By Lavanya Garg:
It was in the winter of 2013 that I first visited the village of Soda in Rajasthan, which is home to 10,000 people. The village is around 60 km from the capital city of Jaipur and falls in one of India’s most backward districts – Tonk. I was nineteen then and ready to change the world. I still am – ready to change the world – but perhaps I’m a little less starry-eyed at the age twenty-two. It was, however, exactly my lack of ‘experience’ that led me to take the plunge to co-found Asmat (an NGO), along with Kavya Saxena, a friend who shared my enthusiasm. We wanted to change the realities of rural India, by organising young people in urban areas – and it is safe to say that together, along with the help of similarly motivated people, we have been able to achieve that goal to some extent.
Since its inception, Asmat organises bi-annual volunteer programs for young people from colleges across the country, to work on education issues in Soda. As an organisation, we haven’t limited ourselves to the education of children but have worked relentlessly in the field of adult education as well. Often, our activities have stemmed from surveys conducted to gauge the current situation. For example – from a survey conducted in 2014 about the National Social Assistance Programme, which covered 150 elderly, widowed and citizens with disabilities in Soda, we were able to understand that 35% of the people were not able to receive a pension due to errors in or lack of documentation. Another 23% cited lack of awareness as the main reason. Moreover, those held back due to illiteracy or dependence were mostly women. This propelled us to help around 200 people fill up bank and pension forms, teach over 100 women in Soda how to write their name and inform the general populace about the Right to Information Act and various government schemes that they can avail.
Another survey conducted in 2015 about the Anganwadi system in Soda, covered 58 residents across all hamlets, in which 86% respondents were women with an average age of 30 years. 41% of these, were not happy with the functioning of the Anganwadi system and another 15% were only moderately happy. Moreover about 60% of them just wanted the Anganwadi workers to provide better food. We are in the process of conducting more detailed surveys regarding the functioning of Anganwadi workers with a two-fold objective: one to inform the Sarpanch to facilitate better governance and two, to find out areas where our model of adult education can help the Anganwadi system function more effectively.
In the course of the past three years, Asmat has tried to touch the lives of as many people as possible in Soda – children, adolescents and adults, by taking steps often guided by a detailed study of the village, as in the examples above. A testament to our dedication is the fact that all of our activities that often involved walking 5 kilometres every day in the scorching Rajasthan heat have been carried out by over 120 young people from the country, without any monetary remuneration.
I hope that this movement that first took shape around three years back and brewed over conversations in coffee shops with friends only continues to grow. You, the reader, can help us by donating to our crowdfunding campaign. For every 2500 rupees that you contribute, this winter, we will be able to educate 30 women about government health schemes that they can avail, sensitise ten adolescents about the ill effects of substance abuse and make 20 women financially literate. For every 2000 rupees that you contribute, we will be able to arrange for a doctor to conduct a general check up of about 35 residents of Soda, saving them crucial money from their income and pensions.
We have provided a platform for young people from rural and urban areas, two groups that are often cut off, to interact with one another. While our volunteers have shown the young girls in Soda, Youtube videos on the scientific process behind menstruation, the youth of Soda have helped many of our volunteers find peace, by offering them a cup of chai under the clear (and pollution free) skies of Soda. Help us here to make this bond, this process of collaboration and change stronger.