Ray of hope 2

I have taken a long time to update on my work and I have finally put pen to paper. In the last blog, I mentioned about how after a string of failures, I found a ray of hope in Silpatti panchayat. Well, I am happy to update that the ray of hope now looks like pleasant sunshine. The project has made good progress in Silpatti. It started small.

The first classIMG-20170402-WA0000

I had three students in my first class. The next class also, I had three students. But not the same three students. After all the failures before, I was just happy that people were turning up. And it was all girls and the CRP(community resource person). I don’t want to sound sexist but I do believe the project has achieved some success because of all the girls who came to learn. More on the reason why in a while. Slowly, more people started coming and we had 12  people attend at least one class. The best attendance was 10 on the day of a quiz. Yes, on the day of the quiz! I did something right there.

The beginning

The girls varied in age from 18 to 24 and their educational qualification ranged from 10th fail to college pass outs. But one thing was common to all.  They all didn’t know how to use a computer. To give an idea, it took them a couple of classes to get familiarized with the mouse. They were all in awe of the computer. It was something fancy that they wanted to use but never really had a chance to. Even though a few had graduated from college, computer education had passed them by.  They were clear about its importance in their lives. My first question to every new student who joined was, “Why do you want to learn computers?”. The answer was some variation of, “Nowadays everything happens on a computer. We need computer to check for job vacancies, fill job application forms, avail schemes etc”. Everyone was clear about why they needed computers. So the computer classes were very specific to provide them the knowledge that would help them in their lives, not something that they didn’t want like coding, theory of computers like operating system etc. Though I did have some basic theory where necessary so that they feel some confidence in their knowledge of a computer.

The course material

The classes started from the very basics like the parts of a computer so they know what this elephant in the room is all about – the input devices, output devices, the CPU, how the parts are connected to each other. We then progressed to how to switch on a computer, how to hold a mouse and how to shut down the computer. Every student spent five minutes in the first couple of classes to get familiarized with how the mouse works – how to hold it, how far the cursor moves when the mouse is moved a certain degree, how to click.

It was followed by familiarizing with the keyboard, concepts such as desktop, how to open applications such as notepad, calculator, MS word.

We have now progressed to how to navigate to relevant websites using a search engine via learning how to use a keyboard, typing on MS word, some basic features of MS word, typing in Hindi using Google Input Tools  and file system as in how and where to save a file.

enhanced2Training module

I have referred to a lot of sources-people, books, articles for the course material but its completely designed by me, as in what to teach and what not to, keeping in mind the goal of closing the knowledge gap.

The progress

I feel good about the progress made by the students so far. No one has attended all the classes and many concepts had to be repeated multiple times, but everyone who has stayed till now feels confident about interacting with the computer. Interacting because earlier they were afraid to approach it even. And now the other day I heard a student say to the next, “ Yaad hai , hume starting main mouse chalana nahi aata tha?” (Do you remember how in the beginning we didn’t know how to use a mouse?). She said it in a way like that was a different era and hearing it made me proud of how far they have progressed.  They are getting good at using Google and looking for various government schemes and job opportunities. I hope to hear them talk about using the internet the same way they talked about using a mouse.

The way ahead

Now that they have learnt how to use a computer , the next step is that this knowledge be used to help their fellow villagers. We took the first step in that direction today. We, as in me and all the students, armed with a laptop and 4G Jio internet connection, went on a village walk and met women from a couple of SHG’s(self help groups).  I talked about the project and let the students show the women what they learnt in class – they showed them how to apply for toilet grant under Swachh Bharat Mission, how videos about relevant topics such as organic farming and mushroom cultivation can be seen on Youtube. The response was enthusiastic. The women came forward with their queries on a number of issues- PM Awaas Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana, Ration card coupons to name a few. The students were happy to help. It gave them confidence that their knowledge is valuable.

IMG_20170803_111838Meeting with an SHG

IMG_20170804_103259Meeting with another SHG

It also started a dialogue about what was happening in the village, whether the Sachiv was active in his efforts. Being privy to information has also motivated them to attend the Gram Sabha scheduled for 15th August and ask their doubts from the village representatives. And neither me nor the students had any role in that. Once they got the relevant information, these conversations organically happened among them. Let me illustrate.

  1. PM Awaas Yojana is planned for three years till 2019, but one of the ladies got told by a village representative that her house will be built after five years. The ladies agreed they will ask for the beneficiary list in the Gram Sabha.
  2. Someone took documents and Rs 50 from every house in the village promising them a free LPG connection under Ujjwala Yojana. But the scheme says that a household with a pre-existing connection cannot avail the benefit. So that was another question to be asked, about the Rs 50 taken from them.

We will be meeting more women in the coming days and just spreading the word in the village. Raising the awareness level and closing the knowledge gap was the aim of this project and today seemed a validation of that aim.


  1. It was a surreal experience for me that holding a mouse could be such a big deal. It was like coming face to face with the disparity in India – the dichotomy of a booming IT industry and the people who had been completely left out of “Shining India”.
  2. Some of the students are college pass outs but have never touched a computer. This is a sorry statement on the state of education in our country.
  3. People like being challenged in an environment where they are not being judged and are having fun. I had designed a quiz where students were divided into teams of two. The teams were divided based on comfort level between the teammates. It made them feel relaxed and they enthusiastically participated. They also encouraged their respective partner to give his/her best. Not only did that class see the best attendance till date, the students actually kept goading me on when the next quiz will be, because they were all raring to do better next time.


The winning team got a little something as a prize

I had planned to make a standard course material based on my experience with the class. Based on the feedback from the SBI team, I realized there is ample information available on the internet. The students just needed someone to open that world to them- to tell them learning computer is something that they can do.

  1. Knowing English is not a requirement for operating a computer. Just basic knowledge of the English alphabet is enough. Google Input Tools has been a huge, huge help. Also, all the government websites are available in Hindi. This was one of their major fears- that they cannot operate a computer because they don’t know English. Once they felt assured that English was not a prerequisite for operating a computer, they flourished.
  2. I mentioned the participation of the girls as a success factor for the project. This is because they helped each other. If one of them didn’t attend a class, she was open to asking for help from the ones that did. And that help was available. So they were not competing with each other. But seeing each other as friends on the same journey. Men are less open for such a give and take, based on my observation of the class.

Its been an enriching ride for me, personally. I look forward to touching many more milestones with the project.


Decoding Village Dynamics: My Initial Brush

By Alex Arockiasamy

From the diaries of SBI YFI Fellow Alex Arockiasamy: working in association with Seva Mandir in Kotra Block, Udaipur District, Rajasthan.

The first time I met someone from the community, I was offered chai (tea) without milk in a saucer. For someone who’s used to having tea in a cup, this was unusually hard.

I braved the chai with a smile while focusing on not spilling any of it. My host was anxiously looking at me while I had the first sip, waiting for a reaction. It was a scene straight out of MasterChef, how the show’s participants await critical judgment when the judges taste their creation.

Honestly, I would’ve preferred tea with milk, in a cup. However, since I didn’t want to be in the least bit offensive, I enjoyed the chai (with a smile). The villager seemed happy and proud. What followed was an interesting relationship that’s slowly getting me closer to the community.

While I can’t claim that I’ve cracked the code for bonding with the community, I sure can share a few observations that might help you better understand the dynamics of a village. q3

1. Trust.

I’ve slowly come to realize that trust is an indispensable attribute of development.

Why should they trust an individual whose world and way of life is mostly alien to them?

Inculcating trust requires sheer hard work and a deeply ingrained sense of dedication and commitment. For starters, you can initiate the process by sticking to your schedules, being there when they need you and not over-stepping.

Open up and be vulnerable to them from time to time. I once spoke to my mom over the phone in Tamil during one of the many casual meetups. After the call, I told them how I missed “Maa ka Khaana“. The villager’s wife prided herself with a smile and said: “Ma se bada koi nahi hai“. Little things matter.

Never promise what you can’t deliver.

If you’re noting something down, try using pictorial representations. This will enable them to understand what is it that you seek from them (in terms of information). This will also help in clearing any fears or doubts they might have but are hesitant to ask.

2. Competition.

Once you start living in the village, you’ll realize you’re not the first one to have entered their lives with hopes of betterment. People & organizations have come and gone. Promises were made and broken. Rural India has been exploited for long enough for them to enter a state of dissent and skepticism.

This is not just because of the government and politicians, though. There are private players as well – chit fund scams, private money lenders, MLM schemes etc – they have destroyed communities altogether.

You might be a recipient of this skepticism as well, in various forms and manner – lack of interest in your initiatives, constant probing and monitoring of your movement and no support whatsoever. This is demoralizing, but it also presents an interesting challenge in front of us.

It’s important for you to constantly innovate and creatively market your solution. In the past two months, I’ve had to change my plans twice based on the needs of a community.

Got a plan? Do a pilot; something minimal, and take it forward from there. This will enable you to stand out from the ‘competition’. It’s also important to know the other players in the area. There are 3 other NGOs and an agro-based company working in my region and I know what they’re up to.

While discussing minimalism over a phone call with a co-fellow, I realized that it’s really important for us to follow a frugal approach.

What should we do?

We kick-start a project with whatever limited resources we possess. Work on a solution that offers little risk to the beneficiary. By piloting a randomized controlled trial (just like how they do it with medicines), you will be able to figure out what works best*.

 How do you market your solution when you hardly know the environment and its people, you ask?

Observe. See what interests them and what doesn’t. During one of the meetings, we showcased videos on agriculture to the community and we noticed that they instantly became more attentive to what was being presented. Use visual appeal, wherever possible. Henceforth, I’ve decided to start all my meetings with a video or a presentation because dissemination of information is still a huge problem that’s not being adequately dealt with. If you can incorporate/ blend this factor into your project, I feel you have a better chance of connecting strongly with the community you’re working.

Each of us has a different story depending on the area we are working in. There is no standard way you can communicate and connect with the community. But, what does work more often than not is using your instincts and empathizing with them.

Don’t just say it, show them that you care.

Reference: Poor Economics: Abhijit V Banerjee & Esther Duflo.

The Glories of Gundvahal

By Arunima Joshi

From the diaries of SBI YFI Fellow Arunima Joshi: working in association with AKRSP(I) in Ahwa block, Dangs district, South Gujarat.

The term ‘Women Empowerment’ always intrigues me. The definition seems straightforward. But, what does it entail? How do we measure it? When I began my journey as an SBI Youth for India fellow, I knew early on that I wanted to learn the answers to these questions. I wanted to work with and for women.

Keeping this in mind, I visited multiple villages across Dangs. Dangs, the region I chose to work in, is a tribal belt and one of the most backward districts in India. The village visits constituted discussions with women about their daily life and struggles. Each woman was kind and let me into her home with ease.

The visits were informative, but felt incomplete. Each woman’s story was alike. The villages were kilometers apart, but their daily struggles couldn’t be more similar. On my visit to Gundvahal, there was no reason to expect anything different. The remote location guaranteed isolation.

On reaching the village, I was welcomed by Mira Ben and all SHG[1] members. They showed me around the rice and flour mill provided by AKRSP(I)[2]. The women had asked for these machines and trainings. AKRSP(I) happily obliged. A papad making machine and plate making machine were also present. These were going to be used by other SHGs.

Once the tour was over, we sat to converse. What followed was the narration of an inspirational story of change. Back in 2008, alcoholism was a major issue in the village. A significant portion of the money earned through labour was spent on this vicious substance, alcohol. Cases of domestic violence, women trying to commit suicide by pouring kerosene all over themselves, fights, and murder followed.  Troubled by the unrest in the village, Mira Ben was motivated by an article in the newspaper about ‘daaru bandi’ (alcohol prohibition). She discussed the issue with a few other women. They decided to take up the cause.

The women spoke to the Panchayat who provided legal counsel and police officers provided security. Despite receiving death threats, the women rallied around the village, citing the benefits of alcohol prohibition and encouraging every villager to join their cause. This continued for about six months. Finally, all alcohol dens were shut. Currently, there is a 5000 Rs fine imposed on any villager who tries to open an alcohol den. The village has been alcohol free and at peace for almost ten years now.

[1] Self Help Group.
[2] Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India)


Image: Conversing with members of the Jai Hind Juth in their rice and flour mill

Their micro-governance is second to none. Their rice and flour mill has no door. They appoint two women each night to guard the shed. On asking about this peculiarity, they proudly explain that having no door guarantees   that the mill is never shut. This way, business never stops.

In a district where SHGs are prone to shut, the women here have set their own rules. When busy, the women make sure SHG meetings take place at night. If a woman does not attend the meetings regularly, she is not allowed to avail any benefits arising from the SHG. Ten SHGs have formed a VO[1] and received five lakhs rupees funds. They plan to start individual enterprises like mushroom farming, motor repairing shop, and fisheries, by taking loans from the VO. They have taken the first steps to be the breadwinners.

These seemingly trivial roles taken on by the women are a huge contrast to the dynamics and workings seen in other villages of the region. These beautiful entrepreneurs are an anomaly, a welcome rarity.

[1] Village Organization


Image: Mira Ben(R) and other members of the Jai Hind Juth sharing a light-hearted moment

Mira Ben, Kashi Ben, Sushila Ben, Leela Ben and the others made me realize what was missing in the other interactions. It was laughter. These women would start dancing and singing the minute they get bored of routine. They were empowered. They taught me more than I could ever learn by reading books and research papers. So, what is women empowerment? I think I am closer to the answer. Women empowerment is the resolution of a few women to change the course of an entire village. Women empowerment is the conviction to lead a better life, made by women and executed by them. Women empowerment metrics are singing, dancing, and laughing at will.

About the fellow.

After completing graduation in IT Engineering and working for 3 years in the IT sector as a Software Engineer, Arunima decided it was time to explore the road less travelled. Currently, she has begun her journey in the Social Development sector as an SBI Youth for India fellow in association with Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India). Travelling to new places, meeting new people, learning about new cultures, and having conversations which add to her perspective of the world are what keep her going. She says she is here to help people help themselves. She is here to learn as much as possible and contribute towards bringing a positive change to society. Arunima is located in Ahwa Block, Dangs District, South Gujarat.