18 September 2019

Bringing children back to schools

The earthquakes and aftershocks which struck Nepal in 2015 had an enormous impact on the country’s poorest communities. The effect on Nepal’s children has been particularly severe. Although Nepal has made some progress on education in the past decade, the 2015 earthquake threatens to undo this work entirely. An estimated 28,000 schools have been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake; teacher absenteeism is set to soar, especially in the most remote districts; books, teaching equipment and other education resources have been permanently lost and there was a high probability that many students will never return to education.

Following a comprehensive field assessment, Pragya undertook a post-disaster education rehabilitation programme with the objective of restoring access to primary education, improving teaching standards and creating safe, supportive learning environments for over 1,000 children in 8 poor rural communities in Nepal. 

After consultations with teachers and School Management Committees (SMCs), a range of Teaching and Learning Materials (TLMs) were distributed in schools that had lost or damaged its stock in Dhading and Sindhupalchok. Basic TLMs included: blackboards, whiteboards, flipcharts, marker pens, wall clocks, globes, maps, atlases, dictionaries, alphabet boxes, shapes boxes, counting games, learning charts (animals, birds, human body, insects, flowers, etc.), story books (English and Nepali), crayon sets, drawing and colouring books, stationery sets, and scrabble games. Science and Mathematics Learning kits were also distributed that comprised: microscopes, slides, test-tubes, slides, bar magnets, stop watches, prisms, weighing machines, geometry sets, compasses, rulers, and a range of educational charts and table books.

The TLMs were distributed during a ceremony organised at each school in presence of representatives from Parents-Teachers Association, SMCs, teachers and students. In addition, teachers were given orientation to proper use of the learning materials to obtain maximal learning. Teachers were also trained for psychological and trauma counselling to support students affected by the disaster. The Teachers have expressed satisfaction that the material has helped them in teaching various new concepts to the children. They reported that with the help of the TLMs and TLAs, they are being able to upgrade the instructional quality of the school and increase the students’ learning and comprehension of the subjects, thereby improving their learning achievement and contributing to improved attendance and reduced drop-outs.

Women’s Vigilance Committees to prevent trafficking

Women living in Nepal’s poorest rural communities have suffered the most and the longest from the effects of the 2015 earthquake. The most vulnerable women and girls become victims of trafficking, and need support, care, awareness, resources and confidence for their safety. In response to the increase in VAWG and trafficking in the disaster-affected districts, Pragya worked with women’s groups to address the issue. 

Pragya carried out a scoping study on VAWG in rural Nepal with a particular focus on trafficking, examining the escalating risk that women and adolescent girls of rural families affected by the 2015 earthquake. 20 women’s protection groups and helplines were established in Nuwakot and Dhading districts by Pragya benefitting 202 women directly. 8 Women’s Vigilance Committees were formed in Nuwakot (in Thangsingh, Suryamati villages), each comprising 13-20 members. In Dhading district, two Women’s Vigilance Committees were formed in Gajuri and Gangajamuna after due consideration of vulnerable pockets. 

The Women’s Vigilance Committees were trained intensively by an expert with long experience on countering trafficking at the Nepal-India border. Inputs were provided on various forms of gender-based violence, surveillance of indicators for GBV and trafficking, case logging, effective psycho-social support to women to counter their vulnerability to trafficking and other gender-based violence, including preventive measures and provide safe spaces to them, and protect them from further harm. These committees have also been tasked with spreading awareness in the community on gender issues.

These Women’s Vigilance Committees were also provided with mobile phones to operate Women’s Helplines, and trained in the associated Protocols for assisting girls and women vulnerable to GBV or trafficking. The Helplines have been promoted in the area such that an estimated 505 women may be served by each Helpline. Linkages were provided with police and government departments as well as women’s protection centres in the districts, to enable them to alert these in case of trafficking.

Monthly support was provided to the Women's Groups and over one year 46 cases were reported to the Helplines set up by Pragya and acted upon by the women’s groups. Pragya continues to provide support to build the capacity of the helpline operators in effective psycho-social and support to women to counter their vulnerability to trafficking and other gender-based violence. 

Sustainable fodder farms in Nepal Himalayas

Communities in Dolpa district in Nepal Himalayas live a very difficult life, suffering extreme hardship and poverty. These outlying and remote districts have a poverty rate as high as 72% (as against the national average of 42%) and the severity of poverty is also the highest at 8.2% (as against 3.4% for the plains in Nepal). Agriculture is the sole occupation, and majority of the population comprises smallholder households. Agricultural productivity is however very low due to limited arable land, infertile soils, and climatic conditions that typically allow only one/two cropping seasons a year. Dependence on forests is high, for food supplements, fodder and fuel wood needs of communities, but overexploitation of forests and rangelands is leading to their degradation. Women in Nepal suffer highly discriminatory social and cultural practices. They lag far behind the men in education and health status and are frequently subjected to physical abuse. Due to their lower education levels women also earn between 25-60% less than men. The high altitudes are also subject to severe impacts of climate change - desertification is increasing & droughts are frequent, threatening livelihoods. This is increasing women’s drudgery- women perform the household chores of collecting fodder and fuel wood from the forests, and have to trudge much farther and longer to collect what they need.

Under a Pragya initiative, SHGs were formed in the villages of Ralli (Tripurakot VDC), Funhalduwa (Raha VDC), Byashgard (Lawan VDC) in Dolpa district of Mid-Western Development Region in Nepal. Meetings were held with the Mahila Mandals [village level women’s groups] to share with them details of the activities that would be undertaken in the project and explaining the role and expectations from them in making the interventions effective and useful for the community. Following this, 42 women from three villages were provided comprehensive training on the concept and processes of SHGs. Training of members is an important need for proper functioning of SHGs and training inputs included: Basic mathematics, book keeping, scheduling of meetings, social aspects of women empowerment, basics of lending money, borrowing and repaying. They were also oriented on the registration procedure of SHGs and opening of bank accountsby the local Bank Manager and Cooperative Officer. Post-training, the women were facilitated to open the SHG bank accounts. 

Another training program was organized at which group members were trained on reclamation of wastelands and irrigation technologies. The training dealt with wasteland management strategies such as erosion control measures and moisture conservation techniques, facilitating greening through planting economically important tree/shrubs, fuelwood and fodder species and cultivation of horticulture/medicinal plant species for economic benefits. The women were trained by staff from the local Horticulture and Forest departments. Faculty also provided the women with information on state schemes available under the Horticulture and Forest departments that could be accessed by the groups, and leaflets on the schemes were distributed to the SHG members. 

Financial assistance was then provided to the SHGs for land clearing and preparation of fallow lands for cultivation. Each SHG has demarcated 2 acres of wasteland for cultivation of fodder/fuel wood species and saplings of apple. Women in the 3 villages have taken up sowing of corn in an area of 1 acre to meet their fodder requirement for livestock. They have harvested the crop once and this has resulted in reduced number of visits to the forest for collection of fodder. Women now go for fodder collection only twice a week as compared to 5-6 times a week before the establishment of fodder farm. This has enabled them to spend more time with their children and family. 

Field volunteers continued hand holding of these groups by participating in their monthly meetings and assisting them in maintaining registers. The Horticulture department after proper verification of group’s bank account and meeting registers have approved the provision of apple saplings for the 3 SHGs at subsidised rates. Similar application to the Forest department was made for provision of fuelwood species.

Sanitation access in Nepal schools

Shree Panchakanya Secondary School, Kiranchowk 2, Gajuri Gaupalika of Dhading district, Nepal was completely damaged during the earthquake 2015. The school educates around 200 students from a range of ages from 4 to 18 years of age. There was no toilet in the school when it started functioning after the earthquake. For few months there was facility of temporary toilet but later on there was no any facility of toilet for the students. The open area somehow was used by the boys but due to lack of toilet in school the  attendance of girl students started dwindling.

After a site assessment by Pragya a toilet was constructed in the school. Now the school has 1 toilet block for boys and girls. The school authorities are happy. The attendance of the girls in the school increased after the construction of toilet. A school management committee has now been allotted to keep the toilet clean and safe for use. The students also lend a helping hand to clean the toilets by themselves before the school starts.

9 September 2019

Biodiversity Monitoring by Community Conservation Groups

Pragya has conducted studies and surveys of native species of medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) and prioritised species for protection and conservation action that are routinely threatened by wild harvesting, logging and human encroachment. Following discussions and noticeable concentration of threatened MAPs like Prunus Africana, Olea Capensis, Elgon Teak, Mondia Whitei, etc. at three sites, these were shortlisted for developing into Community Protected Areas (CPAs). CPAs have been conceptualised as specially designated zones of forest land that have a high density of medicinal plants but are particularly vulnerable to degradation and depletion of the medicinal plants. 

Community Conservation Groups (CCGs) were established by Pragya Kenya with members from the local communities proximal to the concerned CPAs. Each group had a suitable mix of local youth with keenness for conservation and older community members with deep knowledge and experience of native MAP species. A training program was conducted to educate the newly formed Community Conservation Groups for the importance of biodiversity, identification of plant species, methodologies of monitoring, information collection and analysis, and data entry. 

The training methodology was designed to include conceptual inputs along with a series of guided activities / group tasks, using reflective methods to enable progressive skill-building and learning. The activities included group discussions and problem analysis, monitoring methodologies, and preparation of action plans. All activities were designed around local conservation issues with the aim of engaging the participants in a more effective way, while helping them to analyse information and the modes to monitor via indicators. Key concepts behind biodiversity monitoring indicators and formulation of monitoring plans were explained. The tools and processes for implementing biodiversity monitoring systems were also detailed, including survey techniques to be used, the involvement of stakeholders, indicators to consider such as species distribution, presence of invasive species and hunting / harvest changes of MAPs, how to set up a BDM unit, data collection and establishing / keeping a Biodiversity Monitoring register.

Along with the classroom sessions, practical demonstrations were also conducted for the trainees where they learnt how to mark a location using GPS gadgets, measure diameter of a tree, set up a 5 by 5 meters quadrat, count species variety within the quadrat and inspect the species for any pests and diseases. They were also taught to identify threat indicators to the site and species and finally populate this information in appropriate forms. The practical demo was in-depth and the trainees showed keen interest making the exercise a success. At the close of the training, the participants had requisite capacity to identify and monitor species, gather information through technical surveys and effectively plan for biodiversity conservation. The participants acknowledged a clear understanding of importance of biodiversity, monitoring methods and survey skills. They also acknowledged the training as unique’ and impactful, and requested additional training programmes to include more participants. 

Baseline Biodiversity Surveys were conducted at Isecheno (CPA 1) and Chilovani (CPA 2). The process began by marking boundaries for the CPA and marking mature trees at the boundaries with red ribbons;
GPS coordinates were also recorded. A Transect Walk was conducted through the CPAs during which the trainers provided information on the geographical context in relation to the surrounding physical features such as plantations, villages, streams etc., the habitat and other key features of the CPA. Based on the unique features observed within the site, four quadrats of 5 × 5m were selected as samples for detailed examination. The trainers described the area and its diversity to the participants while setting each quadrat. The CCGs examined soil type, soil quality, water content in the soil, presence of dead matter in the soil, occurrence of soil erosion, type of erosion and its possible causes; existence of water resources within the site and its location. Other information that was collected included plant coverage and status; populations and morphological characteristics of the plant species and their habitat; health of the plants; existence of any introduced plants; presence of animals / insects; signs of natural disasters and human disturbances. GPS coordinates were recorded for each quadrat.

With the help of the herbalist in each team, the CCGs identified medicinal plant species in each quadrat, counted the number of young and mature plants, observed their health and density, noted the threats to the species, filled the requisite information in the datasheets and photographed the species. The strong involvement of local communities in action-planning and developing specific plans were indicative of the community’s receptivity to the need for conservation and willingness to learn and participate. As follow up actions, three advocacy meetings were undertaken in the areas with attendance from members from the local communities and Forest department. The common concerns about illegal logging and charcoal burning, which contribute to the escalated rate of degradation of Kakamega forest, were discussed.

8 July 2019

‘School on Wheels’ - Madhulika’s story

Madhulika is the child of migrant workers from the plains, who work on the road projects in Kinnaur district. She attends the bi-weekly classes that Pragya’s Mobile Education Units (MEUs) run in Kinnaur (Himachal Pradesh) and Chamoli (Uttarakhand) districts of India. Shy and quiet, she sat in a corner of the van with the educational toys, while her classmates raucously joined in repeating the alphabet or the numerical tables. The teacher noticed Madhulika’s extreme diffidence, and encouraged her to speak up more, but she was content to sit with her toys in the van, as the teacher carried on with the lessons. 

Children like Madhulika, between the ages of 6 and 14, are guaranteed access to education under the Right to Education Act (RtE), a landmark legislation that was passed in 2009. There is little done to account for the quality of education imparted or the lack of access to schools, especially for the children of migrant workers and labourers, who end up dropping out of the education system altogether. Pragya’s Mobile Education Units, or ‘School on Wheels’ is an initiative that brings basic education to the doorsteps of underserved communities, providing them with basic literacy and education that follows the national curriculum. The Mobile Education Units serve the children who have dropped out from the education system, encouraging enrollment in the local schools, and help bridge the gap in the education system. 

Two weeks in, while her classmates confidently intone the alphabets and numbers, Madhulika still does not speak. After repeated coaxing by the teacher, she makes the long and daunting trip to the blackboard. To everyone’s surprise, Madhulika is able to identify all the alphabets and numbers on the board. The presence of a suitable learning environment ensured that Madhulika was learning and absorbing the instruction around her, even if her silence indicated otherwise. The challenge is to provide children with an opportunity for basic education. It is, after all, their fundamental right.

Solar-Wind Hybrid energy solutions

Pragya established a 2.1 KW capacity Solar-Wind Hybrid System (SWHS) in Lossar village of Lahaul & Spiti district (Himachal Pradesh) in the year 2004. The electricity generated by the SWHS is used to serve the households and also the health centre, alternate education centre, and a weaving centre in the village. The installation has brought revolutionary changes in the village especially in terms of education, healthcare and livelihood activities. Villagers are now able to carry out productive activities even in winter season, which was practically unimaginable prior to the installation. 

The commitment and response of the community members towards the commissioning of the SWHS was overwhelming. Every member in the village played his or her part in the venture and a sense of ownership was evident. The community members played a vital role despite the time of installation coinciding with the peak agricultural season in the village. People from every household volunteered on a rotational basis. The village council has taken responsibility for management of the SWHS, and has instituted a mechanism for smooth operations. Every household of the village contributes Rs. 500 per year, and funds are also collected for provision of electricity during social/commercial events in the village. The funds collected through these are used for repairs and maintenance of the SWHS, which also demonstrates how the villagers can sustainably manage such facilities and harbour a sense of ownership. 

Health camps in remote villages

In an attempt to improve the health status of one of the most backward districts in Northern Bihar in India, Pragya organized health camps in five villages. The villages include Tuniahi Uttarwari, Tuniahi Dakhinwari, Laxmirampur Uttarwari, Laxmirampur Dakhinwari and Ganesthan. These health initiatives are a part of the ongoing project being implemented “Welfare Services in Madhepura District of Bihar”. 

Unlike a general health camp that offers curative services, a major objective of these camps is to promote health-seeking behaviour in the long term. For this, the teams intensively work on building and raising awareness regarding common ailments, family planning methods, nutrition, and hygiene and sanitation. These camps offer all the services free of cost. Narender Sada of Ganesthan village says, “I was suffering from eczema three months back. But now the disease has gone. I received free medicine from the health camp conducted in our village. For this, I am grateful to Pragya”. On the other hand, Babul Kumar who is 15 years old from the same village says, “I have been suffering from fever since last 7 days and due to poverty at home, I was unable to show it to a doctor. Fortunately, I went to MVK center and was prescribed with the medicines, free of cost and got relieved of the fever. I now feel fine. Now my father takes everyone for any medical issues and we do not need to go too far to seek treatment and spend money for the medicines. This initiative has been a boon for poor people like us for whom accessing health services is not easy!” 

The health camps have been offering comprehensive services – curative, preventive, and referral – to a large number of people in target areas of intervention. “The uniqueness of the model lies in its comprehensive approach where health promotion and prevention are treated as equally important, while curative care is meticulously administered,” says Dr. M K Jha. 

Food Godown for ‘community food reserve’

Sumdho, a small semi-nomadic high altitude village in Nyoma Block of Leh district is almost 180 Kms from Leh town, en route the famous Tso Moriri Lake. Located at an altitude of almost 15,000 ft, this village gets only one cropping season, with wheat being the main crop of the village. The village has 53 households with a total population of 230. 

When the cloudburst hit Leh in August 2010 followed by catastrophic floods, the village had nearly 30% of its households damaged. The ‘community hall’, extensively used for storing food supplies, also developed cracks on the walls and water logging caused severe damage to the food stock. The food godown set up by the State Government also suffered damage as the floodwater entered the building and soaked the food supplies. The subsidized ration received from the government, which included mainly rice, sugar and pulses, was stocked in huge quantities in this godown. 

The 10 feet x 12 feet x 8 feet warehouse set up by Pragya much before the floods happened proved to be highly beneficial for the residents of the village in the face of this cataclysmic disaster. The villagers had been using it for storing individual stocks of food grain earlier, but following the floods the warehouse began to be used as a ‘community food reserve’. The warehouse, with a capacity of nearly 5 tonnes, had been designed to withstand such disasters and hence the food supplies in it did not suffer any damage from the floods. The 1 feet high elevated platform of the structure prevented the floodwater from entering and causing any damage. Each warehouse is a moisture-proof and rodent proof structure, specially designed to increase the viability of the food stored inside. The puff panels have the ability to withstand severe weather conditions and the insulation provided by the walls maintains an optimum temperature inside. These lightweight structures can also be transported easily to some other location if need be. The roofs provide better insulation and eliminate leaks. A set of guidelines has also been disseminated amongst the villagers for proper usage and effective management of the food godown.

2 July 2019

Local Mentor fights to end harmful traditions

Nilima Das has been working as a mentor (Missamari village, Sonitpur, Assam) to empower women and to sensitise all stakeholders in the area on VAW issues and local cultural practices that result in violence. There are a number of indigenous tribes working in the tea gardens in the Panchayats she works in. They suffer many injustices because of their differences from the mainstream local communities. Nilima Das also points out, there is high incidence of child marriage among them. A young girl is put to work as soon as she reaches puberty and her employability is also considered a sign that she has achieved the marriageable age. She is working with women's groups and other local stakeholders to change the mindset. Nilima mentions "Being a part of the project has enhanced my understanding and sensitivity on violence against women. Working as a mentor for the last two years have not only enabled me to advocate on community level but also enhanced my decision making capability within my family.” She and her fellow mentors (trained by Pragya with support from UNTF EVAW) conduct campaigns to make people aware of various discriminatory traditional norms and practices prevalent in the society that violates rights of women and girls and put them at risk.

Time for strawberries in the poly houses of Nepal

Maya Tamang a 40 years old woman from Gamailo in Nuwakot district of Kakani Gaupalika. Maya has a family of 7 members including 2 children. Being illiterate, Maya Tamang did not have enough alternatives for livelihood which made her a potential beneficiary and work as a farmer for poly house in Nuwakot District. Pragya implemented the project called “Improving Rural Livelihoods, Water & Sanitation in Earthquake Damaged Areas of Nepal” where a holistic rehabilitation programme was being delivered in Nepal. These interventions were aimed at addressing critical needs of poor households affected by the earthquake in four disaster-affected districts in Nepal. The interventions focused on water and sanitation, short-term income generation, long-term livelihood development and protection of women from gender-based violence. Maya has already sold about 100 kg of strawberry this season and earns 30,000 INR and is still selling the strawberries. Her target is to achieve an income of 1, 50,000 INR. She is happy that she has gained and wants to work harder to make more money from the strawberry fields. “We have seen difficult times when we did not have money to pay for children’s school books for school. Now life has become easier as we are able to manage our daily expenses smoothly,” says Maya Tamang.

Rebuilding livelihoods in flood ravaged Char Islands

In Munshigunj district of Bangladesh 52 villages in 2 sub-districts were ravaged by flood. Pragya worked with families living in 'char' islands who were displaced during the the August 2017 floods. Pragya conducted transect walk on the affected char islands to map the damage profile and requirements of the beneficiaries and hosted participatory Vulnerability Mapping exercise for the Char communities. As part of its effort to rebuild livelihoods, Pragya conducted livestock distribution to flood affected households from the char island. The beneficiaries received detailed training on fodder and feed management for the animals, deworming, disease control, vaccination, etc. “None of us properly knew about livestock care. I learnt about the ideal space, food and medicines that the goats would need. Earlier I thought that goats only like small leaves. But now I know that they like food full of coarse fibre, including rice and wheat bran, Bengal gram.” – participant from Jhautia village, Munshigunj, Bangladesh commented. Pragya is also providing safe drinking water facilities (filtration units) for the flood-hit families that are currently residing in arsenic contaminated areas.

Farmers lead on climate adaptation

“The trainings informed me how to carry out participatory, farm-level research on adaptation to climate change. We learnt about arid-area crops, drought-resistant varieties of crops, adapting the timings of farm operations to weather conditions, and efficient irrigation technologies. I am now engaged in trials and conducting experiments on suitable crops that would help farmers reduce risk of crop failures due to climate change. We farmers now perceive agriculture as a profitable venture” - says Nirmal Chand of Khinang Village, Himachal Pradesh, India. Pragya has been implementing a programme to address food security in the Himalayas using a three-pronged approach: (1) climate adaptation and farm productivity enhancement, (2) improving post-harvest facilities and market linkages for income enhancement, and (3) improving household nutrition. New crops / practices suitable for the changing agro-climate were tested in 10 farm-research plots in the Indian Himalayas by Pragya in collaboration with Farmer Expert Groups (FEG) formed in the districts. Potential cash crops, stress tolerant varieties and crops with high nutritive value were trialled and preliminary results have been shared by the Farmer Experts with other farmers.

Kenyan farmers benefit from medicinal herbs farming

In Kenya, many rare and valuable medicinal plants are collected from the wild as communities rely on them for traditional medicine. Agnes Mulimi is 35 year old mother of four. Motivated and guided by Pragya, in 2013, she cultivated two rare medicinal plants on her own land. The produce earned her a profit that was one and half times more than that from a traditional produce. Cultivation of crops has been her main source of income for the past 10 years. However, cultivation of the medicinal plants on her farm, she says, has been a game changer as far as family income is concerned. She planted one acre of Ocimum and Mondia whitei in her plot and after the first harvest she received more money compared to the crops she had been cultivating. This encouraged her to concentrate with the medicinal plants which has seen her educate her four children, feed and clothe them unlike before where she would struggle with paying school fees. The children are happy too because they can afford to wear shoes to school now. Agnes has also bought a cow from the proceeds from medicinal plants farming. At the same time, she uses the medicinal plants for treatments in case any of the family members get ill, and this has reduced the healthcare costs.

Rain water harvesting in Kenyan homesteads

Lydia Kiserian along with the other members of the Women’s Water User Group in Laikipia county of Kenya, manages a rain water harvesting structure near their homestead. The women received guidance and support from Pragya in setting up the structure as part of its initiative to improve water access in Kenyan Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs). This water source has saved her from walking 3 to 4 hours every day to fetch water from the river, along with the children making several trips. The structure stores enough rain water for their domestic needs and for the livestock. Lydia is now able to engage in activities that brings extra income to her family. She has now joined a group to make beaded ornaments and sell them. The children in the household get humble time to concentrate on learning and doing homework rather than fetching water after school. 

28 June 2019

Towards a brighter future...

Pragya is operating a skill building program for adolescent girls & women in Rajasthan, India. This is a project where we have targeted girls and women between age 15-30 years, often from tribal, impoverished families. We aim to place them in the hospitality, IT and retail sectors after they are trained in our Empowerment Centres in Dungarpur and Udaipur districts in Rajasthan. The initiative seeks to improve the provision of vocational skill-building and livelihoods development services in the area. We aspire to guide the individuals in setting up their own micro-enterprises or in finding paid employment. 
Champa shows products
to a potential customer at the shop
Champa Baranda is a first-year student of BA Political Science at a college in Dungarpur, and she has recently completed Pragya’s vocational training. Due to the health circumstances of her father, she has to support all her family members. Champa now has a retail job in a local saree shop, and she works everyday from 10am to 6pm. The owner of the store pays Champa a monthly stipend, and she has been given assurances of earning higher income and receiving benefits after she gains some experience. Champa says, “I want to study further and do a sustainable job with good income to look after my family”. She also adds that “this job is a stepping stone in my career and I will work hard for fulfilling my ambition”. 
Over time Pragya has expanded this project to the Delhi NCR area as well. In this region, we offer our program to both boys and girls who require vocational training. 
Neeraj and Anuj Sharma (both 18 years old) enrolled in our data entry course after completing their 12th standard. Following completion of the course, they found employment at the Income Tax Department in Gurgaon, Haryana. Neeraj remarked that “the course was just right for him and the teacher explained all concepts very well”. This program gave Neeraj and Anuj the opportunity to learn how to use Microsoft word, excel, relevant formulas and pictorial representations of data. Moreover, it built up their confidence and they are now both very satisfied with their jobs.
Skill building course underway at Pragya's Gurgaon centre
The list of beneficiaries is constantly growing, and it gives us immense pride to share how they have reaped the rewards of our skill-building program. The list of employers that have hired these individuals includes companies and organizations from both the private sector and public sector. 
Learn more about this initiative here.

29 January 2019

A look back at Pragya's work in 2018... and a look forward at what's to come this year!

As is often the case with the coming of a new year, Pragya UK’s transition into January is serving as an important time of reflection! Here we’ve had a look back at Pragya’s work and progress in 2018, as well as a moment to look at what we hope to achieve going forward into 2019.

2018 was a busy year for Pragya’s programme in India. Our Food Security for Himalayan Smallholders project continued to go from strength to strength, empowering farmers to adapt their practices in response to changing ecosystems, guided by each other as well as through services provided by Pragya-supported Agri-Advisors, including soil testing and weather information. Farmers were also supported to add value to their produce with services established to provide them with information on prices, buyers and markets, in order to enhance their revenues and help move their communities out of poverty. We trained women’s Self-Help Groups in Nutri-dense farming and dietary requirements in order to increase each family’s calorific and micronutrient intake, helping lift communities out of hunger and food insecurity. Pragya UK made a field visit to project sites in and around Uttarkashi, meeting with members of a farmers’ cooperative supported by Pragya for local value addition and the development of ethical trading links, and also visiting Pragya-supported crop research plots that provide insights enabling the Agri-Advisors to assist farmers in crop diversification and Climate Smart Agriculture.
A Schools on Wheels lesson in Bhapkund camp
In 2018 Pragya further developed its programme for migrant communities in the Indian Himalayas. The past year has seen an emphasis on the importance of reducing levels of educational exclusion suffered by children of migrant road workers, providing the basis for our ongoing ‘Schools on Wheels’ campaign which transports learning materials and a trained teacher to migrant workers’ camps. The classes introduce basic literacy and numeracy and encourage both the children and their parents to develop an interest in education, with some adult classes being run as part of the programme. The project staff have also made progress in their liaisons with local schools near the camps, encouraging admissions of the children of migrant workers despite lack of documentation.
We also made significant progress with our project establishing DMS-Himalaya, a community-led disaster preparedness model for the Himalayan region. With the aim of increasing the resilience of neglected communities particularly prone to natural disasters due to the region’s unique climate and geography, Pragya have introduced the citizen-led disaster management system in order to empower communities for grassroots disaster risk reduction and response. In the project’s recent year, Pragya-established Disaster Response Teams received further intensive training and orientation, the integration of the model within existing disaster relief programmes was heavily promoted in meetings with state government officials, and the project was enhanced by the addition of a new element, Eco-DRR, an initiative that incorporates community-based monitoring of ecosystem health as part of their disaster preparedness. The DMS-Himalaya system was even successfully employed on several occasions as a response to incidents over the year – a positive step going forward in the development of the project.

Establishing a fodder farm at Simpani
In Nepal, 2018 saw the continuation of Pragya’s post-earthquake rehabilitation projects, primarily focused on communities in the disaster-struck rural districts of Dhading and Sindhupalchowk who continue to suffer from the long-term impacts of the earthquake such as the loss of livestock and damages to housing, community water sources and cultivatable land. Combatting the earthquake’s negative impact on WASH practices in these districts, Pragya’s implementation of the rehabilitation project included the installation of water tanks and community toilet blocks in the regions where such facilities had been damaged, the formation of Women’s Water and Sanitation Councils to ensure the sustainability of WASH improvements, and workshops in schools and in the wider community to raise awareness and provide training on community hygiene, sanitation and waste management practices. The earthquake’s threat to Nepalese livelihoods also continued to be addressed with repair of irrigation structures and pipelines to increase farming productivity, as well as the establishment of community fodder farms in regions that would benefit from shared farming space. Pragya also helped rehabilitate livelihoods, supporting disaster-affected families with livestock and poultry packages, and providing training in fields such as organic farming, goat rearing, and candle making. These projects helped build local enterprise capacity for sustainable income generation.
As part of our initiative to combat trafficking and other gender-based violence (GBV) in Nepal, an issue which had particularly escalated in districts where economic distress caused by the earthquake has been highest, Pragya continued to monitor the previously installed Women’s Helpline Centres and conducted further discussion and training with the Women Vigilance Committees. Helpline leaders and committee members have received further training in effective support to victims of GBV and awareness raising of the issues within their communities. Extensive efforts have also been made to establish linkages with police and government departments to foster an integrated response to GBV and a comprehensive support network for victims of GBV and those at risk.

A cultivation field demonstration session in Isecheno
In Kenya, the conservation and cultivation of medicinal plants in Kakamega Forest was a priority in 2018. The initiative saw Pragya addressing the depletion of threatened medicinal plant species by supporting Pragya-established Community Conservation Groups educating them on the importance of local biodiversity and building grassroots capacity for species identification, habitat monitoring, data collection and analysis. Awareness campaigns were also run in schools where children were encouraged to participate in conservation efforts and feed information learnt back to their families and peers, ensuring a greater scope of impact as well as the sustainability of the project. Pragya also expanded its earlier established plant nurseries in 2018, building propagation sites for important endangered medicinal plant species as a crucial conservation effort as well as a means of income generation for families within the community.

As for 2019… our commitment to transformational change for the communities with which we work of course lives on. Our efforts to strengthen community disaster preparedness remains a priority, with a view to the regional expansion of our work and the adoption of the latest appropriate and affordable disaster management technologies. We will significantly expand and enhance our Food Security work, helping secure the prosperity of smallholder farming communities in the face of climate change. We remain committed to serving the needs of highly disadvantaged ethic minority and migrant communities, supporting their access to education, health care, and rights, towards a brighter future. 
Our gender programme in 2019 will continue to challenge the many forms of violence against women that persist across the regions in which we operate, including work in south Asia to tackle the regionally-interconnected trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation and bonded labour. We will be exploring partnerships to further our maternal and reproductive healthcare work, working to improve the accessibility and capacity of community health services, helping to combat the appalling maternal and infant mortality rates commonly found in the marginalised and last mile communities that Pragya serves. Pragya will also strive to enhance access to safe water and quality sanitation in desperate communities deeply impacted by climate change, providing a vital lifeline in harsh environments and combatting the spread of water-borne diseases. We remain committed in 2019 to supporting the development of sustainable, culturally-appropriate livelihoods for those most desperately in need, with an emphasis on below-poverty-line and female-headed households. Our work in conservation will see neglected communities supported to conserve local biodiversity and protect habitats from anthropogenic pressures, through a combination of awareness-raising, community-led habitat monitoring, and advocacy. We will also support energy-deficient and under-electrified communities meet their energy needs by empowering communities to adopt and manage clean, off-grid energy technologies, which in turn will positively impact community education, healthcare and economic wellbeing.  
A flood affected Chars Community
2019 will also see the expansion of Pragya’s work in Bangladesh. Pragya has recently established its programme with the vulnerable communities of the Chars, or River Islands, in Bangladesh with the aims of enhancing disaster resilience, improving the standards of WASH and livelihood capacities, and empowering women and girls for their protection from trafficking and other gender-based violence.

This is just some of the vitally important work Pragya is committed to in 2019. Everything we do is only made possible through the generosity of our supporters. If you’d like to make a contribution to our work and join us on our journey, please visit https://www.pragya.org/donate.php - Thank you so much.

Bringing children back to schools

The earthquakes and aftershocks which struck Nepal in 2015 had an enormous impact on the country’s poorest communities. The effect on Nepal...