Towards Dignity and Empowerment

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After two houses were built, everyone came forward to form their own teams to make their own blocks in quick efficient time. We were not needed to drive them; they drove themselves and us. We completed 14 houses in one year, on a need basis. It took us longer to work people! We learnt from a veteran NGO that a test of our success is to see how many leaders sprout in the village in the time we are working there. Jayamma was the first to express need for a smokeless chulha which Canara Bank would fund. When we had the inauguration and hand-over ceremony, Sakamma, Kempamma, Madappa came on the stage along with Kalappa and village elder Chikeliappa. This was true empowerment!

The Timmaiyanadoddi model was an experiment, with an outlook to make it a replicable model for intervention. Apart from providing for the basic need for decent shelter, the model inquired to ascertain the impact of holistic design of built environment on the human psyche

Once you are the proud owner of a house, and are involved in the rebuilding of the spaces around your houses, the level of sensation of well-being, self-worth and responsibility towards oneself and on the surrounding environment is likely to increase.

We found that it certainly has increased. This made our hard journey and efforts worthwhile. Thimmaiyandoddi is a success story. Thimmaiyanadoddi- NIVASA’s flagship project towards dignity and empowerment.

Nivasa is an Architectural NGO that is based out of Bangalore. We seek to provide professional design and construction support for rural housing and infrastructure in India’s villages as a Design and Build Venture. The organization is run by a small group of dedicated individuals. Our philosophy is “Improving the quality of lives of people in villages in a holistic manner”. NIVASA’s vision is for every villager in India to own his permanent home. We are an Architectural NGO that is based out of Bangalore. We seek to provide professional design and construction support for rural housing and infrastructure in India’s villages as a Design and Build Venture. The organization is run by a small group of dedicated individuals. Our philosophy is “Improving the quality of lives of people in villages in a holistic manner”. Five areas of intended Impact in villages, where Impact is the enhancement of human capability towards self-reliance, are Housing & Infrastructure, Health, Access to finance, Education & Skill development.

Our values are shaped on: Purity of Purpose, Integrity of Thought & Action, Patience & Perseverance in Execution, The Community as the locus of Interest, The Cause is greater than the Self.

Our direct focus is on housing & infrastructure. It is our belief that long term sustainable changes can be made to any society if a few organizations with specialist skills in these five areas work in a non-competitive, complementary manner to bring about the change. This is what we did in Thimmaiyandoddi.

 

Supporting the Village

Mr. S.S. Bhatt has been the chief general manager of Canara Bank for the last 33 years. He looks after the priority credit financial inclusions as well as CSR initiatives.

He narrates to us, his experiences working on the Thimmaiyanadoddi project.

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“Corporate Social Responsibilities is in the DNA of Canara bank. We have been doing CSR activities since 1906 when the bank was established. The founder of Canara bank, who has been a supporter of the lower caste and the people of weaker sections said, ‘A good bank is not only a commercial heart of a community, but also the social heart.’ Accordingly, he made the bank interested in common people’s causes and found ways to help them. These ethos have been continued in Canara Bank over the years. Year after year, we all work towards developing the CSR concepts.

The bank has been taking up CSR initiatives in fields of education, health, family welfare and many other areas. The development of villages has been one of the great initiatives. Many of our initiatives are associated with villages, where we have helped with development. These interventions have happened with the help of other banks and NGO’s in the field too.

Thimmaiyanadoddi village, near Bangalore, is a hamlet with about 60 families. It was quite a backward village. When Nivasa came up with a development plan for the village, Canara bank was really interested in associating with Nivasa in creating good infrastructure in the village and also to make sure that the interventions required for the development is supported by Canara Bank. A preliminary survey was conducted in the village. A gap assessment was also made in the village in the study.

As the name suggests, Nivasa was working towards building houses for the people there. They encouraged the people to decide to build new houses through the funding arrangement. Canara Bank wanted to support this initiative by giving support for laying out roads, drainage systems, water harvesting systems, drinking water supply, and some non-credit interventions like supporting the children through education, building a community hall for the meeting of village people and the women there. We also wanted to identify the unemployed youth and women providing them with some skill-based training to take up self-employment ventures.

Over time, we noticed many development changes in the village. In December 2014, new houses, water tanks, central road with drainage, water harvesting system were all constructed and set up. The community hall, an important part of the village, was complete and provided the village with a place to meet. It also provides space for workshops and programmes organised for the children by volunteers. We also provided computers in the school for computer education for the children.

Providing support for infrastructure alone in a village is not sufficient. There should be some growth in the village so that the people find ways to get income through a productive venture. In order to do that, we provided farmers with the right credit facility. We identified entrepreneurship among the women, trained them in some activities (candle making, tailoring, etc.) We have a self-employment training institute exclusively for women in Harohalli where these women were trained by expert faculty. There was an arrangement made, wherein the women were connected to a merchant in Bangalore, so that whatever they make is sold easily and they get their income.”

Watch the remainder of the interview in the video.

Thoughts on Rural Housing

Shri. P.V. Maiya was in the banking service. He worked for 32 years in SBI before he started the ICICI Bank in 1994. Since his retirement in 1998, he has been working on and off as an advisor to whoever seeks. He also keeps himself busy with social activities. This includes being the president of the Yogakshema trust.

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Here are some of his thoughts on rural housing and ways to bring change.

What are your views about the need for rural housing?

“The question about the need for rural housing is not relevant, because no one can say that there is no need for rural housing. India has over 600,000 villages and in the vast majority of them, people don’t have proper shelter. The basic needs are shelter, food and education. Unfortunately in this country, housing has been a neglected area and it has not be possible for any government over the last 70 years to tackle this problem. This requires an enormous effort, time and money. Unless we do this, our people in villages will continue to live in abject poverty without proper shelter and will be condemned to live without a decent life which is unfortunate. But, there is no question about the need. Today, it is absolutely essential to provide housing to rural folk. Indeed houses to any families who need it, because it is the basic necessity of civilization.”

In the collaboration of the government, financial institutions and NGOs, what role should each play?

“The problem of housing is acute in rural areas (perhaps equally acute in some urban centres), is so enormous that it is not humanly possible for any one government or one agency to tackle this problem. It might take a century given the population of India. Nevertheless, collaborative effort is necessary by all concerned. The role of the government is essential is making sure that proper land is available, all approvals connected with the building of houses are completed efficiently and promptly.

Each of these houses cost money. So, financial institutions have the role of providing the loans for these houses at low rates. This are possible with an insurance and commitment from the home owners. Banks need to make it an easy process with simple formalities.

NGOs role in this case is not just complimentary. Their commitment level is high in bringing awareness about the need for a house, of what are proper shelters. Their work is also in arranging financial assistance and ensuring that the assistance given is repaid promptly.

They also need to make sure that the home owner puts in commitment and his own effort to work towards the house. The more we think about doling money, the more we are actually degrading them. We must encourage them to commit themselves to build their home. That is possible when the individual owner has a sense of feeling towards living better. This is where NGOs can bring a great deal of awareness and education to the people.”

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

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.

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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.

Partnering for Progress

While the work progressed in Thimmaiyanadoddi, the merit of working with other organizations was proved.

From the beginning of the project, Nivasa looked for organizations that would assist in community development as well as in supporting the project financially. But unfortunately, due to the remoteness and small size of the village, it was difficult to find a group that would be willing to invest their time and effort.

In late 2012 YogaKshema, an NGO whose vision is to ‘Improve the quality of life of people and help them make lifestyle changes’ was willing to join us in our work in the village. They visited the village and assessed the needs of the people. A community worker was appointed by them to work with the people. This proved to be a great necessity to the project. Prema helped the people on many fronts, from women empowerment, child health and education, as well as helping the people live happier as a community. She also helped Nivasa, by helping the people understand the merits of smokeless chulhas and improved construction methods. YogaKshema, along with SVYM also helped with training programmes for the people.

YogaKshema was also instrumental in acquainting Canara Bank with the work at Thimmaiyanadoddi. Soon Canara Bank agreed to help with the project. Each homeowner had to invest in the construction of their new house and Canara Bank set up a model for them to cover the costs on loan.

With the help of Canara Bank, many of the people were able to open their own bank accounts as well as some training for skill development for the villagers who were interested. They also organised self-help group programmes and brought the village together for positive change.

Working with the village was never easy. Many times, there was resistance against the help that was coming to them. Yet, with the combined effort of a team with lots of perseverance, the village was on the path to progress.

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