Published: Thursday 30 June 2005

Wisdom from the hills
Stories, explanations, complaints -- these comprise, a project of the uk-based Panos Institute's oral testimony programme. Remembers Bhailya, a 98-year-old farmer from the Alaknanda Valley:"Sit together; turn the spindle." A similar approach defines this collection: over 350 local language interviews with mountainfolk of India, Nepal, Pakistan, China, Poland, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mexico and Peru.

The problems different communities face differ in detail, but there are overwhelming similarities. So the project's overseers emphasise "life" over "more precise statistics": "perceptions are just as important as facts in understanding development decisions and priorities". And because perceptions often exist in the subtleties, the programme tries to make an immensity of material as accessible and user-friendly as possible. Interviews are first taped, then transcribed and translated into English, word-for-word. is easily searchable: by country, and/or over 35 themes.

Want to find local views on Nepali forestry or traditional Indian skills? The website will not only list all such interviews and related material, but include a list of some of the very best short quotes.

Mohan, an Ayurvedic doctor from Garwhal, wishes interviews "could create pressure on the government ... to use the experiences and wisdom of the people" when planning development schemes.

Such wisdom endures -- it's out there in the hills, free for the surfing.

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