What strikes your mind when you hear the word CHIRAG? My internal dictionary prompts: “Aladdin ka CHIRAG” and goes on to remind me the well-known phrase, “Hukum mere Aaka” from the cartoon series, ‘Aladdin’, one of my childhood memories that I am sure of carrying until I die. With that show, even at the age of 4 or 5, the kids had this confidence of finding solutions and considered themselves worthy enough to advise parents. In fact, the one-stop solution to anything was to keep a Chirag, rub it whenever there’s an issue, get the Genie and put him to work. Call it innocence, but any adult would fall for such a gesture and gain moral courage to face the challenges.
As we grow up, we understand the crux, complexities and participate in decision making. The dynamics get much more complicated even in our daily lives, more so, when it comes to the matters of public resources and communities. As a part of the fellowship program, India Fellow, I got a chance to work in Uttarakhand, with an organization called CHIRAG. In the first couple of months, I got introduced to social issues here, some of which are: water scarcity, misuse/exploitation of existing water sources, deforestation, poor health care, lack of livelihood opportunities, and unavailability of good quality education.
At the cusp of distress, CHIRAG (Central Himalyan Rural Action Group) was established in 1986. The organization had started with a cottage hospital and an afforestation program with a vision of “Being a catalyst for the creation of a society that is rooted firmly in the principles of dignity, justice and solidarity.” The aspiration was to achieve the vision through a sustainable model that promotes ownership and optimum utilization of common resources by the community. In all its activities, the people here approach it this way:
The philosophy is driven from a Chinese Proverb by Lao Tzu who says, “Go to the people. Live among them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves’. Indeed, the local people here take pride in saying that.
Anyone even remotely associated with the initiatives would reckon the fact that these models have empowered them to engage in problem solving and decision making, improved awareness on everyday problems, created iterative opportunities for income generation, brought access to financial help through fundraising, enabled entrepreneurs to flourish and more importantly, took care of the cohesion among community members who struggled to work together.
The silver-lining to my experiences during field visits was Shanta Di, a 68 year old woman, also the guardian of Community Center, giving me the bill of a transaction I did, written and signed by her. She had learnt reading/writing in last two years.
- Water distribution lines were laid over 200 km stretch through the districts of Nainital, Almora and Bageshwar. This had a direct impact on 200 households. Integrated Watershed Development Program was successfully run for over 16 years (year 1999 to 2015).
- Served as a resource partner and provided technical support in nurturing nine grass-root development organizations in the area of watershed and four organizations in protecting catchment area of water resources such as springs and streams. About 211 springs were recharged and more than 600 roof rain water harvesting tanks were installed to improve the water level in the area.
- A forest nursery was set up involving 1000 people with 10 million saplings. Through strong collaborative network with forest department and vann samitis, these saplings were planted to protect community forests.
- Setting up a producer’s company with 5000 farmers and selling 120 Metric tons of their agri-produce worth 70 lakh rupees. The farmers got to earn an additional 20% margin on the market price.
- Set up of 10 micro enterprises run entirely by women involving 1500 of them.
- Improved the quality of education imparted in 90 government schools through pedagogy, curriculum and training; and supported 500 adolescent girls with scholarships to study up to class 12th.
- Made quality health services accessible to 12000 patients each year through rural clinics.
With such transforming results, CHIRAG is certainly moving towards its vision with the confidence of beneficiaries such that they believe in Aladdin’s Kumaon’s CHIRAG to find a solution to all their problems.
*** Pictures and Statistic references provided by Sanjay Joshi: Team Leader, Documentation in CHIRAG.