By Asmita Sarkar:
Shashank, an apprentice with PRADAN and a former student at Indian Institute of Forest Management, learned not only about failure but also about how to move on from it. Being a grass-root worker, failure is not something that one can stay unacquainted with but it makes the success that comes after, that much sweeter.
The apprenticeship took Shashank to Tokapal, Bastar District. Chattisgarh’s Bastar, a conflict-ridden area, has made headlines over the years because of numerous State vs. Maoist skirmishes. And yet the living go on. He was stationed at Tokapal for more than a year, where he had to stay in the house of native, research and find answers to critical issues in the area, and monitor the change over a period, as well as mobilise women to form self-help groups. A programme like this then becomes a training ground for future change makers, like Shashank, who want to impact the lives of those who live in rural spaces.
One can remark that Shashank’s choice of profession is exceptionally hard but it also equally enriching and satisfying. A forest management student, who chose to work in a rural space instead of becoming an IFS officer it just proves that individuals from any educational background, with a will for working at the grass-root level can do this. And Bastar district boasts of retaining all its apprentices!
However, while in the programme the learning was a hard curve to follow. He did not achieve success at one go. There was a process involved in the whole programme, following which certain positive results were attained. He chose Dondarguda to implement the Integrated Natural Resource Management planning exercise. The first part of the exercise was identifying the needs of the community, and water supply in this village hamlet turned out to be the greatest woe. For this, it was proposed that a pond be dug, however, after trying to mobilise the village for four weeks it did not work out. Having failed at his task, he chose to move on to the next village, thinking that there he would be able to start afresh with a new set of people.
He next moved to Pandupara, where through the film ‘Jal, Jungle, Jameen’, the residents were encouraged to try new crops in their lands. One such success story is of Phoolmati and Hamkant Patel from Khaspara, Palwa, who were farmers since generations. They grew vegetables in their land and sold it mainly to the tribals in the forests. By becoming a part of a self-help group, the couple managed to earn an income of Rs. 31500 by March 2015. The increase in income has been so much for them that they can keep a part of it in the bank for a rainy day now. Being able to impact a family’s life for good, even at a micro level, can give someone a great source of encouragement to go on. Shashank, when asked if he would repeat the programme if given a chance, says that he would do much better next time around instead of showing any signs of regret.
He faced many difficulties before being able to make a change even in the lives of a few people. He had to deal with his parents’ expectations as his chosen path does not fulfil their idea of what a career should be, and he still continues to fight the non-acceptance that surrounds his profession. The thought that can help any social change professional to go on would be that while looking at development from a bird’s eyes view might seem daunting, when these ideas are taken apart and implemented, one step at a time, one can start seeing real change.
*Theater of the oppressed creates a space for active participation for the audience. The method helps them feel enabled to create solutions for their problems.