Reaching out rural communities

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Published on December 20, 2020 at 4:24 am

Updated on March 20, 2021 at 06:49 am

An SHG woman making masks in Madhya Pradesh.
AKRSPI responds to COVID-19 situation quickly because of the many community organisations it has promoted over the years
The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) operates in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. As COVID started, AKRSPI could respond quickly because of the many community organisations it had promoted. They quickly initiated awareness work and collected and distributed food and soaps to the landless and vulnerable. AKRSPI field teams soon braved village visits (one staff, Rajeev, travelled 1,200 km on a motorcycle from Bihar to tribal MP to resume work when Bihar stopped trains). AKRSPI’s work focusses on 4 pillars:
A. Flattening the curve through changed behaviour (handwashing, physical distancing and mask-wearing): AKRSPI has created awareness amongst 2.66 lakh households in 1,600 plus villages in the three states. 1.1 lakhs masks have been distributed (made by 540 women self-help group members), along with 90,000 soaps, over 900 sanitisers and 9,000 plus sanitary napkins.
B. Providing food relief and accessing government entitlements (Jan Dhan, PDS, MGNREGA, etc.): More than 21,000 vulnerable households have been provided food kits, 31,000 households provided labour through MGNREGA and more than 2,000 vulnerable households received government entitlements through the Citizen Information Centres.
C. Livelihood support for farmers, livestock owners and landless labourers:
1. 525 women make masks which earn the women/adolescent girls Rs 300/day, a critical income
2. AKRSPI has promoted 26 farmers producer organisations (FPOs) and 13 women’s federations who were supported to provide agriculture inputs for all farmers and Rabi marketing. 7,500 farmers were provided inputs on interest-free loans, Rabi marketing worth Rs 5 crores was facilitated, and 70,000 farmers were trained. Health support by pashu-sakhis for 20,000 goats and poultry owners was provided.
D. Supporting returned migrants for their health (quarantine centre support) and livelihoods:
AKRSPI works with UNICEF in Bihar to support 57 quarantine centres with more than 3,000 migrants. 400 panchayat members were trained to manage quarantine centres.
Networking and Policy Influence: AKRSPI, along with NGOs like Srijan, Pradan, FES, Harsha Trust etc. co-founded a CSO Network to respond to the COVID crisis called the Rapid COVID Rural Response Coalition (RCRC) which, in 2.5 months, has grown to include 60 plus NGOs working in 14 states and 500 blocks of the country, influencing policy and programme modification during COVID crisis.

Village-level irrigation development work in progress.
Post-COVID-19 Strategy
Speaking to The Good Sight, Apoorva Oza, Chief Executive Officer, Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India), said, “There is an opportunity in every crisis and more lessons to be learnt from failures than success. We need to imagine multiple scenarios and have a plan for each and be nimble-footed. Staff safety and well-being are critical. Above all, we need to be positive and optimistic. This too shall pass.”
According to him, The future strategy would be on innovations as new problems will need new, and local solutions. The programme strategy includes:
1. A continued focus on sustainable agriculture and healthy foods, healthy soil and healthy livestock sustained in a non-polluted environment
2. Increased work with migrants, so that they find safer, healthier livelihoods in their villages
3. Greater use of technology even in communication with the community.
4. Partner panchayats, local government and community organisations. They have been the unspoken warriors in this war.
5. Village women have lost a lot of voice and space in this crisis. They have been confined to their homes and have spent countless hours in their domestic chores. Cases of domestic violence have increased. Greater focus on their voice, individual and collective enterprises, helplines and access to technology for women will be our priority.
6. Sustain the RCRC coalition and other networks as NGOs need to come together and stay together to influence governments.

Trainig on handwashing in progress.
Case Study: Sewing lives in difficult times
It was with great interest that Karishma had approached the YUVA Junction team of AKRSPI for her association to mask making interventions. Earlier, she had completed her Sewing Machine Operator course from the same YUVA Junction centre a few months back. She had acquired a broad understanding of designing, cutting and stitching of different kind of garments. She was convinced that being an active member of mask making entrepreneurs was the answer to help her in breaking free from the current COVID affects on her family.
Karishma, 20, is a resident of ‘Tepri’ village situated on the bank of river Budhi Gandak in Bandra block of Muzaffarpur district in Bihar. She belongs to an ultra-poor scheduled caste family. Her father is a daily wager and mother a housewife. She is the eldest in her 4 siblings and currently doing graduation from a nearby college of Pusa. Her annual family income is Rs. 40,000 but due to lockdown and limited movement, her father is not able to get any income. This has led to difficult days for the family.
Now Karishma is coming to YUVA Junction centre, Pusa, of AKRSPI, 13 km away from her house, by her bicycle daily. She prepares 70-80 masks in a day and able to earn approx. Rs. 350 per day.

Karishma sewing mask at the YUVA Junction centre, Pusa.
(The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) was started in 1985 to improve the quality of life of rural communities in India and has its headquarters in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. It is a decentralised and field implementation organisation with a goal to influence public policy in favour of the rural poor and is active in over 3,000 villages of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. There are five core result areas:
1. Enhanced and sustained incomes with reduced risks
2. Sustainable environment through community-based natural resource management
3. Reduced drudgery and improved health, especially of women, through improved water and sanitation and domestic energy
4. Access to technology and learning opportunities for rural children and youth
5. Equitable, pluralistic and self-reliant community organisations and enterprises)



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