Tuesday 26 November 2013

Ripples From Village Activities

The seeds sown by ESI volunteers, especially Nandini and Suresh bhai in the three experimental villages of Amiyapur, Vanthal and Pedhamali have begun to sprout in small and beautiful ways. We write about some ripples seen in each village and inspirational ways in which ladder-leaders have begun to grow.
In Amiyapur, the villagers have begun giving full support to sanitation and educational activities, forming a whole support structure for each other. This is seen in small acts. School children in their play used to damage plants in the school premises when the fence was open. Now everyone in the village takes responsibility for the maintenance of the school’s plants; and someone closes the fence so that plants are not damaged.  Shailesh bhai, who is the village’s resident safai sainik (soldier of sanitation), receives welcoming smiles from everyone and is indeed treated as a family member. The changes are most keenly seen in children. They have formed their own groups of about 20 each, where they monitor each other’s personal hygiene, such as washing hands before eating, washing feet when entering the house, and cutting nails. Each group maintains cleanliness in school, by keeping their shoes in line, praying together, and performing small activities of kindness for each other. The children now have begun to teach each other, in a child-to-child approach, raising awareness from a young age and being in good company of each other. The demand for toilets in individual homes has increased. As awareness increased, seven toilets were constructed in village homes, without even requesting government support. Another 25-30 homes have applied for government funding to construct toilets, particularly after the shauchalayprem-pratishthaan ceremony.
Some inspirational people in Amiyapur:
Shobha-ben Thakor is a 10th grade educated villager. Her husband works in ONGC as a driver, but also drinks a lot and thus cannot support the family financially. She has 2 children who are currently studying. She has been a true hostess, offering unconditional hospitality to any volunteers that arrive, even by the busload. She is a believer in teamwork, and is one of the first to step forward for any activities in the village.
Asha-ben, popularly known as Smiley-ben, is always smiling. She never appears unhappy, despite having no home of her own. She is ready to offer services such as making tea and food as soon as the volunteer groups arrive. No matter the size of the group, she is willing to offer her hospitality. she sees the volunteers group. She is now constructing a house, little by little, but doesn’t begrudge anything to visitors and volunteers who arrive in the village. Her home is always open to the children of the village, who are guaranteed to never come back empty-handed from her house.
Ajay Thakur is a differently-abled child, who is mentally challenged. He infects others with the spirit of sanitation. It is a common occurrence to see him holding someone’s hand, taking them to a dirty place; and begin cleaning it with a broom. Inspired by him, others begin to join in the cleaning up. Ajay also has an amazing affinity with solar power. He has a solar light and charges his cell phone using a solar charger. He also teaches other people how they can use his solar-powered devices instead of electricity. ESI volunteers are hoping to train Ajay in building and operating solar panels so that the village can become self-sufficient and solar-powered.
Vanthal, being an interior village, was first visited by students from the NSS. Inspired by the activities and the transformation in the village, the women of the village planned to visit ESI and learn more for themselves about sanitation. After their visit, they have grouped together to clean the village, cut kids’ nails, clean the school, etc. on a weekly basis. The children of Vanthal have formed a beautiful family-like relationship with Suresh-bhai and Nandini, and call him often to ask when he and other volunteers will visit them next. Naina-ben, the Safai Sainik assigned to Vanthal, conducts classes two days a week on personal hygiene and sanitation. She has now begun to see that the villagers will not eat without washing their hands. They will bring buckets of water from a distant tap if needed, but will not each before washing. The villagers have also volunteered to contribute 10% from their own incomes despite being below poverty line, so that they can get government support to construct toilets at their homes. The villagers have automatically formed a water committee and a sanitation committee, where the villagers meet once a week to clean the village, repair water pipes and potholes and improve cleanliness in the village.  The villagers have also become proactive about education. Gita-ben Sarola, who is a primary school trained teacher, supplements the village school by home-schooling. Her home-school is called Patangyu, meaning butterfly. Each Saturday and Sunday, all the village children are invited to her home, where she teaches value-based education, artistic handcraft-based work, and encourages their innate abilities and talents. She creates activities where she teaches children about expressing their love for each other, the dangers of addiction, the positive thinking, etc. Everyone who has been to Vanthal before is surprised about the extent to which change has been seen in the village, and the amount of positivity in the villagers.
Some inspirational people in Vanthal:
Gita-ben Sarola is a primary school teacher trained at Gandhi ashram’s PTC (Primary Teacher Training Center). Her father has passed away at a young age from tuberculosis, and she and her three siblings were raised by their widowed mother. When Jayeshbhai visited them during a village visit, he observed her keen service-minded spirit and asked her to train for the PTC at Gandhi ashram. She conducts a home-school in Vanthal where children learn at their own pace, by getting the teacher’s individual attention. She combines her knowledge with values of service and contributes to an all-round knowledge for the children.
Farida-ben comes from one of the poorest of poor families in Vanthal. She has eight children whose upbringing she has to take care of. However, in spite of her economic and financial difficulties, she takes time to join in every village improvement activity. She helps in safaisainikNaina ben’s anganwadi by grouping the children, giving them food, helping them group to clean the village, etc. Her husband cooks the midday meal for the anganwadiin the village. Farida ben collects buckets of water to water all the plants in the village; which becomes a difficult job in the summers, when atleast 25 buckets of water need to be carried around. She is an example of one of those who have nothing of their own, but still serve through their spirit.
Chanchi-ben is a panchayat member in Vanthal. She is about fifty or fifty five years old, but works with the enthusiasm of a youngster. She is a member of the water committee in the village, and has brought her valuable life experiences to the committee. While she is uneducated and cannot even sign her name; she leads and organizes the women of the village, host volunteers when they visit, and is popularly known as the ‘volunteer mother’. Everyone pays heed to her voice because of her experience, selflessness and dedication.
In Pedhamali, the awareness spread by Nandini has spread in quite different ways. The women of the village have gathered themselves into a group of about sixty. They have decided to use the group to create emotional, economic and financial support for themselves. The women meet monthly to have bhajans, satsang, perform small acts of service, and encourage each other on their journeys. Also, each of them saves Rs. 50 from their earnings each month and deposits it with the group, to form a little nest egg that can form an emergency fund for their families. Children have similarly formed groups where they collect plastic waste thrown about, and put it in a recycling collection. A marked change in the children’s habits has been seen due to Nandini’s regular visits. Several of the children who used to be addicted to gutkha (tobacco) after watching some of the older people, have now stopped its use due to awareness of its effect on their body and mind. Snehal ben, the safaisainik in Pedhamali, started a ‘milk cooperative society’ that is run entirely by women. The women have formed a partnership with DoodhSagar Dairy (a dairy company), to which they package and send milk from their village, and earn sustainable livelihoods. Snehal ben and Jaldeepbhai, a married couple, have been running a home-school similar to the one in Vanthal, from the past four months. They provide an all-round curriculum including book studying, hand-based work andencourage other innate talents in the children. Most of the children choose to stay with them in the loving atmosphere they provide, especially when they come from homes that include addiction or abuse.
Some inspirational people from Pedhamali: 
  1. Jaldeepbhai and Snehal benare a married couple who believe in Gandhian thought, and spend their time as representatives of ESI in Vanthal. Five years ago, Jaldeep-bhai went to Vanthal to volunteer his time for a year, and transformed by his experience, decided to dedicate his whole life. Before their marriage, he asked Snehal-ben if she would be agreeable to such a lifestyle. They are both interested in work rooted in non-attachment, particularly related to health issues. They do not even have a home of their own, and live in others’ houses in the village. They serve the entire village’s health needs, such as taking people to hospital, performing first aid, etc. 
  2. Kanti dada and Vasant dada and 90 and 78 years old respectively. Both are practitioners of naturopathy people, and are so fit as little children; so much so that most people are taken by surprise. They both decided to remain unmarried, and 60 years ago started naturopathy and khadi work. Vasant dada in particular, eats everything raw, and does not cook any food. They have both saved money over the years and started workshops and classes to inspire other people towards naturopathy. 
  3. Daksha is an 18-year old who is passionate about bringing change in her village. She hosts volunteers, cooks food, and shows them around the village. Although she is from one of the poorest families in the village, she is willing to use her skills to serve others.
Nandini and Suresh bhai’s visits, facilitated by Amrish Sanitation Project and ESI, have thus begun to show their effects in the increased awareness among the villagers in all the three villages. The effects are seen most noticeably in the children, who are the focus of Suresh bhai’s campaigns as well as the villagers’ efforts. The children are more sensitized, aware, and helpful to each other, and a marked improvement in health and a feeling of community have begun to show themselves. All the results of the positive efforts are seen in the children’s sense of well-being and their happiness. Indeed, this gives meaning to the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’.

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