appearing, the last vestiges of purdah had vanished in a quiet village revolution, and the women had begun to assume active roles in local life. The age of marriage had risen steadily, from fourteen or fifteen to nineteen or twenty, as young girls realized they now had earning powers. This meant an immediate dramatic fall in the local birthrate. Even the status of widows, traditional pariahs in Indian villages, had improved since the hospital began to employ them as aides and had given them a status in the community.

As we drove out of the compound at Kabliji, a cart drawn by white oxen with blue-painted horns was coming in: a man lay wrapped almost to his eyes in a dirt-grey cotton cloth, so that we could not tell his age, but the woman who squatted beside him on the jolting floor of the cart held the fold of her faded green sari over her face leaving only her eyes visible; she was one of the old school. Whatever was wrong with the man—and the boy driving the card shrugged when our driver asked him—he had a hope that would not have existed before Kabliji was built.

Yet I took away a sense of unease. The hospital was run well and there was need for it. But I found something disturbingly patriarchal about its arrangements. The hierarchical style of a Western hospital, here accentuated by the presence of military doctors, did not accord with my Gandhian visions of population involvement. I had not been reassured when I asked Patwant whether he was training paramedics, and he replied flippantly, “I don’t want any of those fellows flapping their dirty dhoties around my place!” The possessiveness, the eliteness, disturbed me, and would influence my views when later on I encountered more popular and democratic models of medical activity in rural India….


Through its contacts with Seva Mandir, CIVA began to turn away from authoritarian doctor-oriented approaches towards more libertarian approaches based on recruiting villagers to accept training as health workers, and then sending them training as health workers, and then sending them back among their own people. Its fundraising activities became more varied. George Woodcock wrote:

Our first major effort was actually a training scheme of this kind, which produced a significant improvement in local treatment of sicknesses, in public health, and even in nutrition through the encouragement of composting and kitchen gardens. When a drought began in the areas of Rajasthan where Seva Mandir operated, we expanded into the environmental area, forming a partnership between Seva Mandir, which provided the technical services, the villagers who offered their labour, the Indian government which opened its granaries to compensate them, and we who provided the cash for buying the stone and cement (an expensive commodity in India) and transporting it. We built ten dams, each of which served a thousand people and their animals as it filled with ground water and the occasional rain.

Through the summer of 1984 we worked on an Indian festival for the autumn. We had the co-operation of the India Music Society, with which we collaborated in importing an Orissa dancer and a noted India sitarist; Pacific Cinémathèque, which put on Indian films during the week; the Vancouver Art Gallery which hosted an exhibition of Toni Onley’s Indian paintings, and Xisa Huang of the Bau-xi Gallery who did the same for a show of paintings donated by artists from all over Canada, including Alex Colville, Tony Urquhart and Ivan Eyre as well as the current Vancouver masters; finally, we held a great book sale, and with all this and a generous grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), we were able to start our training scheme.

The artists, including the writers, continued to support us over the years, and two years afterwards we organized a nationwide poetry competition. Two poets who lived in Vancouver (George Bowering and George McWhirter) joined us in organizing the event and giving a first reading of the thousands of poems, good and bad, that poured in. Margaret Atwood, Al Purdy and I were the final judges, and the whole affair culminated in a poetry reading in 1988 organized by Greg Gatenby at Harbourfront, where Margaret and Al and I read in company with John Pass, the first-prize winner, and the other five winners.

The poetry contest, with a considerable supplement from CIDA, enabled us to build our ten dams in Rajasthan, around which Seva Mandir contoured the land and planted trees chosen for shade and fruit and forage. When he saw the first photographs of the dams, George Bowering said, “Now, that is concrete poetry.” The winning poems were eventually published in Dry Wells of India: An Anthology against Thirst, which Howard White brought out and Margaret Atwood introduced.

Two years later the same group, Bowering and McWhirter, Inge and I, would launch a similar competition for anecdotes, led to the idea by an evening drinking Bushmills when the tales flowed free. What we found was that poetry, despite the recent craze for oral readings, remains a written art with thousands of people treasuring manuscripts, while the anecdote is essentially an oral art and—surprisingly—a shy one, for people are rarely inclined to put on paper the tales they tell.

So we had a far more limited response than we had from the poets two years before and in order to make a good anthology this time (The Great Canadian Anecdote Contest) I had to invite my friends in the literary world, such as Margaret Atwood and Timothy Findley, Ronald Wright and Dorothy Livesay, Julian Symons and Eric Wright, to send us their tales as guest writers. They responded generously, and so a good book finally appeared with George McWhirter’s introduction.

For me one of the splendid features of our work with Canada India Village Aid was the way it created or extended friendships, which I believe was due to the open style of our organization, or persistence in discussion until consensus was reached, and there was never any anger of the defeated at the end of our voteless meetings.


Since its beginnings in 1981, CIVA has since worked tirelessly to maintain the ideals established by the Woodcocks, helping rural communities all over India. Typically, in 2008, CIVA assisted two Indian NGOs, Rashtra Seva Dal (RSD) and ASHA, to cope with emergency situations caused by the Kosi River floods of August and September 2008, in the Bihar area of northern India, one of India’s poorest states, as well as flooding in the state of Orissa, bordering on the Bay of Bengal. In 2008, it was estimated that two million people were left homeless and many were killed by the worst flooding in India in half a century. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it a “national calamity.”

The Bihar tragedy occurred after the Kosi River, swollen by monsoon rains, burst an upstream dam in Nepal on August 18, 2008. Experts said that a river embankment in Nepal, for which the Indian government was responsible under a treaty between the two countries, failed on August 18 when the river was flowing at only about a sixth of the design capacity of the defense. Locals who had noted the river was about to breach the embankment three days before it happened were ignored.

The death toll rose significantly as water-borne diseases took hold and adults and children, already weak from malnourishment, were unable to access food and shelter. In addition, food riots broke out in several areas. Unlike the situation in Indonesia, where televised reports of a horrific tsunami had mobilized world aid for Indonesians, when the interior areas of Kisangunj, Katiyar, Arariya, Madhepura and some parts of Purnea were flooded, the world took little notice.

CIVA became involved as a result of a simple letter from RSD’s trustee Sudha Varde:

“We would like to request CIVA for a sum of Rs.10,00000 (ten lakhs). Ideally, we would like to use Rs. 4,00000 for rebuilding the schools (= 20 X Rs. 20000) and the rest for helping the community members to replace their huts and the most essential things that they are missing and this includes books and school supplies…. Our request to CIVA is confined to an absolute minimum that we require to put our project back on its feet. Education is the hope for these children and we do not want the lamp of hope that we lit so many years ago to be extinguished simply because a river changed its course.”

CIVA had already been involved with Sudha Varde’s RSD. In 1993, RSD had started a camp for Moslem and Dalit women with the dual purpose of impressing upon them the importance of education and being organized for their legal rights. CIVA, as a result, later funded a similar camp in another part of Bihar. RSD had also started twenty schools in Bihar for child labourers by persuading the community to donate small pieces of land for construction purposes. Similar structures were built to hold meetings of women’s groups. All these structures were washed away by the flooding, as well as most of the huts of poor farmers. Knowing that RSD was a worthwhile partner, CIVA responded quickly and fully to the funding request. CIVA also fulfilled a funding request from the ASHA society.
“We take the view that our role is not to provide top-down direction,” says CIVA’s website, “but rather to stand back and allow the people who are directly affected come to us and tell us what they need….  As CIVA has no paid staff every dollar donated goes directly to India to help foster self-help and self-reliance among some of the world’s poorest people.”

This is the Woodcockian model. All work is done by volunteers, chiefly the board of directors. These individuals also bear the administrative costs of the society. In 2008, the board of directors consisted of Judy Brown, Suzy Buckley, John Harriss, Ashok Kotwal, Sophie Low-Beer, Sarah McAlpine, Essop Mia, Amir Mitha, Anne Murphy, Tony Phillips, Drew Stewart, Cathy Strickland, Russell Wodell and Hari Varshney. Organizational mainstays have included Tony Phillips and Sarah McAlpine.

Past directors have included Bill Bruneau, Barbara Chilcott, Marnie DiGiandomenico, Johanna Duprey, Bahman Farmanara, Hannah Fisher, Katherine Fletcher, Dr. W.D. Forbes, Keath Fraser, John Friesen, Marta Friesen, Genise Gill, Patricia LaNauze, Charlotte Mitha, Toni Onley, Robert Philips, Dale Rolfsen, Shirley Rushton, Doris Shadbolt, Giles Shearing Somers and Max Wyman. Sponsors have ranged from the industrialist J.V. Clyne to environmentalist David Suzuki.

As noted by George Woodcock’s memoir, CIVA has also benefited from the contributions of many artists such as choreographer Anna Wyman, novelists Margaret Laurence and Timothy Findley, composer Harry Somers, architect Arthur Erickson, and painters Gordon Smith and Jack Shadbolt. CIVA also royalties from books, most notably editor Keath Fraser’s hugely successful collection of travel misadventures, Bad Trips (Vintage Books, 1991). Published in England as Worst Journeys: The Picador Book of Travel (1992), this bestselling anthology has generated more than $150,000 for CIVA.

Drs. Kathleen W. and Robert G. Langston of Naramata gave generously towards CIVA’s health training project in Rajasthan and left a generous bequest in their wills, as did supporter Elizabeth Rose of California. While the economy of India is booming, almost one quarter of the world’s poor live in India where more than 78 percent of the population lives on under $2 a day (at the purchasing power parity). In response, CIVA favours modest undertakings with Indian organizations at the grassroots level.

The constitution of CIVA was written with the advice and aid of Stephen Owen, who later became Ombudsman of British Columbia, a federal MP for Quadra and Commissioner on Resources and Environment to the provincial government. Among the witnesses for the application were poet Earle Birney and Ingeborg Woodcock. Signatories for registration were William Forbes, Shirley Rushton, A.G. “Tony” Phillips, John Friesen and George Woodcock. Doris Shadbolt and Ingeborg Woodcock were also originating members, joined soon thereafter by Sarah McAlpine.

The first Chairman was Tony Phillips; Shirley Rushton was Vice-Chairman; George Woodcock was Secretary; Hari Varshney was Treasurer. The secretary’s job was apportioned to Russell Wodell. “The (CIVA) Board has long shared a deep-seated mistrust of international bureaucracy and a zestful glee at manipulating it into concrete benefits to some of the world’s most neglected citizens,” recalls Wodell. “I was hooked at once by accounts of a recent scheme to sell simple dhurries through the Bau-Xi Gallery: local artists contributed designs which were woven by village widows, and their work sold in Canada at roughly 1000 percent mark-up, which paid for the materials for further rugs. Nothing was said to the funding agencies about the fact that this scheme quietly subverted the caste system, by making the harijan women weavers the richest people in their villages….

“Most of us have probably been burned more than once by the astonishing egotism of self-proclaimed do-gooders. On the CIVA board I found a refreshing and above all good-natured pragmatism. One of our projects identified a need for sanitation facilities, and accordingly a series of deep concrete latrines was constructed. ‘Hurrah!’ said the villagers, and promptly filled the latrines with potatoes, now finally safe from marauding rats. The board laughed in unison and agreed that this demonstrated a far greater need for secure food storage.”

The treasurer’s job was later handled by Amir Mitha, an Ismaili accountant from Uganda who was associated with the India Music Society. He says, “Most of the people who joined CIVA were brought in personally by George and Inge. I’ve been on the board close to thirty years. And if you ask me what keeps me going still, it is, in some sense—and I’m very careful in using the word—an obligation to George which we owe. It requires us to continue. That’s partly why these two organizations have survived and thrived. It is because of the inspiration that George and Inge left with us.”

The linkage between TRAS and CIVA is seldom acknowledged, given that George and Ingeborg essentially abandoned their first-born charity in favour of a fresh one, but there have been many overlaps in terms of philosophy, projects and people. The experiences of CIVA board member Dale Rolfsen illustrate the point.

As an American draft evader in India during the Vietnam War, Rolfsen gained a postdoctoral position through the kindness of an Indian mathematician. In 1970 he did some volunteer work on Tibetan resettlement projects and met a Jewish refugee from Poland, Maurice Freedman, who had immigrated to India during Hitler’s rise to power. Freedman had become an associate of Gandhi and an acquaintance of the Woodcocks as a result of their shared concerns for displaced Tibetans. Upon learning that Rolfsen and his wife were planning to move to Vancouver, Freedman arranged for Rolfsen to meet “the great ally of Tibetans in Canada.” And so the Woodcocks became the Rolfsens’ first friends in Canada.

“They quickly put us to work,” he recalls, “helping Tibetan refugees coming to Canada, from fundraising to fixing up old farmhouses for newly arrived families.”

Skeptical about do-gooders who all too frequently end up doing harm, and leery of foster children programs in particular, Rolfsen managed to resist entreaties from the Woodocks to become a board member of TRAS. At the time, Rolfsen was swayed by the cynicism of a Seattle-based medical doctor and mountaineer, Steve Bezrouchka, who had spent several years climbing and doctoring in Nepal. Bezrouchka firmly believed that “adoption” by foreigners was detrimental to a child’s self-esteem. Eventually the Rolfsens were persuaded to stop sending support monies to their Tibetan foster child when the boy had reached his teens.

In 1998, Rolfsen recalled: “Although I continued to help with book sales, etc. (who can refuse Inge?), I politely declined the Woodcocks’ invitations to be on the board of TRAS, or later, CIVA. My excuse was that I was not an organizational person (trying to appeal to George’s anarchistic sentiments), but the real reason was my ambivalence about the whole concept, my inability to answer the questions posed above, which in fact still haunt me.”

But by 1997, Rolfsen relented. Or Ingeborg won.

Rolfsen joined the board of CIVA and returned to India in December of 1997, after a twenty-seven-year absence, to participate in an unprecedented monitoring expedition undertaken by almost the entire CIVA board, with the exceptions of Hari Varshney, Judy Brown and Toni Onley. Although Rolfsen was told by an Indian NGO consultant that approximately 70 percent of NGOs operating in India were corrupt, he was positively impressed by the two major affiliates that he inspected in India: Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG ), headquartered in Sitla in the Himalayan foothills, in the Nainital District, Uttar Pradesh; and Seva Mandir in the Rajasthan region.

“The lesson from this is that CIVA has to be very selective in its support and monitor its projects closely,” he wrote. “So I will stand by CIVA as long as our mission is to work with such groups. I do believe they do more good than harm, but I think we must keep our eyes open! I also believe that in the long run, the assistance will be returned. We, too, in our sometimes smug overdeveloped society, can benefit from the experiences and wisdom of the rest of the world.”

Here are some examples of typical CIVA projects.

— The Women’s Income Generation project in Trivandru, Kerala, was designed to provide a seven-month training period for 50 women to empower them to carry on weaving in their own homes. It also provided funds from a working capital pool to buy raw materials so that products could be sold to the Mitrankiketan Women’s Co-operative Society. The training procedures took fourteen months, split into two periods, from May 1996 to November 1996, and from December 1996 to June 1997. It was the first CIVA project in Kerala, at the southern tip of India.

— A sustainable energy program with CHIRAG was commenced jointly by CIVA and TRAS in 1993. CIVA was the first organization to provide funds to CHIRAG after it was registered as a non-profit society in 1986, funding a community health project. The Ford Foundation, Oxfam and other funding agencies subsequently partnered with CHIRAG, most notably the Swiss Development Commission (SDC), as of 1990. Numerous CHIRAG programs in health, education and forestry have been funded by CIVA and TRAS in the Nainital District. Following an inspection of the CIVA-sponsored rural health centre in Sitla by Tony Phillips, CIVA supported the creation of a second clinic in the village of Khasialekh. Of the total cost for the scheme of $98,388, $86,672 was borne jointly by CIVA and the Canadian International Development Agency. The total CIVA contribution was $31,084.

— In villages surrounding Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu state, CIVA partnered with Shanti Ashram on literacy and income generation projects for Harijan (Untouchable) women from lower caste families. A “spiritually motivated” Gandhian organization headed by Dr. M. Aram and his wife, Shanti Ashram provided vocational training to more than 3,000 women in 29 villages. CIVA representatives made several inspection visits in the early 1990s to ensure funds were well allocated.

— In association with Father Burns, a long-time associate of the Woodcocks, CIVA partnered with the Darjeeling Jesuits of North Bengal to improve health services for 150,000 families in the Darjeeling district by providing courses for paramedic/midwives who deliver primary health care in the region. Again, a CIVA representative visited the project, based in Hayden Hall, in 1995.

— CIVA and TRAS have both partnered with Sister Victorine, the Indian Carmelite nun in the south Indian state of Karnataka, whose Carmelite Sisters of the Incarnation Convent built a health centre and dispensary in the Geddallehalli Village region near Mysore. After a visit by Jennifer Hales of TRAS, who stayed for six weeks working with Sister Victorine, CIVA sponsored a second facility for 150 families in Jettihundi, 11 kilometres from Mysore. “As far as I saw,” Hales reported, “Sister Victorine’s work does not include a missionary purpose. She and the other nuns of her order do not set up village dispensaries and schools with the intention of converting Hindu, Muslim, Jain or Buddhist people, regardless of their religion.” Sister Victorine is now the Mother Superior of the Carmelite Order.

For more information about Canada India Village Aid Society, visit