On a surprisingly hot morning in March, we (i.e. Gram Vikas Trust’s junior team and myself) drove 30 minutes out of Bharuch to a place called Jhagadia. Every kilometer away from the main city got more rural. From a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, we were soon the only car on our chosen road, and then began sharing the path with herds of buffalos. I really found it hard to believe that we had driven down just 30 minutes! It came as no surprise then to see that the village had one aaganwadi and one school for all its children, and that every house kept goats and hens as pet, signaling that they relied on these animals for milk as well as part of their livelihood.
Gram Vikas Trust works in more than 200 villages of the districts of Bharuch and Narmada, in Gujarat. With programmes focusing on child rights, education, health, women empowerment and livelihoods, this organisation works for the all-round development of these 2 districts.
The population of these two districts consists predominantly of farmers. It is an extremely drought prone area and the soil quality is also very poor. Ground water levels are low too. Under such extreme environmental conditions, farmers end up growing only one crop a year; whose success again depends entirely on the yearly monsoons as there are no other sources of irrigation. When there is no farming possible, the farmers are forced to work for wages by migrating to nearby mines and factories. Such situations have led to very low literacy rates and high drop outs from schools in this region.
Founder Ramesh Kasondra himself belonged to a farmer family from Motibanugar, from this district. Several of his growing up years saw poor monsoons. To make ends meet, his family was forced to borrow money from the village moneylender; using their only asset land, as collateral. When Ramesh was just 4 years old, his father passed away; and with that the family lost their land to money lenders too.
It was only thanks to friends and neighbours’ support that the family was able to survive. In fact, that same support helped Ramesh earn a Diploma in Civil Engineering. To prevent other families in the district from going through the same hardships his family did, Ramesh set up Gram Vikas Trust.
Our first stop was to the Balwadi (pre-school) that they support in Jhagadia. The Balwadi itself has been setup by the Government. To ensure parents actually send their children to school, the organisation prevents education costs from being a burden on parents; by providing school supplies to Balwadi children. With the average income of these families being Rs. 12,000 annually, setting aside as little as Rs. 1,000 for a year’s education gets difficult! In fact, most of Gram Vikas Trust’s efforts are supplementary in nature. They believe in collaborating with and strengthening the already existing Government services, so that together more of an impact can be made.
We then proceeded to one of the Aanganwadi’s that they support. Of the 80 villages surveyed in Bharuch district by GVT, 17.4% children in the age group of 1-5 years were found malnourished and 4.2% severely malnourished. 41% of the blocks under survey had more than 25% malnourished children (Jhagadia stands at 31.7%). These statistics reaffirm a strong co-relationship between backwardness of the region and malnourishment. By collaborating with aganwadis in these villages, GVT ensures that each child gets nutritious food. The Aanganwadi teacher also informed me that ever since Narendra Modi became Chief Minister of Gujarat, packets of Upma and Multi-grain atta for pregnant mothers were being received by them regularly through the The Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY). So was wheat and nutrient-fortified sweets for the children. It is for this reason that GVT supplies other rations for the children.
I also learnt that all children don’t benefit from this support. It is given only those that classify as “malnutritioned” as per UNICEF standards; they are supported with rations till they are out of this danger zone.
After a quick pit stop for lunch, we proceeded to meet with some of the girls who have received a bicycle from GVT. In a fairly unique move, the organisation provides cycles to girls who have studied up to the seventh standard (in their own village) but need to travel to villages, at least 3 to 5 km away, in order to pursue higher education (as their own villages don’t have the required infrastructure). The focus of this project is to reduce the dropout rate.
Then came our last visit for the day – to the village community center where vocational training for youth and young adults happens. A variety of trainings are organized by GVT – computer training, tailoring, mobile repairing etc. Depending on a combination of skills, interest and need of the villagers, these are given free-of-cost to equip young adults with a productive skill set. The day we visited, a tailoring course was on. I learnt on interacting with them that they had enrolled for the same in the hope of using the skill to supplement their husband’s income.
GVT’s support extends to livelihoods and microfinance too. It is clearly taking baby steps in many areas to better the quality of life of residents in the district. After all, every drop contributes to making the ocean, doesn’t it?