Ahimsa's 10 village programme: Education, Empowerment and the Environment
Education: Besides running 10 part-time schools, called "Home Schools" for pre-school children, Ahimsa's education programme focuses on getting children back to school and away from child labour. Now that these girls have their uniforms- they have been admitted into the local high school. Ahimsa runs a post-school coaching programme that helps the children- whose parents are not literate- to keep abreast of their studies.
Empowerment: Besides support to an all-women's cooperative called Ajoli that sources organic fruit and vegetables from kitchen gardens in the ten villages and sells the products, locally, Ahimsa also provides impetus to an adolescent group of girls in their late teens to feel empowered and also help others in their immediate neighbourhoods. Besides helping at the Home schools, the girls take part in drama workshops and also organise surveys and other village-level facilitation activities. The photograph depicts the girls taking part in an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore's dance drama, Chitrangada- which intersperses the story of the warrior princess with their own autobiographical stories.
Environment: Ahimsa has focused on the environment of the ten villages since the inception of the work. With programme support, over 200 women have kitchen gardens and orchards where they get a regular supply of organically-grown seasonal fruit and vegetables through the year. Gardeners with bigger gardens also manage to sell their produce. Farmers have greatly reduced the chemical inputs into agriculture and increased their nitrogenous crops. They have started adopting water saving measures like the system of rice Intensification (SRI) for paddy cultivation- and this method also allows farmers to grow an additional crop after the paddy is harvested. In addition, women grow and maintain herbal gardens for treating a range of common illnesses.
PADSA (Programme for Artisan Development in South Asia)
IVPAS (Inter-regional Volunteers Programme for Artisan Support)
Made by Hand
ADL (Artisan and Diverse Lifestyles Programme)
CMSSRD (Creative Manual Skills for Self Reliant Development)
Lifeskills Development and Sustainable Vocational Training
Educational projects in Villages in Bengal
PADSA Programme for Artisan Development in South Asia
The South Asian region of the world has one of the largest resource pools in the world of skilled crafts people (100 million at a conservative estimate). Artisans are the culmination of centuries of human history. Across the world in a variety of situations they represent synergies between local culture environment skill levels and social organization. Their life and work are subtly stranded by the threads of a functional family and social interaction beauty and dignity. This fragile beauty and the integration it represents is now facing extinction at the hands of the mindless culture of machines and mass production.
Under the auspices of the UN and supported by its voluntary arm UNV the Programme for Artisan development in South Asia or PADSA was a pioneering attempt to bring artisans and all that they and their lives represent into sharp focus. It was an initiative that started in November 1992 at villages located in 4 countries India Nepal Bhutan and Sri Lanka.It emphasized interaction and exchanges between diverse artisans and underlined the importance of the barefoot expert suggesting that artisans themselves could solve the problems of other artisans It also experimented with national UN Volunteers to gauge their effectiveness vis a vis traditional international UN volunteers.
The story of PADSA was published as a chapter entitled The Art of Building Peace: Artisan Skills for Development and Peace in South Asia " by Shantum Seth, in a book 'Volunteers against Conflict, published by the United Nations University Press.
A short film was also made entitled 'Speaking Hands'.
What lessons did PADSA learn?
The development of systems and institutions was badly needed. Like warehousing transportation banking. We discovered that volunteers were the key. And that voluntary professionals working part time could make a dramatic difference. Perhaps the most important thing that we learnt was that the formulation of just policies was critical. One policy made in a distant boardroom could spell disaster for countless people. For instance even today the poorest artisan pays 700 dollars for 700 bamboos. The paper industry gets 700 bamboos for just 15 dollars. That's discrimination 50 times over.
The team that managed PADSA decided to set up Ahimsa as a non profit Trust to continue the work they had started, after funding from the UN came to an end for the programme.
Who or what is an artisan?
An artisan is a person who uses hand skills and natural resources to earn a sustainable and eco-friendly livelihood. To us however the word points to a whole lifestyle and symbolizes the interdependence between the artisan and the world at large. Because theirs is a grassroots world. Working to help them become unified and strong promotes employment helps women and protects the environment and the diversity of cultures. In a world that is increasingly plastic and standardized preserving the biodiversity of skills is as critical as preserving the biodiversity of flora and fauna.
Inter regional Volunteers Programme for Artisans Support (IVPAS)
Based on the experience gained by PADSA the Inter regional Volunteers Programme for Artisans Support (IVPAS) was formed to focus on one critical element. It centered around the crucial need to create a global voice for the artisan.
How did IVPAS work towards making this happen?
By initiating a trans-national process to make artisans artisan associations and people working with them in the south connect with sympathetic organizations friends and volunteers in the North. No matter whom they were or where they worked.Organizations policy makers the corporate sector multinational companies financial institutions the media anyone who empathized with the cause. This programme was also under the auspicies of UNV.
IVPAS worked on the formulation of directions and suggestions for increased international collaboration in the artisan sector.
To help evolve a viable development alternative and on experimental pilot programs to shift our consciousness. In the fields of media, educatio, tourism, through research, more efficient organization, legal empowerment and finding newer markets for the artisans creations.
Extensively documented the lives of artisans the world over on slide and film and raised awareness through articles brochures and audio visual presentations
Taken talented crafts people to schools to show children used to 3 finger education the wonder of 10 finger education
Developed tourist circuits with artisan support
Initiated research programmes on subjects ranging from vegetable dyes to the benefits of mud cups over plastic cups.
Acted as the implementing agency for the UNDP supported Artisan and Diverse Lifestyles Eastern India Programme under which artisans have started their own organization called Karu Udyan
Supported legal intervention by giving bamboo artisans access to legal advice to help them combat discriminatory pricing vis a vis the paper industry
Set an example by exclusively decorating clubs and offices with artisan products
All this was possible because of the voluntary efforts of hundred of friends and advisors across the globe. The concepts that guided us were a 'Globalisation from Below' and to 'Think locally, Act globally'!
Made by Hand
A 10 minute documentation, entitled 'Made by Hand' of the two programmes for artisan support (PADSA and IVPAS) are available. Click here to view the video
The audio visual stands as testament not only to the programme and the thinking behind it but stresses the importance of an international movement for the promotion of an individually creative, gender sensitive, socially just, ecologicallysustainable model of development that is artisan led.
"What has been achieved so far has created no great waves that the world takes note of. Our achievement so far is a drop in the ocean. But the ocean is made up of drops and the process is exponential.. In the world of dissolving boundaries and vanishing frontiers in the wake of cyberspace and the internet this is truer now than it has ever been in the annals of recorded history.
There are many ways to contribute to the artisan movement whether one is an activist or an entrepreneur a bureaucrat or a cobbler a professional or a housewife or an itinerant magician. Each one of us has a way in which we can contribute – our way. There's only one world and it's ours.
If we don't reclaim it who will?" From the audio visual "Made by Hand'.
ADL Artisans and Diverse Lifestyles Programme- 1998-2004
The ADL Project grew out of the combined wisdom and thought and felt experience of the PADSA and IVPAS programmes.In the initial two years an attempt was made to make a self- sufficient artisan organization of about 50 craftspeople living around and in Santiniketan, in West Bengal .One such artisan led organisation was set up by the programme, nearby in Bishnupur, called "Karu udyan'. It had artisans form 7 ifferent trades, a difficult feat in a society that has a caste system based on occupations. This part of the project was funded by the United Nations Volunteers.
Santiniketan is famous because the poet Rabindranath Tagore founded first a school and then a University there. His aim was to make the University blend in with village life, draw inspiration from it and also give back progressive education and improvements in agriculture and health. Rabindranath Tagore left behind a rich cultural heritage rooted in its pristine environment.
The ADL project (in Bengali this is called Srihaswani) broadened the definition of artisan to include many different craft and creative manual skills. Ahimsa Trust also experimented with a grassroots initiative which would build bridges between different communities. Since Santiniketan is surrounded by a number of multi-ethnic villages, nine were chosen for this Project, three were primarily Hindu, three Muslim and three Santhal tribal. There were three main objectives of this programme: The first; to develop a fully developed understanding and appreciation of artisan contributions,the second to introduce certain artisan strengthening measures and the third to identify and make linkages between the grassroots work and a broader socio-political environment and thus creating a nurturing framework for artisan contributions.
This four year initiative which began in 2000 was funded by Australian Aid and partnered with UNDP. By the end of 2004, Ahimsa Trust was supporting about 300 families in various subsistence activities such as organic farming, herbal kitchen gardening, craft development, education and literacy and cultural strengthening measures. It had also brought out detailed reports on the Socio-Economic profile of the communities, a Hand Craft Report on the artisan skills of the area and a Local Economy Report of the nine villages. All these reports were carried out using participatory research methods.
Creative Manual Skills for Self Reliant Development (CMSSRD)
The work of the ADL showed the immense capacity of artisan –based measures in strengthening the local capacities of poor communities in the fields of environment, health, nutrition, education, gender and culture. An evaluation of the ADL carried out in 2004 showed that poor families had significantly improved their health and nutrition through their own efforts and training imparted by the ADL team. Some organic farming measures had also been carried out. Families realized that they were capable of handling their own needs with their own skills and had begun to reduce their dependence on external forces.
However, Training Centres were needed so that groups could continue their own learning and impart "self-reliance "training to others. Training Modules- mainly pictorial- have been made for the three Centres. (SR Centre) The CMSSRD has set up three such Centres to serve the nine villages and Management Committees (made up of farmers and kitchen gardeners and craftspeople) now run these Centres and oversee the training sessions.
By 2008, over 150 farmers, 200 women kitchen gardeners, and 150 craftspeople have received training in organic farming, herbal medicine, nutrition, health awareness, organic all-year kitchen gardens and craft production and design from the Self Reliance Centres.
In addition Ahimsa Trust has started an early childhood learning programme in the Bauri para in the village of Kendradangal- the poorest neighbourhood in the nine villages. The aim of this mini-project is to increase the current access of the Bauri community to existing government services as well as imparting early childhood care and education (ECCE) to about 20 children.
Ahimsa Trust is also running jointly with the Development Research Communication and Service Centre DRCSC a Multi Purpose Education Centre in the tribal village of Kayetpukur . This centre intends to make formal and non-formal education available to all sections of the village. As in the other work areas, Ahimsa Trust welcomes volunteers to come and help with their skills and solidarity.
The ADL Evaluation also found that work with Muslim women was more limited than the work that had been done with other ethnic groups because of their relative isolation in the home and inability to join community-based groups.
Hence an additional gender component was added and a 'house to house' contact programme was added to facilitate craft production and kitchen garden extension work. Today this work with 30 households in three villages has evolved into a mobile library catering mainly to Muslim women. In addition Srihaswani enjoys an on-going dialogue on gender and development issues with academics of several Universities including Brandeis and Boston Universities .
Another interesting initiative within the CMSSRD project is the work done on the Local Economy.(Low cost toilet; soak pit; liquid manure) A film based on the research uncovered on the different facets of life within one small village will be available shortly. The Local Economy research uncovers many areas for future intervention and will form the back drop for any Life Skills Training done in the future for which funds are being solicited.
The past decade of working in the same nine villages has allowed Ahimsa Trust to establish good ties with the community as well as build ties with other organizations working in the area. Two organisations which have greatly helped promote the work of Ahimsa Trust are the Development Research Communication and Service Centre (DRCSC) and Manab Jamin. (Manab Jamin consultation)
When I joined this project I was so shy... I couldn’t string even two sentences together and I couldn’t even speak to Didi.... it scared me.
But now... people on the road, in my village, call me Master da... treat me with respect. And I feel I must have done something worthwhile to gain this respect. I don’t know how it happened but it did. And it makes me feel good about myself and makes me believe I have come a long way so far in my journey on this work.
Lifeskills Development and Sustainable Vocational Training .
(In process of raising funds for two year programme) Location: Santiniketan and the villages around West Bengal
The Life Skills Development and Sustainable Vocational Training Project seeks to empower young people from marginalised rural and urban families to acquire skills, a working knowledge of the market and an all-round education in order to acquire some additional income sources for themselves and their families. The Vocational Training programmes offered will try to upgrade existing skills among the community while maintaining the organic natural resource base. Efforts will be made to keep the products and the services as environmentally sustainable as possible. The Project has a specific gender component which addresses the needs of young married women who can be motivated to improve the nutrition, education and health status of their families, while allowing them some room for further emotional and intellectual growth. The Project Facilitators will also attempt to collect as many successful case studies of existing Vocational Training programmes.
Spirit of Volunteering
A natural development for Ahimsa was being involved in the promotion of Volunteering. It became a key player in the lead up and follow up to the International Year of Volunteering 2001. It initiated volunteer involvement and campaigns in groups to clean up the Yamuna river, a Schizophrenia support group, groups to help bridge the digital divide, Gandhi volunteers and street theatre festival to coincide with International Volunteer Day each year on the 5th of December.
We organised a "Spirit of Volunteering' workshop in collaboration with UNV, and invited various members of civil society. For Ahimsa , Volunteering is seen as a practice of self development, and a practice that ultimately helps us lose the sense of seperation between the one offering the service and the one receiving, in the deeper understanding of inter- dependance.