Catalysts of social change

Catalysts of social change

for a better future

Catalysts of social change

“Vijayalakshmi did not only clean the village, but also our minds,” reveals Basavaraj Hongal, a resident of Devara Hubballi village near Dharwad.  Bsavaraj’s opinion reflects the views of people of 16 villages spread across six districts of the State. The WatSan (Water and Sanitation) Fellowship programme, initiated by Arghyam Foundation and implemented by the Society for Community Participation and Empowerment (SCOPE), has demonstrated how educated youth can change the social landscape of the State through a proactive approach.

Take Avani village in Kolar district, for instance. The village has a striking contrast when it comes to the level of ground water. While the depth of water availability is as below as 1,000 feet in any borewell here, surface water sources like tanks and wells have a much higher water level. Umesh U R, a postgraduate who started exploring the village as part of the project, observed this. He also realised that traditional water sources in the village have become dumping spaces after the introduction of borewells. As a result, the water problem was severe and access to potable water was a matter of concern. To improve the situation, he initiated an effort to clean Dibbanakere and Chatradabavi, two major water sources of the village. He convinced the villagers about the significance of rejuvenating heritage tanks and involved them as well.

Water supply from River Malaprabha was the only source of water for the residents of Harobelavadi village in Dharwad district as all the borewells had gone dry. Here too, a shramadan led by young postgraduates Ramesh Nayak and Manjunath Danni helped the village restore its traditional water source, an open well. Now people of Amminabhavi, the neighbouring village known for its historic well, want to revive the well and have approached them for the same.

True to its title — Mentoring of young professionals to facilitate community-led actions for improved water and sanitation in the rural areas of North Karnataka — the project has been training young postgraduates and guiding them to become catalysts of change. The stress is on making these activities sustainable by involving the community and encouraging them to lead village-development activities. The project, started two years ago, believes in the immense potential of the gram panchayat system and hence, works towards bridging the gap between the community and the gram panchayat.

Positive efforts
Once the candidates, called young professionals (YP), are selected, they are given a six-month training in the different aspects of rural development and are given exposure to existing models through visits to organisations who have done pioneering work in sanitation and water conservation. They are trained in six themes namely: groundwater management, sanitation promotion, local governance, water conservation, understanding water quality and the use of data and technology in decision-making process. Each YP is alloted a fellowship amount of Rs 50,000, apart from salary, which he/she could use as seed money for village-development work.

Though the districts are chosen by the project, villages are identified through a participatory approach, where YPs have the final say. Once the villages are selected, the YPs visit the village and hold discussions with the community to understand the socio-economic circumstances and identify the areas of work. Be it planning, execution or contribution in terms of work and money, YPs ensure that activities are participatory at all levels. “Here you work as well as learn. It is unique in may ways, the first one being the 24x7 stay in the village. During the period, we get specialisation in the subject,” says Rohini Kalashetti, a first batch YP. The duration of the programme is 18 months — six months for training and 12 months for working with the community. Those who successfully complete the programme get jobs in the development sector.

Fayaz Kalli, who works as a young professional in Managundi village, wants to stay on in the village even after the completion of his stint. Even villagers are keen for him to stay as they feel that his presence will help them take certain activities to a conclusive stage. “We have learnt a lot from Fayaz’s approach towards work and the way he takes everyone along to achieve a goal, both short term and long term,” says a gram panchayat member. “During our work in the water and sanitation sector, we realised the shortage of trained human resources. We wanted to address that issue through this project. And it has proved useful,” says Manohar Rao, project manager, Arghyam.

The fact that youth stay in the village and work for their cause has enthused villagers to take responsibilities and work towards obtaining better water and sanitation facilities. As a result, considerable amount of work has been achieved. The project has been implemented in 16 villages in two years. As per the estimates of SCOPE, works worth two crore have been successfully implemented. “These activities ensure that we retain the traditional water-conservation knowledge for posterity,” opines Prakash Bhat, chief executive officer of SCOPE.

All these activities that show how a small intervention could solve a long-standing problem have created a positive atmosphere in these villages. For more details, log on to;