When an off road jeep pulled up to pick me up for my visit to GRAVIS, I was instantly excited; as I knew it meant we would be heading right into the desert to see the real issues that GRAVIS is trying to overcome. Two hours later and we were still on the road, heading deeper into the desert. It was becoming difficult for me to understand how people could survive in these conditions – the heat was unforgiving, with no shade and an empty landscape of never ending sand.
Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS) was founded in 1983 by the husband-wife team of Laxmi Chand and Shashi Tyagi. The couple came to Rajasthan from Uttar Pradesh in the late 1970s. They had been activists in many social movements and had even worked under the leadership of prominent activists like Vinobha Bhave (who is considered to be Gandhi’s spiritual successor). The Tyagi’s gained formal qualifications in education and agriculture and wished to create an NGO that was scientifically sound while remaining responsive to the people. They had worked with the poor in rural areas of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. However, they wanted to serve where the need was the greatest. That’s what brought them to Rajasthan. The Thar desert lacked basic resources and very few development agencies were present in the area. They thus moved to the Thar desert in 1980.
GRAVIS welcomes volunteers to come and work with the organisation and to try and understand the plight of the desert communities. Volunteers at GRAVIS tend to be admin based due to the fact that outsiders do not have much influence in these close-knit communities, and the staff have spent time building a relationship of trust and support. Volunteers usually develop written reports, conduct research or assist with project implementation. GRAVIS is popular among Indian students who volunteer as part of a university placement; otherwise the NGO receives around 5 international volunteers each year.
Rewards and Recognition
• In 2003, GRAVIS received the Millenium ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) Science Award
• In 2005, GRAVIS was awarded a Community Welfare Award by the Indian Merchant’s Chamber
• In 2011, GRAVIS received an AmeriCares award, it was the winner in the category of women’s health
• In 2012, GRAVIS received a Certificate of Appreciation Award on the behalf of the International Development Exchange
• In 2012, GRAVIS received the Hilton Humanitarian Prize for commemorating the HelpAge global network