A True Leader

This village has a truly mention-worthy family. While the rest of the families are yet to see the merit in education, this couple has ensured high school education for most of their six children (including their daughters).

Their son Kalappa, a young man of about 30 years old now, is most noteworthy. He has sterling leadership qualities and has learnt to converse fluently in English. Their family was educated in the schools run by NGO Gyanajyothi. He worked with this NGO for some time when we entered this village. He was without a job then. Through the help of NGO One Billion Literate Foundation, he got a job and he is doing very well for himself.

He tried his best to rally the rather laid back villagers, and supported us. He had a good rapport with the local politicians, and got the electrical line shifted using his clout with the panchayat. However, it took Kalappa a long time to understand that we had no ulterior political motives and that we were not using the village for our own betterment! Kalappa’s fluency in English was commendable. The sky is the limit for a person with drive, ambition and hard work. kalappa

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The Pioneer

Kempamma is an outstanding example of woman power. While everyone was viewing us with suspicion, she trusted us. She was very clear about wanting a house. She was honest, frank, outspoken and fearless. Initially she made it very clear that none of them were interested in making their own bricks and that they wanted convention bricks or cement blocks. Once she saw the quality of bricks churned out for the community centre, she was ready to do a volte-face on the resistance. She became an expert at brick making.

When Kempamma visited the astrologer for a date for starting construction, he said her “time” was not good, and that it has to be postponed for another two months. She communicated this to us and we comforted her by saying that if she works hard for two months with our support she would get a house. If we are there to support her, what ‘bad’ could happen? We told her to leave it on God. She said she would go to the temple, ask God and tell us. There was a panic that we had not started demolition or construction despite reassurances from our end that we would start in a week’s time as things take that long to sort out. This is a primal fear which we cannot address by rationalising. There was a huge fight between Kempamma and her mother-in-law. The latter saying Kempamma had made a huge mistake trusting us because she is prone to trust easily. The village too were against her. She had to stand up to the collective distrust to be able to come forward to have her house built first. This was no mean task. We salute women like her.

There is a deep seated distrust and fear in them. She is the gutsiest of the people. But everyone around her filled her mind with the fear that we may cheat her. They decided that they wouldn’t spend their money until we built up to the foundation!

Prema (the community worker appointed by YogaKshema) got upset with the villagers’ attitude. She said there are so many who are desperate for our services, so we must leave the village because they don’t deserve us. She almost quit. We couldn’t have done much without her presence in the village. Dr. Usha encouraged her to plod on at such difficult moments.

kempamma

We marked out two design options on the ground so that she and her family would better understand the size of the house and the position of the rooms. The kolam powder was already kept ready. This was a wonderful activity, as the entire family were all involved in marking out the plan. They agreed to go ahead with one of the options. Everybody left happy and Kempamma apologised to me for any pain she might have caused. It was heart-warming to see Kempamma so emotional and we realised how important this step must be to them. Later on, under pressure from her mother-in-law, Kempamma changed her mind about the design option, throwing us into jitters! But that’s another story. The entire construction process was fraught with fights with the mason whom, incidentally, they had helped in selecting from the options given to them. Building a home by a village “pioneer” was not easy on her.

Understanding the Villager Psyche

When life hands out raw deals, one gets entrenched in survival mode, and deep insecurities supersede logical thinking. Some previous organizations seem to have cheated these already deprived village souls of money in the name of starting self-help groups, and we with the best of intentions faced the brunt of it. We had to stick through hell and helplessness in dealing with the villagers’ motley of emotions moving from neutral to negative in alarming patterns of unpredictability.

We realised the key to handling the villagers is being civil/polite, being assertive and being non-reactive. The same strength which makes us want to reach to villagers is also our weakness as people sense that and take advantage by asking for more and more. We desperately missed a partnership with a local grass roots NGO, but none were forthcoming to work in a forlorn nondescript fringe village with a small population. The time and money spent in such exercises wasn’t worth any one’s while.

When we entered the village through an NGO Samagraha (which left a few months later), the villagers collectively opined that so many NGOs had visited, worked a bit and had left mid-way. We unwittingly gave our word that we wouldn’t do that- it was a strange unexpected long struggle after that. Dealing with the people became the toughest task. Many interactions with other NGO workers led us to believe that this village was a tough lot to handle. The more tenacious we were the more it seemed the need was not the peoples, but ours.

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Politicians have more clout with the villagers than the best of well-intentioned doers. Our initial meetings with the panchayat office, the collector’s office, the police, etc. proved to showcase our naiveté more than any tangible help. Finally we were told to approach the ex-panchayat president Mr Achutaraju. This seemed to be a boon in disguise. He led us to an ex-zilla Panchayat member Mr. Nagaraju, who had worked for the villagers ensuring they got land, house, etc. when they had settled in this village many years ago. After many teas at his place and communicating our plans for the village, he helped us get clearance for building the community center, the papers of the land held by the people etc. Mr Achutaraju & Mr Nagaraju were our government guardian angels.

There was resistance to using the stabilized blocks. The villagers were sceptical of the block’s strength and performance. It was a good approach to introduce it in building a common property where no individual’s money was risked. This also made it easier to introduce a new technology. Once the construction progressed, the villagers embraced this, and most of them expressed their keenness to have the same for their own houses.

There is a fine line to be tread by organizations like ours, in trying to impose a new method/technology and in deferring to villagers, who are very conservative and cautious in their outlook. Any solution should come from the place in which intervention is happening, the climate, materials, issues in accessibility, availability of materials and labour rather than a ‘one solution fits all’ approach. The solution to adoption of any technology must be derived after a study of the place. This approach helped us reach out to the people in the village.