In 1996, I got a task from my night school teacher. He had asked me to write about what I wanted to see in Kashipur after 10 years. I wrote about roads, markets, and public transport. In 2006, I saw the changes.– Abhiram Jhodia, a senior staff member at Agragamee, the organization where I’m working
Agragamee is an NGO in Southern part of Odisha in Kashipur block of Rayagada district. When I refer to Abhiram as a senior staff member, it does not mean he is old. He is 45 and he celebrated his 30th work anniversary earlier this year.
In the 1990s, Agragamee began working towards improving education in the region by running night schools in the villages. In one of these villages, Abhiram joined the night school and received non-formal education. Ramesh Guman Singh and Anil Pradhan were team members in the education program. They were looking for a new school teacher from the villages itself. Around that time, they noticed Abhiram reading Ramayana fluently in front of his house. With that, they found a gem for running the school.
He got 150 rupees a month as salary. Abhiram came to the Agragamee’s office twice a week to study and enhance his learning. This helped him in teaching more effectively at the night school. Maybe that’s why even today, the villagers and young people call him ‘Guru‘. From a night school teacher, he got promoted to a night school supervisor in 1997. From that time until 2003, he managed around 50 villages.
Subsequently, he took on a new role as a community mobilizer and supported the organization with program coordination and spreading awareness of government schemes among tribal communities, especially about the Forest Rights Act. In 2006, he joined one of the livelihood projects supported by Karl Kubel Stiftung (KKS), a German foundation. Additionally, he was also a part of micro-hydro project. Over the years, he contributed a great deal to Agragamee across multiple functions and locations in Odisha.
By 2017, he was managing a block with work in 50 villages, focusing on education, Right to Information, Integrated Child Development Scheme, and health promotion. He also worked as a community resource person in the Odisha Millet Mission Project for 3 years. Currently, he is working in an agriculture program as a senior staff. From 150 rupees, he now earns 15,000 rupees per month.
Abhiram married at the young age of 12 years. He clearly remembers his wife Janani Jhodia and him studying together at the night school. He proudly says that she was one of the brilliant students there but she couldn’t study further. Abhiram has three children, one daughter and two sons. The elder son is married and Abhiram is not just a father-in-law but also a grandfather now. His daughter is pursuing her bachelor’s degree.
He fondly recalls that when he joined Agragamee, there were no good roads, infrastructure, vehicles or connectivity. Compared to those days, he feels that the present is heavenly, and still people continue to complain about the lack of facilities. When he worked in the villages, he used to walk several kilometres to reach the field areas. Later he got a bicycle and now he uses a car and a bike.
Not only the transportation but also the water facilities, electricity, building conditions, and phone network has improved tremendously. He sees a significant transformation in the usage of technology as well as a shift in norms, culture, and traditions. In earlier times, they used drums, music, and street plays to grab the attention of people. Now we use LCD screens and projectors.
Significant changes have happened in his life due to his hard work and curiosity to learn new things. Abhiram picked up all the skills and knowledge by working and through non-formal education. He attended the audio-visual and computer training from Social Work and Research Centre, Tilonia, Rajasthan. He was a fellow at the School for Democracy Loktantrashala, Rajasthan. His writing has been published in Odia magazines and newspapers. He also follows organic ways of farming. He feels that the needs of the people are always ignored and wants the policymakers to consider the ground reality.
There is no answer for what motivated or inspired him to work in Agragamee for 30 years. He contributed a big part of his life to the organization’s success. It is an invaluable contribution.
After getting to know Abhiram, I doubt our education system. Is it appropriate? I see people around me who have completed post-graduation but they are still not able to work. It’s high time that we focus on skills and holistic development a person possesses rather than assessing them based on their marks. Against all odds, here is Abhiram who became an inspiration to many without any formal degree.