Friday, July 30, 2010

Initiating a "Community Empowerment Program" at Prempuri Basti in Sector-32, Gurgaon

I would like to share details about initiating a "Community Empowerment Program" at Prempuri Basti in Gurgaon. 

Prempuri Basti is located in Sector-32, Gurgaon, which falls somewhere between Jharsa Chowk and Rajeev Chowk, very close to NH-8, and is in proximity to the offices located of various companies, viz. Ranbaxy, Punj Lloyd, Adidas, Ciena, etc.

To give a brief overview, we identified Prempuri around 2 months back, while exploring bastis from where children could come to our teaching center at Unnati. Since then, we had been visiting the basti on a regular basis. Initially, few of the families were reluctant to talk to us, and hence we conducted few weekly open air classroom sessions within the basti itself to gain the confidence of the parents there.

This basti is more than 20 years old consisting of approximately 100-120 families living in that area. There are few families who have been living  for more than 15 years in that basti. The people living here are of varied occupations ranging from 
Rickshaw Pullers, Housekeeping Staffs, Daily Wage Laborers, Domestic Maids, Mistris (मिस्त्री), etc. During some general conversations with the folks there, we got to know that most of the families living there had earlier migrated from Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, etc., but now can be considered a stable population there. 

The relative stability of the basti has some inherent advantages in terms of sustaining a long term involvement and working on different aspects of community empowerment ranging from education, health care, adult literacy, labor rights, livelihood generation/enhancement, spreading awareness about Govt. schemes, etc. This would basically involve not just interacting with the young kids there, but also reaching out to elder kids who may or may not go to schools, the elder folks in the community, the women folks there, etc.

So far, our Community Connect programs here in AID Gurgaon have essentially focused on interacting with parents of the kids who come to our teaching centers and the students who come under the RSEP program. However, under the Community Empowerment Program we would be making an effort to reach out to other target groups in the community. For example, it has been observed that the girls in the age group of 12-16 are rarely sent to school in such bastis, as they have to do the household work, look after their siblings and many a times also need to work as domestic help. Later on, it happens that they are married off soon by their parents even without achieving basic literacy. So we need to figure out as how we can reach out to such a target group.

We have refrained here from stating it as a "Community Intervention Program" (which could have been an alternate name), as the idea is not to go there with ready-made solutions and "intervene" in their way of life, but more of an effort to learn from them about the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives and help them out in community empowerment. Moreover, naming it a "project" in initial phases would be avoided, as this would entail having specific goals, deadlines, etc. The idea here is to spend a sizable time with the community, say 6 months, on a continuous basis and build a rapport with the folks there, along with trying to figure out micro-initiatives which can be sustained there.

Few of such possible micro-initiatives can be:

1) Communicating with the folks there about importance of savings and financial planning, especially for the future education of their
2) Trying to ensure that at least one person in every family knows to read a newspaper. This would also make them aware of the
    Govt. schemes on a regular basis. As an alternative, it can also be done as a team work, where few adult folks sit together and one
    of them reads out the news aloud for other folks.
3) Mentoring and providing guidance to the kids in the group of class 8-12 and helping them out with studies.
4) Forming adult literacy groups for the women folks in the basti.
5) Helping the community folks for their livelihood enhancement.
6) Discussing health issues with the community folks and whether they avail any facilities provided by the Govt.
7) Figuring out better solutions for the day-to-day challenges related to housing, drinking water, electricity, sanitation, etc.

These are just few of the pointers in terms of the different ways we can get involved there. Just to reiterate that the idea is not to go with ready-made solutions to the basti, but to first learn and understand the problems the people living there are facing.

In terms of the requirements of this program, we would be needing few volunteers who can be part of it on a regular basis for a good amount of time. One should bear in mind, that working with communities can be a painstakingly slow process, with sometimes no visible results even in months, especially because of our limited amount of time involvement as volunteers. Going there with fixed goals and deadlines may further add to frustrations and disillusionment.

However, such a program could be a great platform for volunteers who want to learn and get engaged with the communities, along with working on different aspects of community empowerment. It is crucial that the volunteers spend time with the community on a continuous basis to build rapport with the folks there over a period of time.

Hopefully, such a Community Empowerment Program would help in adding a different dimension to the kind of initiatives undertaken by AID Gurgaon.

Ideally, the model adopted for this program would essentially rely on continuous volunteer involvement, instead of raising funds and hiring people.    

I have attached below few pics of the Prempuri Basti to give a rough idea.

If you would like to volunteer for this "Community Empowerment Program", or for any related queries, feel free to get in touch with me via phone/email.

Thanks and regards,
Nishank (