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.
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.