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. 

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...