Contact Us

Bungalow No 7, Suriya Nagri Society,
House No: 933, Kankradi Road,
Dahanu Road – 401602

+91 25202 99245


We Catalyse Village Development: Dr. Helen Joesph

Dr Helen Joseph was Professor at the College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan (affiliated to the University of Mumbai) since 1983. Throughout her academic and professional career, she was been actively involved in issues related to communal harmony, domestic violence, ethics in social work practice and Peace Education. She was the Founder-Director of Salokha – A Field Action Project of the CSW, Nirmala Niketan on building communal harmony. We interviewed her on various issues:

Vivek’s World (VW): You are a founder-trustee and Chairperson of Aroehan (NGO). Tell us about the journey of Aroehan. Looking back, what are your thoughts about the achievements of Aroehan?

Dr Helen Joseph (HJ): I am reminded of the day (in 2005) when Dr. Abhay Bang gave a lecture at the College of Social Work on the plight of malnourished children in Maharashtra. This left some of us with a terrible sense of discomfort; and made us ask ourselves what more our profession ought to do to remain relevant and more responsive to the plight of the disadvantaged in India.  As field work coordinator at that time, I made a small presentation at our weekly faculty meeting in this regard, proposing that we practically demonstrate the relevance of our teaching by taking up a limited area, working there, and showing the impact of our intervention. An opportunity arose when in 2006 the Govt. Of Maharashtra wanted us to take up some villages in Mokhada to work on the issue of Malnutrition. Accordingly AROEHAN was born. Anjali Kanitkar took responsibility to steer the project as Director, and I was part of the advisory team.

Starting with a micro-planning exercise we quickly realised the multiplicity and inter-connectedness of various factors that contributed to the high malnutrition deaths in the region.  Hence we realised the need for an integrated approach that intervened simultaneously in areas of Health, Education, Agriculture, Livelihood and Good Governance.

Starting with a small team, led by a social work graduate from our own College, we began an arduous learning process in a difficult and hilly terrain lacking transportation facilities, no electricity, and where the villagers survived through subsistence farming and migration to the cities. As we educated ourselves, we stumbled, we fell, we rose, we discussed and debated on intervention strategies, our partnership with the government and the industry, what our ideology should be, what we should compromise on and what we should not etc.

Funds were difficult to access initially, though after CSR came into existence in 2013, the situation improved significantly. Today, we work in Mokhada, Jawhar, Dahanu and Palghar talukas of Palghar district. In 2014 we graduated from being a field action project of the College to an independently registered organization.

Health: We started with a maternal and child health program and Life Skills education among women and girls, but moved on towards empowering them to participate in Village Health & Sanitation Committees (VHNSC) which monitors nutrition and community health. We were instrumental in getting Ultrasound machines in 3 rural hospitals in Palghar district with the help of Siemens and DHLF.

Water scarcity is a major problem

Water conservation has been a major achievement for AROEHAN. We have so far constructed 196 small and medium sized check dams, sub-surface bunds, and cordons, repaired and refurbished several defunct wells, and made new ones. This has helped not only in mitigating the water issues of the villagers, but even more importantly it has helped in recharging the ground water table across 13 GPs over the time we have been there. This has also relieved the women of the drudgery of carrying water from far off places, and made the conditions suitable for farmers to grow crops during the rabi season, thereby enhancing their livelihood. Thus intervention in a strategic area has had multiple impacts.  Today more than 1000 small farmers have moved beyond rain-fed primitive agriculture to using modern techniques of farming to augment their yield. Besides cultivating grains and millets, they have also started growing vegetables, fruits and flowers.

Education for Life is what AROEHAN is working towards, which involves capacity building to make children and youth responsible and proactive citizens of tomorrow. The youngsters take up environmental projects, participate in school governance issues etc. The Jigyaasa project makes the teaching of Science, Technology, English and Mathematics (STEM) more interesting to students – allowing them to explore with their hands the concepts that many children find very difficult to grasp.  Through this project, AROEHAN has so far reached out to 7575 students in 10 Ashram schools of Mokhada block.

In the critical area of Governance, villagers are empowered with knowledge to proactively engage with local self-government bodies to claim their entitlements and influence their village development.  This was done by forming ‘pada samitis’ (sub-village neighbourhood communities) which then learn how to engage with the Gram Sabhas, a statutory body, where their representations can be made. As a result, the villagers now work closely with the statutory committees like the VHNSC, the committees formed under PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas), and on issues concerning their forest rights, employment issues (under MGNREGA) and other aspects of the Village Development Plan. Working on Governance is the corner stone of our work, as AROEHAN believes that at the end of 4 to 5 years, people should be able to work independently. Only then can our work be sustainable.

VW: What do you think Aroehan should do now to bring about substantial change? And what are the plans ahead?

Dr Helen Joseph (HJ): In general, I think we are on the right track. However  NOW, we need to establish evidence of our impact on the ground, by setting up some measurable targets that demonstrate this.

Dr Helen Joseph, Chairperson, Aroehan

We have therefore selected a few villages where we will focus our attention on achieving the following strategic goals: (i) To achieve Zero Malnutrition deaths in the selected villages, (ii) To ensure that ALL school-going children are in schools, (iii) To reduce migration by 50% in these areas, and (iv) To establish a citizen’s forum with special emphasis on participation of women.

Secondly, it seems to me that the CORONA pandemic has brought into sharp focus a number of issues that are ailing the public health care system. I believe that there is need for AROEHAN to play an active role in assessing/identifying gaps in the system and advocating for a more robust public health care system especially in rural Maharashtra.

But in all this, people themselves need to lead the change; otherwise no work is sustainable. For this, people must believe in themselves, believe that they can aspire for a better life, and also believe that they are responsible not just for themselves but for their entire village. When we can do that, we can withdraw from the area -for which we must have an exit strategy in place.

Gram Sabha

Furthermore, personally, I believe that there is a non-tangible aspect on which we need to bring about substantial impact.  Our work needs to go hand in hand with ensuring that a strong value base is developed in our children/youth (and village communities) – values of an inclusive society where there is respect and concern for all, irrespective of gender, caste, religion, race, language, community etc., accompanied by concern for the environment. I say this because I have realised that when disadvantaged people start becoming upwardly mobile, there is a danger that a ‘me-first’ attitude could develop, that takes no responsibility for those others who are still disadvantaged and discriminated against, even in their own neighbourhoods and beyond.

VW: Tell us about the issues facing the NGOs today.

Dr Helen Joseph (HJ): Some of the challenges faced by NGOs are:

  1. Funding : This is a major challenge that many NGOs face. The Corona pandemic has resulted in a lot of CSR funds being diverted to it. This I fear will definitely affect our funding and thereby our work.
  2. Professionalism in work, and having a well trained staff committed to the vision of the organization, are things that most NGOs are looking for. But this combination is difficult to find. For instance, there could be individuals who have a fire in their bellies and are devoted to the vision of their organization, but who are not necessarily good at management functions, or at following legal and other compliances, or vice versa. This is a big challenge.
  3. Retaining one’s value system, and yet skilfully handling the political and sometimes selfish interests that inevitably come into play whenever change is being brought about, is again another significant challenge for all civil society organisations today, especially those that would like to focus on people-centred governance.

Thanks Dr Helen for sharing your thoughts with us.

Vivek S Patwardhan


Source –


School For Every Child And Reduction In Migration

Dr Shubalakshmi Iyer, Chief Operating Officer of Aroehan was instrumental in preparing a five year Strategic Plan. Two (out of five) objectives are: “Reduction in migration by 50% and No child out-of-school by 2025.” These are Aroehan’s (what Jim Collins called) ‘BHAG – Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals’. This is what most successful organisations set: Ambitious Long-Term Goals. Bill Gates said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.” Aroehan has taken first step with a five year strategic plan. Dr Shubalakshmi answers our questions.

Vivek’s World (VW)Migration of labour is a humongous problem. Tell us the situation and what can be done to curtail migration.

Dr Shubalakshmi (Dr S)The context: The migrant communities in Palghar mainly belong to the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) viz. Katkaris. They are either marginal farmers or landless working as farm labour in other’s farms or wage labours in brick kilns or nearby companies. Usually migration in these areas takes place in the non-monsoon months from November to March. They come back to celebrate Holi, only to migrate for another 3 months of April to June, till when the monsoon begins. Most of our tribal population fall prey to this vicious cycle.

Dr Shubalakshmi Iyer, COO, Aroehan

The COVID crisis: This year due to the COVID crisis in the country the worst hit were the seasonal migrant labour who could not earn their wages as all forms of employment came to a standstill due to the lock down. They were left with no money or even basic necessities. This has affected not only the individuals, but their families and the community at large.

But as we say “Every cloud has a silver lining.” AROEHAN has been working in the Mokhada block since many years with the objective of reducing seasonal migration through water conservation and allied agriculture and alternate livelihoods.

Alternate livelihoods: We have started a pilot project with support from Siemens India Ltd. in 28 hamlets of Mokhada block to initiate alternate livelihoods for the marginal Self Help Groups. Some SHGs of landless and migrant farmers were identified and livelihood equipment like rice mill, papad making machine, oil crusher, and flour and masala mill have been provided to them. The members have been trained to operate the same. 50% of the SHGs have an earning potential between 5000 – 15000 rupees through regular and optimal utilization of the rice mill and the flour mill. This has also helped the neighbouring villagers in reducing their time and cost of travel and engaging in other forms of activity.                                  

Non-monsoon agriculture: Some farmers were also encouraged to take up Rabi cropping in the non-monsoon months. An interaction with the farmers, gave an insight into their cropping pattern. They usually prefer paddy cropping during the monsoons and buy other condiments like chilly, onions and vegetables for their regular use at high prices. This is when the team, felt that multi cropping with training on good agricultural practices esp. during the non-monsoon months will help the farmers with an additional source of income and reduce migration in the long run. Leafy vegetables, fruit vegetables, gourds, roots and tubers, groundnuts and sunflower were selected as crops to be grown on 10 gunthas of land each. The farmers could earn an income of around Rs10-15K with the sale of produce in the local markets. This not only helped the community but also the nutrition requirement of their own families. This income generation activity prohibited them from migrating elsewhere in search of work. They were spared from the harshness of the corona pandemic in way of lack of money and essentials and could lead a better daily life in comparison to the other migrants.

The working conditions of Migrant Labour are appalling (Photo Vivek Patwardhan) Copyright

What can work? Empowering people with alternate livelihood opportunities and multi-cropping or generating income from agriculture enables communities to stay in their local villages and not venture out in search of menial wage employment during such pandemic or crisis situations. Availing government employment schemes through MNREGA for village development activities in one’s place of residence will also help people to generate income and thus curtail migration.

VWAroehan wants to ensure that in the next five years all children will attend school, there will be no child ‘out-of-school’. That’s a very ambitious goal. Tell us please, what was the situation on the education front pre-Covid and what is it now?

Dr SThe context: For a child to drop out of school or remain irregular, the reasons are manifold. Most of the schools in the tribal areas have very poor infrastructure and lack of WASH facilities as per norms. The nearest secondary school is distant from their residence. Caring for the younger sibling or migrating for work along with parents is other areas of concern. Even though students are enrolled in the schools, they usually drop out or are irregular due to lack of child friendly infrastructure and other reasons mentioned above, not to exclude the student – teacher ratio gap and lack of child friendly learning practices and pedagogy.

Education remains a neglected area in villages

Usually the children attend the school by chance or force, rarely by choice. The other attraction for the family is the food that is served at the school, not to talk of its nutritional value but surely helps decrease the burden on the family especially the woman to feed another mouth.

The COVID crisis: This year due to the CORONA pandemic, the schools were the first ones to lockdown in the beginning of March to contain the spread of the virus- a loss of almost 2.5 months of learning and exams esp. 10th and 12th Std. and also an anticipated decline in the already poor nutritional status of the children.

Education and Nutrition: Timely meals are provided to the children in the Ashram schools and the mid-day meal at the Zilla Parishad schools. The question lies to whether the children have the same access to food facilities at home where their parents are busy at work and cannot manage to make both ends meet with their meagre incomes and lack of food security.

The children have been promoted to the next class on the basis of their annual performance. With children at home, lack of educational facilities at the school due to the closure and also at the home front, it has become very difficult for the parents to monitor the child’s activities. The parents usually tend to feel that the sole responsibility of the child’s upbringing lies with the school.

The government authorities and the schools have made every effort to bring in various learning platforms through NGOs and other sources in the villages so that the children are not idle. Not everyone is familiar to digital and visual learning methods including the teachers in the rural and tribal areas. Online education is fine in the cities and semi-urban areas, but with the absence or limited availability of electricity and internet access and lack of awareness or education among the caretakers, this still becomes a distant dream for the students residing in far to reach tribal hamlets. 

A few solutions to this problem could be setting up a central community kitchen to cater to the needs of children of all age groups, setting up of child friendly schools with improved infrastructure and educational facilities, an educational hub or a safe drop-in centre for continued learning and overall development of a child.  

VW: Thanks Dr Shubalakshmi

Vivek S Patwardhan