Transferring Grassroots Experiences into New Development Theories and Concepts


Chapter 2: Development Perspectives

As development practitioners, it is important to understand the development process, the dimensions and indicators of development, and methods to index human development from grassroots interventions. To reflect the scope of development issues, there were six presentations on development perspectives. Reducing the Issue of Child Labour through Education Programmes1 looks at many of the challenges faced in providing universal education to children. The second presentation, Drinking Water Management in Rural Villages2, looks at benefits that may be gained by promoting community-based operation and maintenance of water supply facilities. Self-Help Groups and Micro Enterprises: Gandhigram’s Experience in Transferring Expertise to Grassroots Level Organizations3 considers the potential for more experienced organizations to act as facilitators in assisting SHGs to better implement development activities. In Reviving Indigenous Practices for Sustaining the Resource Poor Communities: Experience of the Green Foundation4, the need for small and marginal farmers to revive traditional agricultural practices was discussed. The fifth presentation, Empowering the Disabled: The Amar Seva Sangam Model5, focuses on the new strategies being employed to empower the disabled. The final development perspectives presentation, Female Education: Potential, Limits, and the Real Agenda6, considers the role of education in empowering women.

Reducing the Issue of Child Labour through Education Programmes

The M. V. Foundation (MVF) works to eliminate child labour and ensure that all children have access to education. In India, the government ostensibly promotes universal education; however, in MVF’s early experience trying to enrol child labourers in government schools, many government schools were unsupportive, especially once the official admission time had expired. This was quite problematic since children not enrolled in school were immediately reabsorbed into the labour market.

In defining the problem, MVF outlined a set of non-negotiable goals or definitions and a set of potential approaches to addressing the problem. For MVF, (1) all children must attend full-time formal day schools, (2) any child out of school is a labourer, and (3) all work or labour by children is hazardous. MVF feels that pursuing a solution that involves the existing government formal school system is the best option. While private school support is also utilized, MVF desists from establishing a parallel institution system. Whether private or government school support is used, existing institutions need to be made sensitive to the needs of poor children in making education a reality to every child.

MVF’s strategy has been to try and establish a social norm that no child should work and that all children must be in day schools. This has been done through campaigns, rallies, street theatres, petitioning, and public meetings. They have also worked in tandem with the government to tackle related issues such as child marriage. Information is collected at public forums and by conducting surveys.

According to MVF, their goals are well grounded. They have found that, contrary to popular belief, poor families are keen to educate children—one mother stated that it was the poor, not the rich, who actually needed education. This latent demand for education of the poor is notable and supports the pursuit of similar education interventions. MVF feels that one approach is to make schools sensitive to the needs of illiterate families. Parents have pulled their wards out of regular schools and enrolled them to National Child Labour Project schools because of incentives. MVF has succeed in mainstreaming 370 child labourers.

Discussion

Workshop participants agreed that families which invest in their children’s education moved forward on the path of progress. However, the presentation also raised many questions. For example, how much of the lack of access to education for children of poor families is due to economic restrictions? How much of it is the result of caste-based or family-based values? In the case of girl child’s education, would early childhood care of younger siblings negatively influence access to education opportunities? How does one meet the needs of children living in remote areas where there is poor infrastructure? Once schooling is completed, what are some of the avenues open to the child? What opportunities are there for sponsored higher education? How does one meet the needs of children with different abilities? What are the indicators of success for an intervention like the ones MVF engages in?

In response to some of these concerns, Mr. Dhanajay opined that any culture or society that exploits child labour is not civilized, and thus, any dual system of child labour and schooling should not be accepted. If vocational education is pursued, it should not occur until late in the child’s education career, for example, after Standard X. Furthermore, distance should never be an acceptable excuse for denying the right of access to education. Motivation, awareness, and infrastructure should be implemented to ensure that children enjoy this right of access to education. Just as schools should not be based on caste, neither should they segregate special needs or differently abled students. Mr. Dhanajay also reiterated that efforts need to be put in place to make government realize discrepancies in the education system and rectify it. Past experience has shown MVF that it is actually easier to convince an offending employer to release a child labourer than it is to convince an educated bureaucrat of the need for education for all children. Thus, despite the government spending Rs. 75,000 crore on child education, child labour persists.

Drinking Water Management in Rural Villages

About 80% of all diseases afflicting people result from the lack of safe drinking water and unhygienic practices. This is despite the presence of a vast network of health officials, doctors, and primary health centres. One water management project designed by Gandhigram Trust (GGT) was conceived to remedy a system which had failed due to the non-participation of the community in the installation, operation, and maintenance of water supply facilities. The project employed many innovative approaches in promoting community based operation and maintenance in three village Panchayats.

GGT’s approach aimed to ensure (1) institutional sustainability, (2) technical sustainability, (3) financial sustainability, and (4) social sustainability. To help achieve institutional sustainability, a village water sanitation committee (VWSC) was established to manage all public water installations in the village Panchayat; this group meets monthly to review the water management system. The project works towards technical sustainability with several methods. The village Panchayat has regularized the unapproved house service connections (HSC), and each HSC pays a deposit. Project staff has trained 16 local men and women hand-pump mechanics to service the village hand-pumps. The tanks are cleaned every fortnight by power-pump operators and chlorination is used to cleanse drinking water. Financial sustainability is achieved by training VWSC members in record-keeping, regulating payments, and collecting water charges as per government rules. Source funds include a Rs. 1,000 deposit from HSC holders, monthly water charges from HSC holders, and monthly water charges from stand posts and hand-pump users. Water User Groups (WUG) consisting of local women keep the water collection points clean. This is a form of social sustainability, and the WUG members, who have undergone a day’s training, ensure that the platform of the stand post or hand-pumps are not used for washing, bathing, or cleaning vessels.

In addition to the above goals, an overarching theme of the project is to enhance women’s empowerment through involvement in decision-making bodies. This approach of promoting gender equality in the context of a water and sanitation project is seen as a novel tool in poverty reduction. After all, many women do not generally participate in hand-pump maintenance. In a patriarchal society, they hesitate to sit on an equal basis with men. The repair work is considered difficult, and it is the duty of the man—who is considered physically stronger—to undertake such work. In addition to overall social criticism, a woman interested in such work is unlikely to find support from other women, and the distance between work and home can limit her opportunities. Typically, the main role of women in hand pump maintenance has been in keeping the surroundings clean, helping collect the maintenance charges, creating awareness in the community of water supply maintenance, and improving health education on water-borne diseases.

Currently, there are around 240 women mechanics in Tamil Nadu. Women play a major role in handling water and maintaining water sources. These women need greater support in carrying out their responsibilities. At present, the village panchayat does not show adequate interest in repairing water supply systems, thus hurting the entire community. Though it was initially difficult to organize rural women, once a few were trained as hand-pump mechanics, others followed suit, and there are now almost as many women mechanics as men mechanics. The success of the water and sanitation project lies in the increase in the total number of hand-pump mechanics, power-pump operators, and women masons at the village level.

Some of the women mechanics have become master mechanics who train other women and serve as resources at trainings and workshops. Others have become lower grade contractors who construct the hand pump platforms and public stand-posts. One member of the Quality Assurance Group at the village level is a woman mechanic. Mechanics at this level supervise contractors in the procurement of materials and also supervise the quality of the work being executed. With the increased income and social standing, these women have become role models for girls interested in hand-pump mechanics.

These achievements have been recognized by others also. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu awarded the “Best Women Hand-Pump Mechanics” to the women mechanics in Gandhigram Trust’s project area. These women also won the first prize for the hand-pump dismantling and assembling contest held during the State Level Women’s Mela in Uttar Pradesh.

Self-perception has also changed. These rural women are happy that they are equally as efficient as men, but they are even happier that their services are being recognized, appreciated, and rewarded. The project has motivated many women entrepreneurs, and while, in India, the existence of these women mechanics and masons is like a “small drop in a big ocean,” it is also a beginning towards gender equality in the water and sanitation sector.

Discussion

The work of Gandhigram Trust in rejuvenating defunct hand pumps in rural areas is to be commended. In addition to the personal achievements outlined above, data has shown that incidence of water-borne diseases in the area have reduced since the project’s intervention. Furthermore, community awareness of sanitation, health, and water conservation has improved and the village water sanitation committee has continued to operate despite the end of the project in 2004.

This last observation points to the sustainability of the program; however, the transferability of the results is uncertain. Committees which function effectively during a given project period often fall apart after the project’s completion—if only because of the lack of funds. As such it is important to try and determine which elements of Gandhigram Trust’s experience contribute to its ongoing success. To improve the transferability of the results, other methods of treating water to reduce water-borne diseases and the feasibility of applying similar techniques in urban areas would also be necessary.

Self Help Groups and Micro Enterprises: Gandhigram’s Experience in Transferring Expertise to Grassroots Level Organizations

Because an individual-centred approach to development is limited, Gandhigram Trust has begun to explore different alternatives for the delivery of developmental interventions. One such approach is using Self Help Groups (SHGs) as the vehicle for this purpose; in these cases, Gandhigram Trust places itself as a facilitator and transfers its management, marketing, and leadership experiences to the grassroots level.

Gandhigram Trust has promoted 150 women SHGs in Dindigul, Theni, and Tirunelveli districts. The SHG federation at panchayat levels are registered under the Trust Act and have proved to be credit-worthy. Bank finance to SHGs ranges from Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 250, 000. As a facilitator, Gandhigram Trust, with the support of DRDA, DIC, THADCO, and the Tamil Nadu Women Development Corporation, imparts EDP training to SHG members. The SHGs are involved in different enterprises including running canteens, grinding flour, producing idly or dosa batter, collecting herbs, manufacturing photo frames, and managing petty shops.

Gandhigram Trust’s history with this approach started in 2001. SHGs which had gained the capital needed for enterprises requested production and marketing support. Rather than simply prescribing a solution, GGT called for input from SHGs in preparing an action plan, and in August 2002, 530 SHG members participated and shared their experiences as rural entrepreneurs as well as deliberated on practical suggestions for overcoming difficulties. The groups also identified possible trades and SHGs with similar interests grouped together to start production activities. To assist the SHGs, for the first year, GGT provided support in the purchase of quality raw materials and helped SHGs with their bookkeeping; presently, the SHGs manage their units independently.

Various forms of success can be observed. Several women have gained regular employment through SHG-run units, and the units themselves provide employment to many women who procure raw materials like herbs, neem seeds, and cotton. In the last three years, the worth of the goods produced reached Rs. 42 lakh and sales reached Rs. 48 lakh.

To try and ensure the success of the intervention, Gandhigram Trust has a very specific marketing strategy. Potential SHG members are given EDP training on marketing and advertising skills which are tailored to the rural ethos and Gandhian philosophy. SHGs and Gandhigram Khandi Trust have signed a memo of understanding for mutual cooperation in supply and marketing. Of the 90 SHG members trained, 61 are actively involved in marketing SHG and GGT products. The average monthly sale per person ranges from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 18,000 and earnings through sales commission per person ranges from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 3,500.

Gandhigram Trust’s role has changed with time, according to the needs of the SHG members. Initially, GGT was simply the trainer for inexperienced SHGs. During the second year, GGT provided production support to SHGs. In the third year, GGT predominant role was providing marketing support to the SHGs who had become effective producers and were beginning to assume the role of sellers. By training the women in these SHGs different skills as their needs arise, these women have been truly empowered. Many of the women in the SHGs have improved their educational qualifications; some have even become graduates.

The process of transfer of management of industry from an institution to an SHG can be replicated anywhere. Furthermore, it can be adapted to suit local needs and can promote rural industrialization. This method of imparting knowledge and training helps empower rural women economically, educationally, and socially.

Discussion

Some participants noted that since Gandhigram Trust tailors its work around Gandhian philosophy, it is important that they recognize the delicate nature of their work with this project. Motivating SHGs to market products aggressively might lead some to fall into the trap of consumerism, going against Gandhiji’s principles. This does not mean that the approach is not worth merit, only that the ethical aspects of marketing also need to be studied.

Nevertheless, with the increasing presence of multi-national corporations empowering SHGs to compete in the market is a significant endeavour. Gandhigram Trust has found, for example, that within their operational area, people prefer the use of local products. Steps need to be taken to promote and nurture second level leadership in microfinance; the work of GGT in changing the type of support they offer their clients as their relationship progresses is an example of how such leadership can be developed. Increasing such leadership and building financial and marketing capabilities of SHGs will also help ensure that the financial gains from these ventures remain within the rural villages, thus helping alleviate economic difficulties.

Reviving Indigenous Practices for Sustaining the Resource-Poor Communities: Experiences of the Green Foundation, Karnataka

The choice between modern agricultural practices and traditional practices has always been a dilemma for small and marginal farmers. The Green Foundation (GF) undertook an initiative to encourage these farmers to revive traditional agricultural practices and engage in biodiversity conservation. The GF’s approach is a broad one in which they facilitate collection and distribution of seeds, formation of kitchen gardens, seed storage, preparation of vermi compost, research and experiments, water and soil conservation measures, agro-forestry, revival of cultural diversity, income generating activities, agricultural practices, wild animal control, celebration of festivals, fairs, cultural practices, and rituals for endogenous development. Following are some specific examples of interventions by the Green Foundation.

Farm Seed Conservation and Community Seed Banks (CSBs): Since one of the objectives of the project was to conserve agro-biodiversity, the Green Foundation initiated conservation of local varieties of seeds and land acres to create an informal yet sustainable seed supply system. GF also helped establish Community Seed Banks (CSBs) to provide farming communities with local varieties of food and vegetable crops. These CSBs ease the process of seed procurement for local small and marginal farmers while also generating seed mapping lists of local varieties that were predominant before the Green Revolution.

After a decade of nurturing of CSBs by the Green Foundation, one can observe a widening of the gene pool and an improved potential of land acres. Fifty CSBs with an average of 15 to 20 members (mainly women) now conserve approximately 43 varieties of finger millets, 84 of paddy, 24 of sorghum, 44 of minor millets, 53 of pulses, 14 of oilseeds, 4 of wheat, and 116 of vegetable seeds. As many as 325 farmers from 34 villages have made requests for CSB seed supply.

Kitchen Gardens: Apart from vegetable and fruit plants, kitchen gardens include vermi compost pits, vermi wash, medicinal plants, and apiculture for harvesting honey. These gardens utilize space available in house yards, and surplus produce is sold in the local market; however, the availability of water restricts the number of these gardens. An alternative to individual household kitchen gardens is a community kitchen garden. These are set up in a voluntarily donated site determined at a CSB meeting. Small, marginal farmers and landless labourers are engaged in maintaining the garden. These gardens also foster a stronger sense of community.

Soil and Water Conservation Measures: As endogenous development is possible only if natural resources and local ecosystems are conserved, the GF initiated several soil and water conservation measures and watershed rehabilitation treatments including the construction of farm ponds and contour bunds. Sites were selected after discussion at CSB meetings and the community bore part of the cost. Initially, farmers were sceptical; however, when the farmers observed successful results at a few neighbouring farms which used farm ponds, they were convinced of the wisdom of having similar ponds on their land.

As part of its soil and water conservation measures, the Green Foundation also raises awareness on the critical values of green manure, vermi compost, growth prompters, and similar sustainable agricultural practices. Wherever water is available and the landholding is at least one acre, GF promotes agro-forestry. In 2004, GF distributed 1,107 fruit species and 2,950 forest species of saplings.

Reviving Local Knowledge and Practices: The Green Foundation is firmly committed to reviving traditional storage methods, Rashi Pooje, paying respect to nature through thanksgiving offerings for a bountiful harvest, and the Maddine Madike7 medicinal method. Best seed practices—including mixing grains with castor oil, mixing grains or seed with powder of castor seed, or storing grains in a gunny bag which is placed at the entrance of the house and stamped upon while working—were identified and promoted within the community.

Community Ownership: A “Seed Management Committee” (SMC) is a federation of CSBs. Each CSB is represented at an SMC by two CSB members. SMCs will assume the Green Foundation’s current responsibilities once GF completes transferring its knowledge and withdraws from the area. The SMC meets once each month to discuss and develop programs and activities related to community farming and the community’s well being. The SMC has developed a corpus from membership fees, matching grants from project funders, and money earned through sale of grains, vegetables, and seeds. Communities are facilitated to raise nurseries. These nurseries maintain around 2,500 saplings of drumsticks, custard apple, tamarind, jackfruit, hibiscus, chakramuni, goranti, kadu soge, papaya, seeme thangai, and glyricida.

Income Generating Activities Based on Local Knowledge: The Green Foundation facilitated marketing of value added organically grown products outside the village to supplement family income. Some of the value added products include red rice, vegetables, pickles, honey, vermi compost, millet-rice preparation, earthworms, red gram, sorghum, black gram pappads, and mats. Because of the demand for honey in preparing medicines, apiculture is an economically viable venture for many households. Interested farmers are trained by external resource persons in beekeeping, maintaining beehives, and extracting and bottling honey. Additional income generating activities for farmers working near forests include collecting and marketing forest produce like herbs, roots, berries, and shrubs.

The decision to use indigenous methods of farming instead of modern methods is not a simple one since many variables can affect outcome. However, regardless of the choice, completely abandoning traditional methods is far from wise. Genetically modified or hybrid varieties may not always take well in a given area, especially if a farmer cannot purchase enough fertilizer or provide enough irrigation to these “high-yield” varieties. Seed banks and data on seed mapping as collected by organizations like the Green Foundation are thus extremely useful to ensuring the well being of small and marginal farmers since the farmers will be cultivating crops which have a relatively proven and stable yield.

Discussion

The Green Foundation’s work on reviving indigenous agricultural practices goes a long way to help counter the erosion of biodiversity that can occur using genetically modified or hybrid crops; however, the project does raise several questions. At the forefront is the replicability of the intervention. How does one convince a community to focus on maintaining the biodiversity in an area if it might be contradictory to claims about what might be economically desirable? Who is responsible for ensuring the quality of the seeds collected at the seed banks? What is the seed supply chain and how easy is that to maintain? What were the difficulties that the Green Foundation faced in developing and implementing this project?

There are also other questions which should be considered. For example, since this project only took place in the recent past, the long-term impact of the project cannot yet be determined. It is too early to say with confidence (1) what effect the project has on food security and income generation and (2) to determine whether the income and interest of the community can be sustained by use of traditional practices. Furthermore, the health impact—in the form of the nutritional aspect of re-introduced crops—of the intervention should also be analysed qualitatively.

Empowering the Disabled: The Amar Seva Sangam Model

Amar Seva Sangam employs both institutional and community-based approaches in facilitating empowerment of the physically disabled (PD) in its work area. This presentation focused on the strategy taken by Amar Seva Sangam in trying to empower the physically disabled. Amar Seva Sangam has a long history of advocacy for disabled, starting in 1981 with initiatives for improving the lives of disabled children.

At the forefront of Amar Seva Sangam’s approach is raising awareness of the challenges physically disabled community members face. To do so, they have worked to unite PDs under a common forum and help PDs recognize and advocate their needs. They have done so through awareness programs including street plays, family and individual counselling, and discussions with local leaders.

Amar Seva Sangam assists PDs in several ways. They assist in group formation and provide group development and strengthening through leadership training, economic training, and a transfer of knowledge to these SHGs; vocational training is also provided. They help initiate comprehensive rehabilitation measures including education and social integration and mental health work. Parents’ associations are formed to help train parents and build capacity. Amar Seva Sangam works to sensitize the community, families, and the physically disabled on disabilities by implementing periodic street plays, school awareness programs, parent awareness programs, programs in which the disabled also participate, and observing “World Disabled Day.” Amar Seva Sangam also advocates and campaigns for protection of rights and equal opportunities for the physically disabled.

The result of Amar Seva Sangam’s efforts is that within their work area, there have been perceptible changes in the attitudes of the physically disabled towards themselves, and of the attitudes of the community towards the physically disabled. Thus, their model serves as a valuable learning tool to development practitioners who are employing a community-based approach towards dealing with social issues.

Discussion

The role of the physically disabled in our communities is not one which should be neglected. Community perceptions towards the PD can have a disastrous impact on the self-esteem and views of self-worth of the disabled. In many cases, the community still views the disabled as dependent, hampering the possibility for the disabled to lead independent lives. Indeed, many public spaces impair the potential for the PD by not providing disabled-friendly conveniences. Norms should be established in architecture in public buildings, for example, to include ramps and PD toilet facilities. As per the Persons With Disabilities Act, employers—especially central government offices—should ensure a non-discriminatory working environment for the disabled.

For several reasons, the immense potential of the disabled is under-tapped. Illiteracy is high among the disabled, especially among women. Social and familial oppression of the PD remains high. Sexual abuse and forcible hysterectomy of mentally retarded women still occur too frequently.

Amar Seva Sangam’s approach towards empowering the physically disabled has met noteworthy successes. Expanding their approach, it would be wise to extend their efforts from being curative measures to one which employs preventive measures also.

Female Education: Potential, Limits, and the Real Agenda

Female education for the poor in India, especially for members of scheduled castes, is appalling. The upper castes’ control over resources and the entrenched discrimination against lower castes harshly affect the educational opportunities for women and girls in the community. Lok Kalyan Sansthan (LKS) is an organization dedicated to helping create an equitable and just society in which the disadvantaged and marginalized society members are empowered to be self assertive in their rights for adequate education, health, drought relief, and so on. This presentation focused on an LKS initiative which targeted improving educational opportunities for adolescent girls.

At the core of LKS’ intervention was the “Girls’ Camp.” Conceived as a base for future intervention, the camp had two objectives: to fulfil education requirements, and to provide a platform for exchange of ideas free from social repression. LKS, adolescent girls, families, the community, and the government were all stakeholders in this initiative. An abandoned house was used as the campsite. Girls were selected by VEVs; there was an initial enrolment of 130 girls which reduced to 100 girls after two months. About 40 of the girls were married; some in-laws objected to the girls attending the camp, but some of the boy-husbands encouraged their wives to participate since they wanted their wives to be educated.

Adolescent girls were chosen because of their potential. LKS felt it would be easier to mould this new generation which is more mobile and has fewer responsibilities compared to older women. Nevertheless, rigid traditional social roles assigned to girls and women, domestic work load, early marriages, lack of self-esteem and lower standing in society, and lack of government support still posed significant challenges to the impact of the Girls’ Camp.

The nine-month camp aimed to raise the educational level of the girls to Std. VIII. Personality development programs which utilized role playing on child marriages, widow remarriage, and domestic violence were implemented to influence attitudinal change in the participants. Physical activity was also encouraged at the camp.

LKS encountered several stumbling blocks. There was continued discrimination despite their efforts. Insufficient funds also created challenges. There were teacher training issues and there were student dropouts due to parental pressures. The Girls’ Camp also lacked a specialized curriculum and instead used the government curriculum.

Despite these challenges, several short term impacts were readily observed. For the final 100 girls enrolled at the Girls’ Camp, there was a 100% graduation rate. The girls were empowered enough to work as NGO field workers and to get employment in the public sector. Educated girls assumed a more important role in their families, in their immediate community, and in the society and they had acquired negotiating skills to advocate what was in their best interests.

Though happy with their initial results, LKS realizes that there are several lessons learnt and several ways forward. Better mechanisms still need to be developed to appropriately follow up on the effect of attendance at the Girls’ Camp. There was still some discrimination and contention regarding the camp’s attendance; awareness should be created among the parents and men on the value of educating adolescent girls.

Discussion

Education of girl children should be viewed in the larger context of the different variables affecting the child. Domestic labour, care of younger siblings, and regressive social customs are all societal issues which hinder the educational opportunities for girls. Because of the ingrained caste conflict and discrimination, a further effort to raise awareness and sensitize parents and other community members is also advisable. It is also important that the concept of “education” should not be restricted to the acquisition of the standard academic knowledge like reading, writing, and maths. While one objective of the Girls’ Camp was to raise the education level of the participants to Std. VIII, it is clear that as participants, they learned many other important skills that help empower them in the community.


  1. Presented by Mr. Dhanajay, M. V. Foundation (MVF), Andhra Pradesh [back]
  2. Presented by Ms. Ramuthai, Gandhigram Trust, Dindigul [back]
  3. Presented by Mr. C. Krishnasamy, Gandhigram Trust, Dindigul [back]
  4. Presented by G. J. Suresha, Project Executive, Tata-Dhan Academy [back]
  5. Presented by Mr. Sankaraman, Amar Seva Sangam, Ayikudi, Tenkasi [back]
  6. Presented by Ms. Shibani Sharma, Lok Kalyan Sansthan (LKS) [back]
  7. The Maddine Madike is a pot that is used to store selected herbs in water. The pots are kept in the local temple after proper worship. This herbal medicinal water is used to cure common diseases among people and cattle. [back]

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