Working at the grassroot-level is the key to empower lives in rural India

Updated: Oct 12, 2020 12:41 PM

The Covid 19 crisis has again brought home the importance of building our rural communities and empowering them to take charge of their own lives.

Our dream is to create a model of holistic rural development capable of lifting a million people out of poverty every 5 years and then EXITING.

By Zarina Screwvala 

The Covid 19 crisis has again brought home the importance of building our rural communities and empowering them to take charge of their own lives. Recently, I was part of a small but very special celebration marking our work to alleviate congenital heart disease, held by the Swades Foundation honouring the parents, the children, Doctors, Hospitals and the district administration. Dr Manish Chokhandre (Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist, Wokhardt Hospital), one of the wonderful Doctors present said that the value of Swades Foundation was as a bridge connecting rural communities with the best care available in the country.

Its true, but our dream is much more than that. Our dream is to create a model of holistic rural development capable of lifting a million people out of poverty every 5 years and then EXITING. For this the work we do at the rural grassroots is at the core of our vision. We need to create empowered rural communities and exit.

Its true, but our dream is much more than that. Our dream is to create a model of holistic rural development capable of lifting a million people out of poverty every 5 years and then EXITING. For this the work we do at the rural grassroots is at the core of our vision. We need to create empowered rural communities and exit.

Since 2000, Swades has been implementing various programmes on water harvesting, individual household toilets and self – help groups in rural Raigad. In 20012 we decided to scale up and not just money but our time, resources and all the goodwill we had into creating the Swades Foundation.

Our holistic model, was initially met with huge sceptiscm by many, but today we can say it is one of our greatest strengths. There is no silver bullet to poverty alleviation and a holistic model is essential we locked in on: household drinking water, individual household toilets, health, education and livelihoods. The other KEY is that 90% of our full time staff of 270 people work directly at the grassroots, and another 1000 are community volunteers making us a strong execution foundation impacting over 5.5 lac population today in 2500+ villages.

Our greatest source of strength besides our team is the 1000 Village Development Committees we created in the last year. The VDC are participatory & democratic in nature and ensure representation of men, women and youth. Swades empowers these VDC by making them responsible for formalising their village development plans and align them through continuous capacity building and hand holding to work on that. With over 1000 VDC’s already created, the success is not merely limited to Swades intervention but by emerging as leaders for their village development.

For instance, Varagavne tribal hamlet (Sudhagad) had no electricity and in past one year, the VDC with Swades’ support coordinated with all government bodies and in this lockdown that hamlet received electricity. Swades supported them to establish the necessary linkages but they did the entire process of coordination with government bodies.

Similarly, Majare (Sudhagad) is a small tribal hamlet of 11 homes and all are kaccha houses. Often ignored by villagers, and other institutions, they live isolated. It took three village development plans to make the villagers and residents of Majare to realise that they can think of living in a cemented house and post that the VDC has worked hard to avail the Gharkul Yojna of GOI and their application has been approved. Post-monsoon the construction of these 11 houses will begin!

Manohar Jadhav, is another change maker who completely transformed not only his life, but also for other villagers around him. Always curious and determined to uplift himself from poverty, post training in drip irrigation, Manohar Jadhav rented a quarter acre of barren land in Divil and started cultivating a second crop. Manohar Jadhav saw tremendous success from this quarter land. They were able to sell their crops and wisely used that money to buy a small tractor, better seeds and other equipment for their smart farming.

Soon both friends realised that this can help many other farmers and daily wage earners in their village. Manohar and his friend expanded to 3 acres of land in two separate villages and worked there with many other aspiring farmers from their village. They trained their fellow villagers in growing multiple crops in a year along with effective utilisation of available land. To date they have worked with 11 villagers and trained them. From these three acres of land they have been able to reap crops worth 9 lacs in just two years. Since, we truly believe in “Swa Se banne Des”, Manohar Jadhav is an inspiring change maker who not only thought about his growth but also the growth of his community.

In the pandemic, many empowering stories of community support emerged. Kasaishet, an isolated uphill tribal village in Sudhagad faced many challenges during the lockdown. Villagers who could can barely afford one meal a day were challenged as they had lost their daily wages during the lockdown. The empowered VDC took the onus of mobilising ration for the affected families, ensuring all preventive measures and maintaining social distancing.

Empowered VDC helped us to help the communities and we worked right through the challenges of Covid and Nisarg, we never stopped.

We truly believe poverty is not just material but very much mental as well. To create the amazing CAN-DO attitude in our rural communities is one of Swades’s key exit strategies. We also found to our joy, that empowered villages help out and inspire their neighbours.

Such success stories are a reflection of how empowerment at grassroots can impact the holistic development of a village. The 360 – degree model has supported more than 34,000 households with safe drinking water and made rural Raigad Open Defecation Free by building over 23,500 individual household toilets. We have ensured screening and treatment of nearly half million population for preventive blindness and working with over 1,000 schools to make learning joyful and holistic or engaging over 35,000 households in income generation activities. The Swades 360-degree model is sustainable, replicable and scalable and has proven its impact in transformation of rural lives.

(The author is is the Co-founder of the Swades Foundation & works full time as its Managing Trustee & Director. Zarina is a member of the UN Women Business Sector Advisory Council (BSAC). She was also one of the Founder-Directors of UTV (now a part of the Walt Disney Company India), where she led the creation and launch of leading broadcast brands including UTV Bindass, UTV Stars, UTV Action and Hungama TV in India and the children’s channel Astro Ceria in Indonesia & Malaysia. Additionally, Zarina has deep interest in philosophy and pursue her passion at New Acropolis (India North). Views expressed are personaal.)

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