During my recent visit to Raigad, Maharashtra, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a group of tribal women from Siddheshwar gram panchayat who had started practicing plastic waste management in their hamlets. Their zeal was inspiring and the sarpanch supported their initiative by engaging with a non-profit organization that collects this waste monthly for further management. When I asked them how and why they started sorting plastic waste, they answered: “It’s our village; if we won’t, then who will. Previously, we did not know the dangers of plastic to us, children, livestock and stray animals. When we understood the importance of plastic waste management, we (women) all came together for the sake of future generations. Although initially it started with a hamlet, soon all the women in the village joined us.
These Siddheshwar tribal women have been practicing this for eight months and now all members of the community – youth, children, men and the elderly are contributing to the management of plastic waste.
This incident has reinforced our belief that relevant and useful information and a positive attitude from members of the rural community can make rural India flourish and make every Indian village a Dream Village.
However, it is a difficult road to travel. Until the basics of a quality life – water, toilets, health, education and livelihoods are in place, communities cannot imagine a better life for themselves. Therefore, poverty can be both – material and mental. While material poverty is a lack of the basics to lead a quality life, mental poverty is acceptance of current circumstances and despair, believing there is no way out. In both forms, poverty robs people of choice and agency, making it a terrible form of violence.
More than 65% of the country’s population lives in rural areas*(1) where the poverty rate is 32.75% compared to 8.81% of the population in urban areas*(2). Thus, rural development needs the undivided attention of ALL for India to realize its true growth potential.
A holistic model for a self-reliant future for Indian villages
When we started our philanthropic journey, I spoke to a group of women in Raigad telling them about the importance of education for their daughters. A woman in the group raised the question, “If our daughters go to school, who will help us get water for our families? This made us realize that to build self-reliant communities; we can’t just work on one issue. Poverty penetrates deeply and affects all aspects of life. To lift millions of people out of poverty, we suggest a community-accepted holistic rural development model that addresses their concerns, empowers them to take charge of their village’s development, and creates aspirations for a better life. . A holistic rural development model addresses basic community needs such as water and sanitation, health, livelihoods and education. At the same time, by using PRA techniques, communities are equipped with information and practices that will enable them to continue to address their challenges and emerge as self-sustaining rural communities.
Ghotawade Kasarwadi, a tribal hamlet in Raigad, Maharashtra, formed a Village Development Committee (VDC) and, with the support of a nonprofit organization, ensured clean water and toilets for every household. To ensure community ownership, the VDC collected a nominal fee from each household and contributed to the drinking water system through Shram Daan (sweat equity). This exercise helped community members realize that they could solve their problems together and make their village a dream village. Since then, community members have planned the development of their village with the support of non-profit programs guaranteeing livelihoods for poor households. They make sure their village is free of open defecation and everyone practices plastic waste management. The villagers meet monthly and clean their village and discuss the importance of cleanliness and maintaining hygiene. These accomplishments have helped members of the community gain courage and an unwavering attitude.
Like Ghotawade Kasarwadi, 1200 hamlets in Raigad Maharashtra have formed VDCs. The holistic model has empowered community members to take charge of their village’s prosperity with support from nonprofits, civic organizations, businesses, government, and other stakeholders.
For Indian villages to be empowered, a 4 Es strategy is essential. Development partners and district administrations must first Engage with community members, understand their challenges and then Empower by building community institutions, sharing relevant and actionable information, and connecting the community with the government department or relevant partners. Development plans or programs should be Realized with the full commitment of all partners, including the community. Once the community is empowered and development programs are carried out, Exit community is a key strategy that ensures that community members take charge of their own community.
One of our biggest learnings is to adopt a pull strategy rather than a push strategy. This comes from our many failures and learnings in rural Maharashtra. Pushing community members to undertake programs without the community realizing their need will produce poor and unsustainable results. Like Ghotawade Kasarwadi, the community must understand their needs, help meet those needs, ensure their skin in the game, and ultimately lead to sustainability and better program management.
There are many examples across rural India, the story of Amul being exemplary where villagers have demonstrated that when the community is involved in designing their own destiny, sharing common goals and taking action that can improve their lives, rural India can thrive.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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