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Self-help turns the village around
SELF-HELP TURNS AROUND ODISHA VILLAGE
At the crack of dawn every Saturday, the women of Guadang Gorjang, a tiny village in Odisha’s Gajapati district, 350km from the state capital Bhubaneshwar, assemble at the village square. Splitting into three groups, they head off to clean roads and drains. Before settling down to their daily chores, they sit with local anganwadi workers and learn about children’s immunisation and the need to enroll them in schools. They also learn about using toilets correctly and exchange notes on how to make their men give up alcohol abuse.
Guadang Gorjang may be barely a dot on the map, but over the past two years, this village of 54 households has seen an astonishing change, showing the way forward to others. The 260 villagers are of the Lanjia Soura tribe, one of 13 particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) of the state.
PVTGs are characterised by pre-agricultural levels of technology, a declining population, very low literacy and a subsistence economy. The Lanjia Soura belong to the Shabar umbrella category of tribes, number around 24,000 and are spread across Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
Residents of Guadang Gorjang take the mantra of self-help seriously, and are setting an example by not depending solely on the government. Not surprisingly, it is the women of the tribe — called so because the cloth that covers their lower body resembles a tail or ‘lanjia’ — who are leading the change.
And the change is visible. Besides clean roads and drains, the village has access to clean water, electricity and smokeless chulhas. Each household has a functioning toilet. The transformation began with the intervention of the Peoples Rural Education Movement (PREM), an NGO working with financial support from a foundation run by a bank. “This is an inaccessible and underdeveloped region, so it was initially a daunting task to work in the village. But the residents welcomed us with open arms,” explains Jacob Thundley, president of PREM.
Guadang Gorjang fell under the NGO’s ‘model village’ scheme, which envisages community-based care of children and access to education and other facilities. Besides, the scheme aims at making villages free of litigation, violence, alcohol and tobacco abuse. Also part of the vision is a reduction in migration and better livelihood opportunities for women.
Today, drinking water is provided to the villagers from a bore well at the centre of Guadang Gorjang, while electricity comes from the gover nment.
“Most of the men are masons or daily-wage earners, while women work on coffee plantations, rear poultry and make low-cost sanitary pads,” said Sainta Raita, president of the village development committee (VDC).
Around 35 children, mostly girls, go to the nearest town of Paralakhemundi to study. The other kids go to school at Angada, about a kilometre from the village. Since the Lanjia Soura are a scheduled tribe, the children get free education and hostel facilities at government schools.
Premati Gamango, one of the villagers, says, “We have worked very hard to reduce alcohol abuse. This has reduced disputes, among other things.” Guadang Gorjang has earned kudos from none other than Niti Aayog. “The villagers are well aware of different government schemes and avail themselves of the benefits,” wrote NC Samal, a research officer with the body who visited the village recently, in the visitors’ book at the entrance to the village. PREM is now working on replicating the experiment in 149 other villages.