By Loganathan and Max Johnson
Nine months ago we began working in a small village in Rajasthan – a village where people were content and found happiness in the simplest of things. It was an extremely humbling experience. However, we found it a little disheartening to see that people were too comfortable with the various prevalent issues in the village. They had lived with the issues for so long that they no longer saw them as a hindrance to their lives – it had become such a normal part of their lives that the community didn’t feel the need to acknowledge these issues, let alone challenge them.
Today we leave a village which has chosen to challenge one of its major issues and see this challenge through to the end. Nine months of hard work, raising awareness around these issues, empowering people through Youth group and Women’s group meetings to ask why and challenge the status quo which has eventually led to a whole village petition being delivered to the Sarpanch with a written response back committing to begin working on these issues as soon as possible.
It all started with us going to people’s houses. Some people opened their doors, but most of them were shut to us, we were strangers in this village. So we decided to spend most of our time getting to know people and their lives and slowly people started to notice and interact with. We heard there was this local government meeting going to happen so planned a visit to the gram sabha and went to talk about the village’s problem. It was still early days and there was only one person from the community who would come with us. She had to come because it was her official meeting and she wasn’t interested in speaking or raising her concerns. We tried, but with no success, we only were spectators at the meeting.
So we put our energy to raise awareness about the issues in the village, and the community started to engage with us more. As we spent more time with them they felt we were equal and part of the community. It took time, but eventually, we started to meet people regularly and soon these meetings became a youth club and women’s group. The community was interested in the groups because the meetings gave them a space to talk about problems and their lives and come up with ideas of what they wanted to do to resolve them, instead of waiting for others to do it for them. They began to raise their voice and said that the local government is not doing anything about their problems.
While we continued investing time on people we also created a space where we got co-exposed and began working on issues in the community with them. We continued doing that but our time was short and we wanted the community to come up with an action plan without us. So we gave them space, support and help to do this, and that’s exactly what they did. The youth group wanted hope and for their voices to be heard so they created a program on an issue that was important to them. They ran an evening program organised and presented by themselves and which brought the whole village together, taking ownership of their own village and their issues. We placed trust in them to raise awareness about their own issues and this whole event gave them huge confidence.
We decided to take our next big step in the belief the village was ready to fix their own problems. While we were investing time with them we were also creating a petition to the Sarpanch for the issues in the village and spreading the word throughout the village. More and more people were involved in the draft before we took it around the village asking people to sign. Finally, we took the final petition to the Sarpanch with more than 130 people’s signatures to him, and the voice of 130 people was heard. He showed much more will to address these issues than we thought and he said that now he had evidence that the people wanted change in their village he could start to make it happen. He gave us a written acknowledgement of the petition and some concrete answers and timeline to the solution. Hearing this news made me feel like our hard work in the community for the last nine months had paid off, and that we had made an impact on the local government and the community.
The community had raised their voice and been heard, they had made a change and they will move forward knowing that they can change their lives and the lives of others, they just need to believe and trust in themselves and they can achieve anything.
We are already seeing this – in the village people started to put lights bulbs outside of their houses as a solution to their street lighting instead of waiting for the local government to do it for them. By lighting up their own village, the community can not only see a small light at the end of the road but the whole path ahead. Their journey has just begun and as they light up their path going forward, the end of the road seems much closer…
(Loganathan was a Program Supervisor with Pravah ICS from July 2016 – April 2017 and was working with partner organisation Jatan Sansthan in district Rajsamand.)
(Max Johnson was a Team Leader with Pravah ICS from January – April 2017 and was placed with partner organisation Jatan Sansthan in district Rajsamand.)