In 2018, Shirol Taluka in Kolhapur, Maharashtra reigned the headlines for a considerable time, for a highly concerning reason – the cancer menace. Cancer spread like an epidemic with one or more patients in almost every family. While the government introduced schemes and strategies to combat the imminent hazard, the villagers in the neighbouring Hatkanangale Taluka were crippled with fear. They dreaded a similar scourge of cancer in their own homes.
While the adults turned to the supernatural beliefs for safety, the children of Hatkanangale took up the onus of probing the reason behind the cancer epidemic. Guided by fellows of non-profit foundation Insight Walk, these kids were already well-aware about how harmful chemicals in food can lead to cancer. Talking to their own parents, who were all predominantly farmers, they found out that modern farming resorts to a lot of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilisers, unlike traditional farming which was completely organic. Their grandparents corroborated their findings, as they shared how diseases occurred much less in their times, due to organic farming practices.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
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Children turned organic farmers after school hours
The children then decided to start organic farming on their own. Securing small vacant plots here and there, or perhaps a small corner of their family land, they tilled the land after school hours and sowed seeds. Using bio-manure made from their household waste, they nourished the tomato, aubergine or marigold plants until they bore healthy fruits and vibrant flowers. They even insisted their school cooks to use these vegetables in their mid-day meal.
“After their successful pilot, now in the summer holidays, they will roll out organic farming in an entire field and at the same time encourage other farmers to pick it up,” Sanket Jain, co-founder of Insight Walk, shared in a Facebook post. Each of the kids used their own acumen and passion for contributing to the project. While the aspiring painters drew comics and sketches demonstrating the procedure and results, the would-be writers jotted down the entire experience to help others learn about it in details.
About Insight Walk
However, it would be a misnomer to say that this organic farming project is one of the most successful ones conducted by Insight Walk. The organisation has been actively working in eight villages in Kolhapur trying to mentor the children, providing them with the best of life skills, extra-curricular activities and practical on-hand experience with textbook concepts.
“We work with children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. Most of them hail from lesser privileged families in villages which lack even the basic facilities. Early marriage, child labour, dropping out of school are common as age-old patriarchy reigns above everything,” shares Subodh Jain, co-founder of Insight Walk, in a conversation with Efforts For Good.
Insight Walk fellowship chooses leaders among marginalised women
Insight Walk works in a fascinating way which makes them stand out in the domain of community development. “Each year, we select Insight Walk Fellows from among the women in these village communities, each of whom plays a key role in the activities doled out for the rest of the year. However, unlike conventional practice, our selection procedure for the fellows does not have education, age or leadership quality as hardcore criteria,” shares Subodh.
Intriguingly, women of all ages comprise the batch of selected fellows for a particular year. Most of them are victims of patriarchal oppression, often domestic violence. Most have never had a chance to complete school, let alone aspire for financial independence. But, the thing all of them have in common is an indomitable grit.
“Each of our fellows has expertise and experience in something or the other, be it farming or pottery, teaching or stitching. So, we coordinate with each individually and design specific courses to train the children. Then they are assigned to lead the Community Centres in the villages, where the children are groomed after their school hours,” informs Subodh.
There was a time when life for the children was riddled with hardships. Girls would join school well-aware that they would never get to graduate. Their aspirations were cut short by societal and financial constraints, which compelled them to drop out early on trivial reasons.
“Sometimes, they would stop going as they outgrew their uniform or cannot afford a school bag. We could have easily helped them out with crisp new uniforms or shiny new bags. Instead, we decided to introduce them to stitching. Now, they can easily design their own dresses and stitch beautiful cloth bags. Since the blanket ban on plastic bags in Maharashtra, these kids are most enthusiastic about making cloth bags and spreading the idea among the village elders as well,” narrates Subodh.
“Once popular notion was that boys never do womanly work like stitching on knitting. We have successfully dispelled the stereotype and taught the boys who perceive the craft as just another life skill. Now you will find them excitedly mending tears on their clothes or sewing buttons,” he adds.
The Innovation and Passion Lab
The community centre is like a dreamland for the kids. They make toys, innovate makeshift machines, practise art – everything with locally available resources. Recycling as a principle has been deeply inculcated in these young minds, so they do not let even a small item go to waste. Instead, they turn it into something beautiful, useful and worth cherishing.
The Innovation and Passion Lab is an interesting addition to the community centres where “children learn multiple skills based on their interests with the help of local mentors and rural artists.”
Traditional artwork adorns the walls of these community centres, painted by village artists who have spent a lifetime mastering the craft. Children, who are passionate about art, learn from the local maestros and assist them in projects at the community centres and embellishing their own homes.
Rural poets, musicians, singers, writers, artisans etc. partner with the Insight fellows to mentor the children in the rural heritage and culture that is dying out slowly.
Efforts For Good take
Rural kids are deprived of wide-scale exposure to knowledge – so goes the stereotype. Insight Walk proved how India’s rural communities hold a treasure trove of knowledge on life skills and a self-sustainable way of living. The children under their ambit are growing up with an amazing blend of wisdom – where tradition meets modernity. So the girl who dreams of becoming a police inspector someday can easily tutor someone in the nitty-gritty of organic farming. Efforts For Good applauds the incredible efforts of Subodh and Sanket Jain in shaping childhoods into ideal future citizens.
With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.
After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.
Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.
Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.
“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.
Direct Monetary and Material Transfer
Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.
Information till 10th April 2020:
Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
Reached 17,700 families
Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.
In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.
This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.