This year GRA (Group of rural activities) organized a camp to visit Shashvat, Hivre Bazar, and Snehalaya.
It is an organization of the village people who work for the benefit and development of the tribal people. It was founded by Mr. Anand Kapoor and Mrs Kusum Karnik. Anand ji is an IIT Kharagpur pass out. He completed his studies of civil engineering from there in 1974. It was reason of learning Marathi which resulted in first meeting of Anandji and Kusumtai. Kusumtai always hated the self centeredness in the people. She was a member of Rashtra Seva Dal. After her marriage she completed her studies and became a psychologist. She and Anand ji found a common motive of helping people and they married though she was 16 year older than him. They came to Dimbhe for some work and realized the problems of the people living here. These people had nothing to lose. She ate with them, worked with them and
developed good relations. Both of them believe that “Don’t work for the people, work with the people.”
They started Shashwat in 1981, with the help of 10 people of Dimbe village. They started Balwadi (pre-primary schools). Presently there are 23-25 balwadis there. There was a problem of water in the village. Anand ji took the initiative of digging wells in the village.
Between 1988-1995, wells were dig at 35 places. The growth of trees is very slow there due to cold, fog humidity and less sunlight in rains and lack of water in summers. The organization did plantation on hills and presently 9% of the cultivable area is under paddy. Shashwat works for the education of the tribal children whose families are seeing their first generation going to school. The school is present in Ahupe was started in 2002 with 7 students in the first class. Presently, the school has 61 students upto class 4 including those of the neighboring villages. Their sole aim is to create an environment of study in the village. Students here were very talented. Our group got a chance to see their cultural show which was very entertaining. They are good at sports and also participate in interschool and district level competitions but couldn’t make it up to state level because school is not recognized as government school. They also participate in science exhibitions and make interesting models. Students normally belong to Mahadev koli and Katkari community, which generally keep on travelling for fishing from one pond to another, which have missed the opportunity of education in past. Other problem is the age mismatch in the classes as students upto 16 – 18 years of age are studying in class 4th. In 2005, for development of inland fishing in back water of Dimbhe Dam, the organization Shramik Adivasi Machimar Sanstha was formed, which now includes 212 members of 19 villages. They have 2000 kg of net. They have put 28 lacs of seeds in 5 years. They have adopted modern technologies of fishery like cage culture and pane culture. They don’t do commercialization, rather they believe in selling this fish in local market and providing protein rich food for their own people is the need of time. This year seed of Golden Fish was also put with the help of local bachat gat (Self Help Group).
Inspired from Ralegan Sidhhi, sarpanch Shri Popatrao Pawar have turned the village into an ideal village what he calls “Adarsh nagar”. He became Sarpanch in 1990 and is serving the villagers since 20 years. Before that Hivre bajar had a very miserable condition. Making liquor was their main occupation. Students used to bring drinks to school and teachers used to sit and drink together with student. The village falls in rain shadow of sahyandri region which is reason of annual rainfall of 100 mm only. People used to migrate in search of job in off season. This affected education of their children. Popatrao changed the picture of the village. Between 1990-1995 various plans were made and implemented, works like water harvesting, school, jim, library, gobar gas plants are done during this period. Presently the village has such a good condition and reputation that 40% of students are studying outside the village; 100 families have come back from Mumbai and Pune; 112 countries’ people have visited it. 2000 NGO’s were trained over the span of 5 days. No statue is there in village, no political favour is there, and in fact if some party tries to use unfair means no voting is done. The village has raised 68 army men, 3 doctors, 30 engineers and 4 professors. There is no shortage of anything. Everything is decided in Gram Sabah in which whole of the village participates.
Hivre bajar has also won International ground water management award. Earlier there were water deficit crops like jawar, bajra but now they are growing cash crops like potato, onion, rice, etc. They are trying for a 1 lakh liter capacity water tank. Organic farming is undertaken. Refuse from bio gas plant is used as manure and for burning. Salt testing is done and then chemicals are used according to the need. Crop rotation is implemented; Kharif and then Bajra and then Ragbi crops are grown. Monthly school students note and make reports on farms which they give to their teachers and are finally submitted to the gram panchayat. 99% biogas is used, rest is CNG.
Volunteers from GRA visited the homes in village in different group and saw all the work first handed. The interaction with the villagers was really motivating. We realized the reason behind the success of Hivare bajar in bringing people together and working with the people. The development in the village is through different government schemes only, but the difference is that all villagers are made aware about the schemes; decisions were taken in gram sabha and enthusiastic leader like Poatrao. The school in the village is not only about the bookish education but about making student aware about their surroundings. The walls of school and class room were filled with the quotes from different saints. Action with understanding of the background is the mantra for Hivare bajar.
Only 15 kilometers from the Hivare bajar, we reached Snehalaya in the evening and realized meaning of ‘Sheh’ in Snehalaya with the way of their welcome. Snehalaya basically works for the women working in red light area and their children. The campus of Snehalaya has two hostels for children, one hospital, one primary school and few vocational training facilities. The depth and severity of the problems of women working in red light area and their children were explained in detail by Girish Kulkarni and team who is founder of Snehalaya. The journey of Snehalaya and so Girishji and team, starts from their college days. This bunch of students was active member of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad. These students used to see slums near their college every day while going to college. Their first activity of teaching to children started in this slum only. When they tried to understand ‘Why these children are like this’ they came to know about their family background and women working in the red-light area of Ahmednagar. The work started from there and now spread all over Ahmednagar district.
Snehalaya now runs “Snehankur”, a project which takes care of new born babies which are left by their parents (by unmarried girls etc.) and then legally hand over to parents who wants to adopt children. “Bhalbhavan”, is project run in 7 different slums of Ahmednagar, where teaching as well as personality development of slum children is focused. The project forms bridge between schools of children and their parents so that they are protected from bad habits. A community radio center is also run by Snehalaya with main aim to aware people and highlight achievements of local people. The radio center is getting very good response and welcomed as positive environment creating medium in the era of media which are focusing on the negatives of the society only. “Child help line” is another project by Snehalaya where 24 hour patrolling to stop children trafficking in Ahmednagar district.
Volunteers of GRA talked with chidren in Snehalaya and amazed by the positive attitude of HIV positive children. These children start their day at 6 o’clock in the morning and participate in yoga, which not only help them to stay physically fit but also makes them mentally strong. All children follow their time-table where slots for studies, games as well as entertainment are provided. A computer room for children was inaugurated when we were at Snehalaya. Interaction with people working for Snehalaya was very encouraging. The commitment of all the people was not only appreciable but also adorable. And importantly the feeling of satisfaction could be felt by all volunteer who interacted with Snehalites.