In India, the NGO sector isn’t much publicized nor is networking significant in this field. A tangible amount of work done by NGOs for the betterment of society isn’t known to the Indian population. The article I write here is based on my own learnings. I feel immensely fortunate and grateful to have had this experience. And I’m glad to bring attention, even if it’s a little, to the NGOs working hard in rural India for our good.
In 2009, I visited a place called Kalghatagi in Dharwad, Hubli district of Karnataka. This was an
exposure visit to understand the projects of an organisation called Vimochana Development Society. The director, Fr. Jacob P.J., had also been an MLA in the area.
During my visit, I stayed at St. Mary’s High School. The school was built for the sole purpose of educating the marginalized and downtrodden children in the area. It provided them with free English language education, and also came equipped with a hostel for the students.
What captivated me particularly was the building’s design. Back then, it was a fairly new and early concept. The building had a self-sustainable design with several income generation activities. Fields covered all four sides of the school. They also reared their own poultry and cattle for supplying children with milk, eggs and other dairy products.
Benches were made out of mango trees. The school also generated biogas for the kitchen, and meals were made there. Similarly, manure for the gardens was prepared on site. To irrigate the surrounding fields, Fr. Jacob did an amazing job. He found an area 10-15 kms away from the school, deep inside a mountainous forest that was converted to a reservoir. Here, they undertook rainwater preservation (watershed development project). A huge motor collected the water from the reservoir to irrigate the fields.
The organisation did face issues. Fr. Jacob had to stage a hunger protest to keep the reservoir project going when government officials shut it down mid-way. After completion, the reservoir was irrigating several other fields in Kalghatagi, where water was the main problem for agriculture. The reservoir itself was huge and beautiful.
Getting permission for this sustainable building wasn’t easy either. Fr. Jacob strived for four years to obtain permissions and another four years to finish the project. But once completed, the building proved meaningful to several people in the region.
I also had the opportunity to meet the villagers and children, who entertained with various performances. The women in a nearby tribal village also performed a tribal dance which was beautiful and something I hadn’t seen before. What I also noticed was that these villagers were highly skilled and had noteworthy agricultural practices. The amount of hard work they put in was plain evident and commendable.
Fr. Jacob had organised, participated in and supported various peace protests for the welfare of Kalghatagi, particularly against exploitation of women. Until then, he had worked with 87 villages in the surrounding areas through numerous projects.
What I learned from my experience
I was deeply inspired by the fact that this was one person, working for more than forty years and had immense achievements, even risking his life several times. His willpower to protest against the government to build the reservoir as well as other welfare projects was something I hadn’t seen a lot of people do.
Education for the poor is a practical foundation that has the power to change the entire caste and class discrimination structure in India. Vimochana realised that, started building the base and set out on this empowering journey.
The publicity debate
The organisation had potential to grow at a faster rate, if it got better sponsors. It’s self-sustainable design was perhaps the most striking feature. Since it was independent and functioning in a remote village of Karnataka, it didn’t have many tie-ups or significant networks. Vimochana’s publicity was remarkable but not appealing enough to gain consistent sponsors. Sadly, only the project areas were a standing witness of its credibility.
On the contrary, NGOs in the urban sector attracted a lot of eyeballs. Rural India never got a considerable amount of concern. The work done in these areas stays within the villages. If they wish to reach out to the Government or urban population, they have to take painstaking efforts, generally in the form of protests. Or they suffer considerably, enduring massive losses to grab attention.
Summing it up
As part of the urban population, it’s unfortunate to see this happen. Rural India is the source of our survival. We take what it has to offer, every single day and yet, it’s forgotten.
Through this article, I hope to have shifted the focus of our citizens to some of the best NGOs, which have contributed significantly and creatively to rural India. They deserve as much, if not more, attention as urban and international NGOs.
Let’s not just learn from them, but also about them!