VIEWS: 15 PAGES: 3 POSTED ON: 4/16/2010
Barefoot success By : Bharat Dogra Rajasthan This unique initiative harnesses the creativity of ordinary villagers to bring about remarkable technological development in villages. While driving across the dusty countryside of Ajmer district in Rajasthan, some surprises await you at the Tilonia village. Here, you find villagers working diligently on computers, in a solar energy centre, and in a mini-electronics telephone exchange! Physically challenged youth work smartly and efficiently in the telephone exchange, and in a unit that converts 'waste to wealth'. A host of craft items dazzle you with their beauty and grace. Sprinkler irrigation and carefully laid pipes try to save every drop to water. Welcome to the famous Barefoot college of Tilonia, known more formally as the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC). While the main centre is housed in two campuses of this village, several sub-centres exist in Rajasthan and in other parts of India. Untapped potential Baba Amte once said, "The poor and illiterate people of our villages don't need charity, they need opportunity.” Invaluable, but hidden, dormant skills of villagers can be tapped if only suitable openings are provided. To provide these opportunities, what is needed above all is a faith in the ability of villagers who, after all, have the most intimate knowledge of their farming, housing, livelihoods, and hence have the most inherent capacity to improve them. They won't come to a village just for a few hours to study any problem; they live here all the time and so have more time for observation, site and people-based understanding, and discussions with fellow villagers. They are more familiar with the history and socio-economic context than any outsider can possibly be. This is why, in all its wide-ranging programmes, the SWRC gives maximum emphasis on realizing the potential of local villagers themselves for solving the various problems of these villagers. Bunker Roy, the director of SWRC says, "The Barefoot College has proved on the ground by setting an example that paper-qualified, urban-trained experts and professionals can easily be replaced by paraprofessionals from the villages who have never been to college or do not have technical training of any kind. They have learnt their skill on the job, and upgraded their knowledge through sheer practical experience that includes trial and error." Villagers like Bhagwatnandan have fully justified Bunker Roy's faith in their inherent abilities. Bhagwatnandan was a priest in a temple of a nearby village when he first came to this campus and felt attracted towards its solar energy unit. Within a few years, he had not only grasped the basics but even started playing a leadership role in maintaining the solar energy system that was responsible for lighting up the campus and running its computer, a pump set and a mini telephone exchange. Youth like Bhagwatnandan from many parts of India (as well as other countries) have been trained in Tilonia as Barefoot solar engineers. These include women as well. The centre also provides solar lanterns to night schools run by the SWRC. As with solar energy, in other areas also, SWRC gives special care to encourage rural skills and talent. In the initial stage of its water programme, when SWRC worked to provide better hand pumps, SWRC emphasized on training local villagers (including women) as hand pump mistries (mechanics). After three months of training, each of these new 'hand pump' mistries was made responsible for the maintenance of about 30 hand pumps within five kilometers of his or her village. The experiment was so successful that the Rajasthan Government decided to extend it to the entire state. A clear picture An advantage of such close links with the villagers is the ability to change keeping in view the real needs of people. SWRC soon learnt that improving maintenance of hand pumps was not enough in an arid, low-rainfall state like Rajasthan, where frequent droughts can lower the water-table to such an extent that even well- maintained hand pumps may not be able to provide any water. So the emphasis shifted to water harvesting and conservation. Today, the SWRC campus itself provides a good introduction to its water harvesting work which extends to numerous villages and schools. Carefully designed pipes bring the rooftop rain water to an underground storage or tanka. Rainwater flowing in from nearby hills is guided by trenches and drains to stop awhile - allowing for more percolation - and then made to flow into an open well. Its overflow is guided to yet another well. This, as well as drip irrigation and creation of soak pits to conserve waste water all helps to ensure that SWRC campus has a year-round availability of water, greenery and chirping birds, even in years when rainfall is below normal. Another village, Kadampura village in Ajmer district is affected by brackish water to such an extent that most villagers had become dependent on buying water at the rate of Rs. 350 per tanker. But this dependence has now reduced significantly due to a water conservation project implemented by SWRC. This has involved the creation of one small pond (naadi) and one dug well near this pond. Rain water is conserved in this pond, with the dug well performing the role of better and speedier re-charge. According to Ram Karan, co-ordinator of the water-conservation programme of SWRC, water conservation works help to reduce this brackishness to some extent. As we travelled through a wide stretch of this dusty countryside, I was impressed by the anicuts, ponds and other structures that have been created to achieve recharge of ground water table and reduction in brackishness. In several schools, water supply is now ensured to students and teachers round the year, thanks to the water conservation work done by SWRC. And thanks to another water project in Falauda village, Rameshwari says that now she is able to have a daily bath, while earlier during the summer, she could not bathe for a stretch of 15 days! Self governance One of the most remarkable aspects of water (and most other) projects implemented by the SWRC is that the entire project funds are transferred to a village committee formed to implement the project. Barefoot managers' picked up from common villagers (with special emphasis on women) are provided training for managing such projects. The same willingness to harness the creativity of villagers can be seen in the multi- directional efforts of SWRC, be it for education, community health, crafts or women's empowerment. The success of this approach is best symbolized by Abdul Karim. When SWRC extended its solar energy work to remote villages of Ladakh, Abdul Karim first met the Tilonia team while carrying loads for them on his mules. Finding him so keen to learn about the new technology being taken to his village, SWRC friends encouraged him to join the training for barefoot solar engineers. He then came to Tilonia for more advanced training. Soon, he started training other barefoot engineers and eventually assisted the installation of over a thousand units in Ladakh. The SWRC has a long catalogue of achievements, but perhaps, its biggest strength is that it has created many Abdul Karims.
Pages to are hidden for
"Barefoot success"Please download to view full document