Khushali - Bodh Gaya Project

Based on the experience from the Khushali Madanpur Khadar Project in BodhGaya in Bihar, we now aim to bring about sustainable improvement in family health status through an integrated intervention program that combines health, sanitation, non-formal education and livelihoods, and addresses individuals at especially needy, vulnerable, or impressionable stages of the life cycle:

  • adolescents;
  • pregnant and post-partum women; and,
  • children under 2 years of age.

Health: Within the preview of this project Agragami re-formed the two Village Health and Sanitation Committees (VHSNCs) in the intervention area and also formed 10 Nigrani Samities through a participatory process so that the VHSNC members and Nigrani Samitie members understood that they had a vital role to play in improving the status of health, nutrition and sanitation of the community.

Livelihoods: Three more approaches, other than the livelihoods intervention, were used to address issues related to income-generation of vulnerable communities: (i) 200 needy families were selected (10 per village); (ii) inputs were provided at village level by Agrgami to improve linkages between farmers and Government Extension Services for improving returns from crops, kitchen gardening and vermicomposting; and, (iii) school-based vocational/career orientation talks were given.

Education: The Project set up a Children’s Activity Centre (CAC), in every village and urban ward of the Khushali intervention area. A trained lady facilitates the children to become independent learners by providing grade-specific competencies and helps develop their abilities to express themselves.

Case Study I - A Stirring Start towards Development

Saurabh aged 13, lost his mother at the age of six months, and thereafter lives with grandmother who has brought him up. Saurabh's father remarried and went to live with his second wife. Though his grandmother did what she could childhood was very difficult for Saurabh, because he never got all the love, emotional nurturing and care of his basic needs to grow as a normal child. She also wanted to educate Saurabh but did not have enough money. In November 2015, the grandmother learnt of the CAC run by Agragami, and enrolled him there.

As Saurabh had never had schooling or preschooling he was unable to identify alphabets, colours and pictures. As a result of poor care in early childhood, he had complications in speaking and understanding what was told to him. It was challenge for CAC Facilitator, Ms. Ruby, to engender development in Saurabh. The first thing she did was to ensure that other children did nor imitate or make fun of Saurabh, so that his motivation to come to the CAC would not be adversely affected. She began by teaching Saurabh to recognize colours and simple pictures. Soon he start to link the pictures and colours with surrounding environment. Next, Ruby started to teach him alphabets. A few months later, Saurabh was able to identify alphabets so he started to participate in story-reading sessions and also started to read simple words. Besides this, he actively participated in drawing and crafting sessions.

All though, his progress was very slow and it was not easy for the Facilitator to bring development in such a child. “’To accomplish this, we used various methodologies and approaches,” she said, adding that the CAC curriculum, “is very useful for such children because it provides a platform where a child can grow herself/himself by reading, drawing, doing crafts and entertaining others.” Though it is still difficult for him to read and write complicated sentences, Saurabh can now read simple sentences in Hindi, draw and join others in craft-work.

“Saurabh is one of our success stories,” says Ruby with pride in the child’s growth. She has now convinced Saurabh's grandmother to send him to regular school so that classes there will help enter mainstream education.

Case Study 2 - Community Decides Clean Up Village

Villagers of Ratnaraganga Bigha, four kilometres east of Bodh Gaya, have undertaken a unique endeavour to bring sanitation closer to home. There is a Scheduled Caste (SC) tola in the village and 20−25 households reside in the tola. Waste water from these households flows into the main drainage system in the village, which remains clogged due to lack of routine cleaning. Resulting water and other waste materials flow out and also have become a breeding place for mosquitoes. Stagnant water can contaminate the source of drinking water too. Usually, a community doesn't wish to clean a community drain because in their view this is the Government’s job.

Agragami made an effort to change this behaviour towards sanitation.

To accomplish this, the Agragami team raised the issue of the blocked sewage drain at a meeting of the Nigraani Samitee (NS), a village-level committee formed by the Government whose members were trained by Agragami India. Agragami staff asked NS members to come forward to clean the drain. They agreed and the Agragami team and NS members mobilized the community of the SC tola to bring sanitation to the surroundings of their homes. Prem Ranjan, an Agragami India Trainer, educated them about the consequences of waterlogging and insanitary conditions.

He said, “Although we educated them on the importance of sanitation and hygiene but this did not win their participation, so the support of other influential villagers or local leadership was important. Hence we organized a meeting to which we invited such persons. This meeting was successful in terms of community participation in public work as it was unanimously decided that the community of this tola would not wait for the Government machinery to come and clean the drain, it would be done by the community.”

He recalled, “After the meeting, men and women came out with spades and pans to clean the drain and got down to work with a will. This has never happened before this. Though it was a small effort to change the behaviour of a community towards it own accountability it was a revolutionary step - because village communities have a tendency to depend upon Government machinery even for such minor work. This was an innovative way to mobilize communities to clean their own drains through active participation, and this tola has become a role model of good sanitation to others tolas or villages.’

Case Study 3 - Improving Yield by Adopting Latest Technologies for Paddy Cultivation

Famers of Bodh Gaya Block, especially small-scale farmers, generally engage in traditional farming — particularly paddy cultivation. The productivity from this crop is low and is the reason behind their poor economic condition. Their poor economic condition in turn has led them to give up farming and migrate outside in search of livelihoods. Unfortunately, this has also proved insufficient to meet their financial needs.

At Agragami, we took the initiative to skill them in paddy cultivation, which improves farm productivity. For this purpose, we contacted Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) (a government farm resource centre1) at Gaya and requested them to organize a one-day orientation workshop on the latest technologies of paddy cultivation.

The KVK centre was a resource the farmers had not tapped, simply because they were unaware of it,meant that the farmers had missed out for years on information that would have helped them move forward economically and socially.

Hence, our Agragami team liaised with officials at the Gaya KVK centre and advocated the organization of such training from time to time. Agricultural Scientists from the Gaya KVK centre came forward to teach the farmers the latest farming technologies.

Farmers began visiting the KVK centre and the Agricultural Scientists provided training and practical exposure in the area of paddy cultivation. Furthermore, our team initiated the provision of subsidised certified high-quality paddy seeds to farmers through KVK. Generally, certified paddy seeds are sold at INR 400−500 per kg, a rate that small-scale farmers can ill-afford, while the subsidised cost of 1 kg high-quality paddy seed is INR 30 at a KVK centre.

As one farmer noted, “purchasing high-quality seed at such a low price seemed impossible. Thanks to KVK, which has been set up for us, this is now possible. It is the first time we farmers have availed these facilities from KVK and now productivity will certainly increase because of the high-quality seed.’’ Agricultural Scientists from the KVK centre have also visited their fields to provide practical input for paddy cultivation.

The farmers were unable to access this wonderful resource, the KVK centre, which taught them about a high-productivity crop and provided them highly subsidised seeds, simply because they were unaware of its existence. Once our Agragami team connected the farmers to the KVK resource centre Gaya and its well-equipped government farm, the farmers too began adopting scientific farming methods as explained and shown to them by the scientists at KVK. The Agricultural Scientists visited their villages regularly to follow up, and ensured the farmers purchased seeds at subsidized rates.

Today, thanks to the support of the Agricultural Scientists and Agragami India, the farmers have regained confidence in farming and distress migration has reduced.

Case Study 4 - Changing A Life Forever

Eight-year old Aryan Kumar studies in class two in a government school and became a member of his nearest Children’s Activity Centre (CAC), in November 2015. When he came to CAC to get membership he hesitate to speak and was unable to pronounce words clearly.

Aryan didn’t want to go back to regular school because some children in his class had made fun of him, imitating his pronunciation. His mother was very concerned about how he would complete his education. So Aryan started to attend CAC with other children. Nobody there made fun of him or imitated the way he spoke, Facilitator Sarita Sharma makes sure the children do not imitate others to make fun of them. This was the utmost motivation for Aryan and gradually he started to participate actively in routine activities. He felt that learning was fun for the first time because here activities included story-reading/telling, drawing, craft-work, dance, games etc., to enhance reading skills and self-expression.

Spending five months at CAC has really made a difference in Aryan’s life. Now he talks full of confidence, pronounces words clearly and has even started attending regular school. CAC Facilitator Sarita Sharma there are many children in CACs who faced similar challenges when they first came in, but later their reading skills and self-expression improved because, “We at the CAC have a way to make the children love learning. We ask them to trace alphabets and pictures, to read/tell stories, do craft-work and drawing; we encourage them to dance and play games. All of this enables children to become interested in studying, inspires them to want to read, and they learn to read and express themselves.”

Aryan’s mother expressed sincere gratitude to Agragami for changing life of her son and said, “The Children’s Activity Centre has changed his life and now his future will be bright.”

Case Study 5 - An Initiative to Promote Vermicomposting

Fertilizers are important for high productivity and the majority of farmers use high doses of chemical fertilizers, which adversely affect soil health. Besides this, the cost of chemical fertilizer is very high. In view of the high cost, high doses used and consecutively decreasing soil health, the farmers get low returns from crops.
Farmers in villages that fall under Bakraur and Mocharim panchayats depend upon agriculture for their livelihood. We at Agragami therefore initiated a project to improve returns from the crop so that the farmers could improve their quality of life. To do this, efforts were made to promote vermicomposting, i.e., creating organic fertilizer. Vermicompost provides all nutrient requirements of the soil and increases its water-holding capacity too.

After conducting several meetings and having group discussions with farmers, our Agragami team decided to transfer technical input on vermicomposting, as well as technology regarding construction of its unit and its importance, to the farmers. For this we contacted the local government-run farm resource centre Krishi Vigyaan Kendra (KVK), where we liaised with officials to connect them with the farmers and provide technical inputs to them. Thereafter, an Agriculture Scientist from KVK came to conduct training and a total of 25 farmers were selected across 10 villages, of whom 23 farmers received training at a three-day training program.

Agragami is committed to promoting sustainable development initiatives among small-scale farmers who are poor, in villages of Bodh Gaya. We aim to minimize the cost of production and to make the farmer self-dependent, to generate extra income from worms and vermicomposting and to reduce the excess use of chemical fertilizers. For this we work with the farmers to build their capacity on composting and to promote vermiculture among farmers. Practicals were conducted during the exposure visit, which was held at the KVK farm, where vermicompost was being made and used on the crop.

Of the 23 farmers trained, 15 adopted vermicomposting, showing us that the farmers of this area wished to adopt methods of organic cultivation. Inputs regarding the construction of vermicompost units, and the preparation and use of vermicompost given by Agrgami India to these farmers have become popular in the area. Since it is a simple technology and farmers receive good crop yield with quality produce, this practice is spread across villages rapidly. Now that the farmers know the benefits of vermicompost they are adopting it with interest.

Case Study 6 - Rural Development through Community Participation

It is believed that achieving active participation of community members in works related to rural development is a challenging and complex task. Nevertheless our efforts at Agragami in two panchayats in Bodh Gaya Block show that the village-level committee plays a vital role in improving health, sanitation and nutrition indicators.
There is a provision for a Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Committee (VHSNC) at panchayat level in Bihar under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), and every village is given an untied fund sum of INR 10,000 for the same.

We found seventeen VHSNCs in Bodh Gaya but none of them were functional because members, (comprising elected members of the panchayat, government field-level functionaries, and people from the community), had not received any training or support. We at Agragami initiated efforts by providing training and handholding support to strengthen the VHSNCs in two gram panchayat, Bakraur and Mocharim.

In these two gram panchayats, an Agragami team liaised with the Medical Officer In-charge of Bodh Gaya to discuss the reformation of the VHSNCs and the Nigrani Samiti. After several meetings, we got his approval for the same, then project staff met with VHSNC members. After members received training, they began holding regular monthly meetings to understand the health needs of the community.

This community processes program provides many valuable lessons for the rest of the panchayats. Agragami has, over the past five months worked to strengthen the two VHSNCs and today it is only these two panchayats in Bodh Gaya where village-level action is being seen on health, sanitation, nutrition and development issues.

The development and implementation of the village health plans is being undertaken by the two VHSNCs, and its members meet every month for this purpose. Apart from designated members of the VHSNC, other residents are also encouraged to participate in these meetings. The meetings are being facilitated by project staff of Agrgagami India. As can be seen in the photograph, the members of the two VHSNCs have first decided to work on availability of drinking water using the INR 10,000 untied fund, for the areas where members of the Scheduled Castes (SCs), resided.

Case Study 7 - Kitchen Gardens: Feeding Families, Increasing Income

Promoting kitchen gardens is an important feature of Agragami India’s Khushali Project. In June 2016, the Project encouraged the 174 families of the 10 intervention villages in Bodhgaya block to set up kitchen gardens. Once they agreed, the Project Team provided the 174 families with seeds (spinach, lady finger or bhindi, cucumber, pumpkins, jhingi, and bitter gourd or karela), guidance and follow-up.

The Team next ensured that all families sowed the seeds as per laid-down scientific guidelines, and provided regular follow-up and guidance in this regard too. Today, these well-maintained gardens produce 3 to 5 kg vegetables daily, thanks to the diligent efforts of the 174 families, supported by the Project Team.

Reema Devi, who lives in Silaunja village, sowed her kitchen garden about three months ago, receiving technical inputs from an Agriculture Scientist. “Now we eat vegetables daily at home, and still have enough to sell,” she notes. “They are an additional source of income. The average productivity of one kitchen garden is 3 to 5 kg, and 1 kg of vegetables sells at Rs. 15 to 20.” Plus, she notes “we don’t need additional land to set up a kitchen garden. It can be grown on a very small piece of land, so the landless can adopt it too. This has ensured the highest level of self-sufficiency.”

Reema Devi feels all 174 families have benefitted by Agragami’s efforts, which led them to invest in kitchen gardens under Project Khushali. Prior to this initiative, she and other families were too poor to even buy vegetables. Growing their own vegetables has helped them in more ways than one:

  • the families regularly eat nutritious food, which is improving their nutritional status;
  • the intake of an adequate quantity of vegetables is especially significant with regard to improving the health status and balanced growth of children;
  • the gardens have provided a new source of income in rural areas where people have limited income-earning opportunities;
  • as Reema Devi mentioned, kitchen gardens can be grown on very small pieces of land, and so landless families adopt it easily; and,
  • this initiative under the Khushali Project has generated interest among the other families who now want to have kitchen gardens of their own.

Case Study 8 - Children’s Activity Centre: Kunal Learns to Read and Identify Pictures Correctly

Eight-year old Kunal Kumar, a class-three student in a Government School, lives in Ward No. 13 in Bodhgaya block. When he became a member of the nearest Children’s Activity Centre (CAC) in May 2016, he was unable to read even simple sentences in Hindi, and could not identify pictures of objects correctly.

Initially, he felt challenged at the CAC too, would not speak much, was isolated and wanted to quit attending classes there. So the CAC Facilitator Ms. Nituraj Patel, met Kunal’s parents and assured them that CAC activities encourage children to learn and are designed to improve their learning ability. Now that they understood its benefits, Kunal’s parents ensured his regular presence at CAC. The Facilitator started to teach Kunal through different activities such as storytelling, book reading, drawing, craft, games etc. Soon Kunal could recognize alphabets and identify pictures of objects correctly.

Today Kunal reads ‘green level’ books fluently and has developed the ability to tell stories too. This is a milestone for him, because he used to be very hesitant and tended to isolate himself. Ever since he started to attend regularly these factors began to get mitigated and have now disappeared.

There are many such children, mostly belonging to vulnerable families, across the 15 CACs. Their learning is being improved through the endeavours of Facilitators, who make a tremendous effort to improve the learning environment in their CACs. The CACs themselves are also designed to support and encourage creativity and learning of many different kinds.

“Earlier I could not read and felt hesitant, but now I can read fluently, can make beautiful drawings and I no longer feel hesitant.’’ - Kunal