Wednesday, April 18, 2012

There are game changers too

Shanthi Priya/ Chennai

Although the voluntary sector is not popular with media, bureaucracy and politicians, there are many NGOs which have made a change in the society.

Many NGOs in Tamil Nadu have been in news for all wrong reasons. First it was in the case of 2G spectrum allocation case, in which it is alleged that ill-gotten money was routed through an NGO. Later, it was in the case of Koodankulam agitation.
South India has not dearth of NGOs. After the tsunami waves lashed Kerala and Tamil Nadu costal areas, there was a spurt in the number of NGOs in the region.
NGOs are not popular with the media, the bureaucracy and the political class in India. There is a general suspicion about the activities of NGOs as they lack transparency. We rarely find a favourable mention about any NGO in the media. They are believed, perhaps uncharitably, to be private pocket boroughs of some individuals who are supposed to be experts in making commerce out of service. They care only for their foreign donors and the Central home ministry. These and many other popular suspicions and notions about the NGOs were confirmed recently when six of them were blacklisted by the government for forging the signatures of district collectors to draw money illegally.
There are, however, some honourable exceptions as in every field. Some NGOs are run by dedicated persons with missionary zeal. They are doing great service. Listing good NGOs is hazardous for obvious reasons. But not taking note of the tremendous good work done by some NGOs would tantamount to refusing to see the reality. Andhra Pradesh, like any other state, can boast of a host of NGOs which are rendering exemplary service. Organisations like Rayalaseema Rural Development Trust at Tirupati, Village Reconstruction Organisation at Guntur, Bhagavatula Charitable Trust at Visakhapatnam, Arthika Samatha Mandali at Vijayawada and Samskara at Nizamabad are some of the well-known NGOs working in the state.
Mrs. Shanta Sinha of MV Foundation was given Magsayssay Award for the excellent work she has been doing in the areas of literacy and child labour. Mere mention of the name of the organisation headed by Mrs Sinha evokes respect. MV Foundation has, to its credit, a number of achievements in rescuing the child labourers and running bridge-schools for school dropouts. 'Asmita' is another NGO which appears in the media often. It is run by a team of dedicated persons under the able leadership of Ms. Vasantha Kannabhiran. It would be interesting to know the nature of work, which is representative, done by three distinguished organisations in the three areas of Telangana, Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra Pradesh.
'Social empowerment for sustained development' is the theme of 'MARI'(Modern Architect for Rural India), which is very active in Warangal district. There is a first small step for every long journey. Murali, the founder-secretary of this organisation chose Panikara village of Nekkonda mandal in Warangal district where he launched an education project in 1990. He successfully enlisted the co-operation of Adivasis to establish 'Swayamkrishi' schools where a nominal fee is collected from students. MARI has expanded its activities and it is now working in about 200 villages in 20 mandals with emphasis on the social empowerment of dalits and adivasis. Besides the education programme, MARI has also been taking up other projects like desiltinging the tank beds, micro-financing to help rural women towards economic empowerment, improving aids-awareness and encouraging the use of natural manure in cultivation, etc. MARI has been receiving project-specific financial aid from France, USA, Netherlands and Switzerland. MARI has so far desilteded twelve tanks involving about 1,400 farmers in the process. Murali has been the moving force behind the organisation. He travels all over the district, studies the lives of the poor and evolves schemes in order to empower them.
Bablu and Mary came from two different parts of the country and converged in a drought-stricken district of Anantapur. Bablu (Choitresh Kumar Ganguly) is a middle-class Bengali, with Che Guevara beard, inspired by Naxalbari movement who came to Andhra Pradesh to teach dialectical materialism to the farmers and farm labourers. While doing so, Bablu read Masanobu Fukuoka's 'One Straw Revolution', a book that had profound impact on him and lead him into becoming a farmer taking up sustainable agriculture. Mary is a Roman Catholic from Kerala's Idukki district. A post-graduate in social work, she worked in Anantapur, Nalgonda and Srikakulam districts for several years before running into Bablu in 1982 at the Southern Collective of Action Groups.
They started living together in the late 1980s. Work on Timbaktu, a utopian communer at Chennekothapalli (CK Palli) near Penukonda in Ananthapur district. They had dreams and the courage to realise them. They started recruiting volunteers and working on fields. The experiment of Timbaktu Collective in natural regeneration has been replicated in several villages in CK Palli, Roddam and Ramagiri mandals. First it was a 160 acre hillside in Mushtikovila village where they started building a seed bank of indigenous trees. They learnt the local lore and age-old wisdom of having drought-resistant species. The beauty with the Collective is that Babloo and Mary never make the decisions. The villagers were encouraged to take decisions on their own. Timbaktu Collective has also started a thrift group in CK Palli. The Adishakti Mutually Aided Thrift Cooperative Society which had an initial membership of 967 and pooled a capital of Rs. 5 lakh has spread to two other mandals. The membership has grown to 7,500 and the turnover to Rs.2 crore. Timbaktu's philosophy of work is based on three R's-Regeneration, Rejuvenation and Revitalisation. All the activities undertaken by this organisation is aimed at achieving these three objectives.
Resolution of problems faced by rural people has been the main agenda of Sodhana, an organisation floated by Dr. Pemmaraju Durga Kameshwara Rao in 1979. Dr. Rao who did PhD in Physics in the US and was working as a teacher of Physics in an American University gave it up and travelled to Cheepurupally, a remote village in Vizianagaram district, to take up social work in right earnest. He was influenced by Vinoba Bhave and Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan whom he met and shared his concerns. He selected a village called Appanna Valasa which had dalits in large numbers (70 percent of the population) and started an organisation called 'Sodhana', meaning search. Literacy, women empowerment, health, resolution of land disputes and spreading awareness of governmental welfare schemes among the poor people are some of the areas in which this organisation has been working. Whenever villagers meet the volunteers of this organisation and narrate their problems, the volunteers accompany the villagers and study the problems and evolve solutions. Rao's selfless service is acknowledged by the villagers.

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