We had a one day visit to Vihigaon on 21'st of October. This is a small village near Kasara. We, a group of 13 people left IIT at about 4 a.m. and reached kasara at about 7. (Nearly all of us barring 2-3 guys had to have a night out to make it at that time as was revealed during the cack session in the train :-) We met volunteers from VSM (Vivekananda Seva Mandal) in the train itself, when they boarded at Dombivali. We took a bus from Kasara to Vihigaon and reached there at about 7.30. It seemed quite an idyllic village with its dainty huts, lush Sahyadri ranges on one side, a school and tall grass everywhere. When we came to school, we had intro of everyone. Nandu, told about VSM and their background at this time. VSM consists of many college students who want to do positive work for the society while pursuing their careers. Their activity started from VJTI in 1990 and it has now about 1500 members. One of the successful projects was a student library which has grown over years by contributions from outgoing students. Vihigaon project started in 1995 with a view of social development in rural areas. Frequent visits of volunteers on weekends serve to give an exposure to such social work, increase intimacy with rural life and villagers and an opportunity to analyze their difficulties and try to solve them. Some of the identified problems were 1. Water crisis - main crop here is rice. Due to hilly areas land size is small and is enough only to feed family over the year. Their food consists almost entirely of rice. Due to lack of effective watershed management, rocky terrain and steep slope all the streams, wells go dry in summer and village faces acute water shortage. This means no farming in summer. People take up the work in railways (laying the khadi (small stones) in tracks. ) in summer and go each day to V.T. or dadar for that which a very meagerly paying work. 2. Medical Awareness - people have very little awareness of hygiene and there are no medical facilities. Quacks/ Vaidus are abound. Many cases reach hospitals only at critical stage due to initial neglect. 3. Educational facilities - school is only from first to forth standard after which children have to go to places like wakadpada, which they are reluctant since they can't afford it or have to support their family. It was very difficult initially to build up the trust of the villagers, as alienation / distrust for the outsiders is very natural. But intimacy and trust developed as a result of earnestness and perseverance of the volunteers. Mr. Shailesh Nipunge, a very active VSM volunteer chose to live in the village for 1 whole year during which he taught in the school. Now VSM provides for any educational requirements of the school, which I think has now increased upto 7'th standard. VSM also organizes monthly medical camps for the villagers through NIMA organization, in which medical checkups are done. Funds for VSM come from a pool of large volunteers and funding NGOs. Vihigaon is a adiwasi village consisting of about 12 hamlets. We saw only one named Nirgudwadi. After this talk we had a trip of village. There is a roaring huge waterfall here, which is considered a tourist place. Film 'Asoka' was supposedly shot here. Balancing on the slippery rocks and many of us falling off them, it was a very close n intimate brush with nature. After this, we went to a dam site which some civil engineers from VSM had suggested and where government is planning to build small dam. These dams help seeping of water rather than storage and help in scarcity period. VSM has identified several such sites for water shed development. Since nandu was busy talking with a villager that time, we tried our hands on stone throwing to get 'imli's (chinch/ tamarind) competing with children there and got quite a handful. Then we went to fields, where on the slopes trenches were dug with help of villagers to contain rain water and various hardy plants were grown there. One important feature of VSM's approach is that, they want villagers to sustain themselves rather than a one-way aid. Mr. Ninad, who has done a diploma in agricultural has taught farmers here a proven effective method for rice crops called 'Chatusutri' method which we saw, has worked out very well. Now more and more villagers are taking it up seeing its benefits. We then ate a fundoo lunch, with as diverse candidates as dhokla, bread n jam, parathas and biscuits and a very original 'bhel'. Then we headed again towards waterfall and had a refreshing bath. We started our journey back at 2.30 and were back in iit at 6'o clock. Overall it was a very fruitful visit, and we got to see and talk to engineers like us who were making meaningful contributions to society and enriching their own life, too.
For more information about VSM see their webpage