Right - A fellow at village meeting
Many thanks for your continuing support to this program. I am writing to provide you with a description of the progress we made in the Fellowship Program. A detailed report has also been enclosed herewith for your reference. However, in this letter, I would attempt to give you a short summary of the progress we have been making with your support in this program. Thank you so much for being with us in this journey.
As you know the Fellowship Program sponsors community members with drive for change and a desire to contribute to the community to take up leadership roles. Since they are from within the villages they are in a better position to identify development issues, aware of social norms and could facilitate a change. In this view the fellowship helps the selected fellows gain knowledge through workshops, study tours and trainings. They are paired with a mentor who provides necessary guidance, an opportunity to discuss concerns and brainstorm ideas. The meetings with other fellows and their mentors offer a platform to learn from peers about the social problems of surrounding areas. They gain an insight into different approaches their peers are adopting to handle development issues.
Each fellow receives a sum of Rs. 25,000 (USD 625) for two years in installments, upon completion and submission of progress reports to his/her mentor. The funds serve as compensation for the wages a fellow loses by giving his/her time towards leading their community, and covers basic needs, including local travel expenses
There were 64 applications received from the applicants. The 19 fellows were chosen after having been interviewed by a selection committee, consisting of five Seva Mandir staff. Mentors are assigned to each fellow to guide, support and engage in dialogue and discussion with fellows as challenges arise, as well as provide direction and training.
The interview process enabled Seva Mandir to learn from the aspiring community leaders themselves what development challenges they faced. It emerged that each block (administrative unit for the area) had specific issues to tackle. In Kherwara, accusations of witchcraft (Daakan) were limiting women’s empowerment, and candidates were keen to learn more about govt schemes relevant to them, whilst in Badgaon, affiliation to the traditional caste-led village level institutions (Jati Panchayat) were an issue. Applicants from Girwa expressed concern over forestry and protection of common land, whilst in Jhadol, the government-run pre-school centres and nutrition emerged as priorities to address.
Ms. Preeti Shaktawat, a staff member who worked closely with the Fellows shares her views as follows -
“The objective of the Vikas Mitra Fellowship Programme is to encourage conscientious people to assume leadership roles concerning the integrated development of their village and nearby surrounding areas. In addition, it is also intended that such leadership from the fellows will be instrumental in disseminating the values of community work within the surrounding society.
During my 19 months overseeing the fellowship programme, I was truly inspired by the thorough and determined efforts of the fellows. They proved to be strong leaders within their communities and diligently focused on pertinent issues that had emerged in their areas. To alleviate longstanding, deeply rooted issues at a grassroots level proved difficult and challenging because there is often resistance to change. Yet, with perseverance the fellows continue to bring reform to Anganwari Centres (Govt early chidcare centres), challenge local mautana (described below) issues, fight against NREGA corruption (Govt Employment Scheme), conserve the local environment and forest, and combat harmful village traditions.
With the generous support of donors like you, I have seen the Fellowship Programme empower and assist these community leaders in building the confidence, skills, and knowledge needed to successfully overcome local issues. With continued support, I truly feel the fellows can alleviate the issues of their villages and significantly change and impact their communities”.
What fellow does –
'In order to understand the following story, we need to understand a tradition of tribal community. In tribal villages, if a woman dies (un/natural death) in her husband’s village then her parents (including people from her birth village) demand for a compensation from their son-in-law and his family. Usually it becomes a matter between the two villages the bride and groom belong to. The tradition is to protect any physical violence on daughters when they get married but over the years the tradition has become an opportunity to ask for big compensations. Now-a-days, sometimes the compensation is also asked for other kinds of physical harms. The compensation is called ‘mautana’ in local language while the act in which the entire village comes in a mob to ask for the compensation is called ‘chadotra’. Chadotra often includes the mob breaking the houses to pieces, setting fire and cause physical harm to the members of the opposite party'.
“Somi (changed name) was born in an ordinary family in one of the villages in Kotda block. She was one of the five children. She never went to school but looked after the house and farms. After her marriage with Ladu she was happily living until her husband became an alcoholic. She persuaded her husband to give up on alcohol but to no avail. Gradually, their arguments became quarrels and her husband started accusing her of having extra-marital affairs. Somi left her husband twice to live with her parents but every time Ladu would bring her back convincing her of improving his behavior from now on. In late 2009, one day Ladu was drunk when he came home. Somi has a fight with him and he killed her. Ladu took her dead body to a nearby jungle and hung her to a tree. He sent a word about her death to her parents.
When her parents saw signs of physical violence on Somi’s dead body they refused to cremate the dead body. Their entire village came to his village (chadotra) in anger and asked for Rs 5 lac (USD 11,000). The Fellow Heera Lal along with other village leaders in Sada village brought Police to intervene. They tried to encourage the daughter’s parents to bring down their ‘demand’ and requested not to cause physical harm to anyone. Heera Lal successfully persuaded Somi’s parents. The compensation (mautana) was finally fixed at Rs. 1.75 lacks (USD 3889). On the spot Ladu’s family gave them Rs. 5000 and Somi’s dead body was cremated peacefully.
Heera Lal has been educating people in his region about the pros and cons of this tradition. He chose this issue for this Fellowship because he considers this is a big social problem of his region. He has done very good work in solving such cases and spreading awareness about such issues and involving the Police to resolve these issues”.
There are a number of cases like above whereby the Fellows have identified the social problems on their own and have attempted to bring a change in the society. In this process they themselves have learnt a lot about these issues and their enthusiasm encouraged us too. As we look at the future, we are exploring the possibility of extending application to the Fellowship Program to everyone and anyone in the region, not just those working directly with Seva Mandir. With your help, we want to keep supporting enthusiastic and driven individuals give their communities the leadership and help they deserve.
This progress would have not been possible if you were not with us all this time. We would like to extend our gratitude to your support and faith in this program. Please have a look at the report enclosed herewith; it will give you an idea of the overall program and future plans of this program. We hope you will enjoy reading this update.
Thank you once again for all your significant support. We truly are grateful to you for all your investments and support to us.
With warm regards,