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.
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.
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.
VW: Aroehan 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 S: The 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.
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