By Holly Jackson
What many people don’t realise about volunteering, is that it isn’t as simple as going into a community and giving people money, food, water, or fixing their drains. It’s a lot more than that – one must truly try to change the mindset of the people in the community one visits, to allow them to tackle further problems, and make sure the benefits of your work are long-term, rather than short-term.
A key way to do this is mobilising young people – the belief that children are the future may be a bit of a cliché but it holds a lot of truth; young people have a lot of passion, energy and desire to work hard and makes things better. If you can mobilise them and teach them how to make a difference and get things done, then you will create a generation which, when older, will continue to bring about positive change.
In Morra, one is in many ways detached from the outside world. This meant that we had a large challenge on our hands. However, what we also had were individuals who were ready and eager to solve the problems prominent in Morra. Our first task was simply to get them all together.
This could not be done without forming relationships with many residents of the village. One of the first things we did was compile a list of the people whom it would be most essential to meet. So we found out where they lived, and went to talk to them.
This led to us introducing ourselves to many young people who had been helpful to the previous batches, such as Om Prakash, Hitesh, Kali and Sunita. We found them ready to help and happy to talk to us.
We were determined to start our work quickly, and raring to get going and holding our first meeting. However, it was certainly not what many of us expected. Even after having worked hard, visiting houses, and telling people about the details of the meeting, we had low attendance. We had decided on the school as a meeting point, as it is somewhere where everyone is welcome, regardless of caste, religion, or any other social boundary. The school is a friendly, welcoming building in white and blue, with a wide courtyard. Several small children arrived, so we played with them for a while, but it took an hour before we actually had anyone of the correct sort of age, and even then, it became clear that the strict plan we had made was not going to be suitable – the boys we managed to mobilise were simply not going to engage with most of the games we had picked. It was mostly boys who turned up to our first meeting, and we very much hoped we would get more girls the next time.
All in all, we were feeling rather low after our initial ventures into empowering the young people of Morra. However, this simply made us determined to work harder, and make sure to continue forming relationships and gathering members. We hoped the boys we had gathered for our first week would not be put off, and that we could find out what people wanted to do at a youth group, and then supply it, so they would be tempted to come.
The next week, we continued making the chai stops as we had began, and met more and more people, talking to them about issues and simply making our presence felt. After two weeks, we were ready to try again, and after another session of mobilising the young people, telling them when and where the youth meeting was taking place, we headed to the school in anxious anticipation.
We needn’t have wondered, however, whether our hard work would pay off. It did not take long before more than fifteen people arrived – supposing these would be all, we were pleased, acknowledging that this was more than the previous week, and a respectable number. However, before we had even got the session started properly, more people came, and the number swelled to twenty.
We began taking down names of the people who were attending so we could make a record of it for next week, but they were arriving thick and fast – we couldn’t get all their names down fast enough! We were shocked when more and more people still were coming to the school, and the number of people kept growing, finally reaching 33, a number we were extremely proud of.
To top it all off, the session went very well, and they all seemed to really enjoy it! The games were participated in enthusiastically – we had taken on board what we learned last week and concluded that games which were competitive would be much more engaging for them. Everyone contributed to the discussion eagerly as well. Kritika did well in getting them engaged and making them laugh, which was wonderful for the English volunteers to witness, as it demonstrated to us that the session was going very well, even if we didn’t understand the words! We found through talking to the young people that there are many issues within the village they think are important, including child marriage, cleanliness and gender equality.
The icing on the cake was the members giving the group a name – ‘Rising Morra!’ We were thrilled by this sign of them taking ownership of the group, and the demonstration of their eagerness to participate. There was singing, dancing and music as well, which made a very pleasant ending to the session, and we discovered that they all want regular language classes and the girls want dance classes – it was wonderful to find that we have a group of young people who are so willing to learn!
This made us very proud, and gave us a great lift and a new burst of positivity after feeling disappointed with the first week.
As the weeks went on, numbers never again reached that high of 33, for many reasons such as wedding, festivals, the volunteers being absent, exam time arriving, or the youth taking on mobilisation themselves, but our work continues well. We all know it is about those people we do manage to impact and whose thinking we affect rather than having to make a difference to everyone.
We began to discuss the idea of cleanliness with the group, thinking it could be a good idea for our first CAD, and they were, as always, eager to help and talk. We discussed the issues with them, mentioning the idea of writing up a drainage petition to take to the local Panchayat, and when our Swachh Morra Abhiyan rolled around, they played a brilliant role, doing things such as dancing, helping to get people to attend our evening programme, translating the petition and introducing it to the community.
Members accompanied us on many different ventures, such as fundraising, gathering signatures for the petition, and telling people about the youth group and when it is happening. Two members came with us to a Gram Sabha, to see how the local council meetings work and talk to the Surpanch, and we were very pleased with their willingness to do this. The female leader, Durga, also became a helpful asset to our women’s group.
The pride of the whole team continues to grow to this day as we watch all the young people develop, and gain new ideas and mindsets.
As time passes, we are watching our youth group become more and more independent, like a child we nurtured and watched grow, but are now beginning to let develop on its own a little more, even though we are, of course, still involved. While we were all in Mount Abu, the youth group ran without us there – even if the attendance was not its highest, we were still thrilled with this achievement.
Each week, leaders become more involved in planning the group, and, in the case of the most recent meeting, carrying it out, speaking more and more and trying to get ideas from all the members. If the group continues to meet after we are gone, that will be amazing, but even if it doesn’t, we know that so many of the young people have gained valuable skills and will continue to try to work for the benefit of the village, using what we have taught them.
Currently, we are keenly waiting to see if they manage to hold the mini CAD on gender equality they have expressed an interest in. They have many brilliant ideas about what to do and which issues to address, it is simply the actual execution of it we need to give a helping hand with now.
What new surprises the youth group will bring us in the coming weeks, only time will tell, but they are all such amazing people that we know it will be wonderful.
(Holly Jackson volunteered with Pravah ICS from January – April 2017 and was placed with partner organisation Jatan Sansthan in district Rajsamand.)