November 9th, 2016
Pass a beggar on the road and one often hears “Kuch kaam kyun nahi karte?”(Why don’t you do some work?) routinely hurled at them. Ever wondered where these people come from – unlettered, unskilled, and devoid of any resources? Someone probably left home after floods hit their village or water scarcity killed their dreams of a good crop, or the lack of resources drove their family occupation to closure. There is little that attracts people to the cities. Even the air must be cleaner in villages.
People need very little to live their lives with dignity. When that little also becomes scarce and difficult to get, that’s mostly when a person decides to take the plunge into moving to the cesspool of mahanagars or cities. It’s called migration.
This story takes a close look at how little things can turn this growing tide. It’s about what happened after the Bihar floods in 2008, but there’s nothing to say that disaster is a prerequisite for this to work. Poverty is after all the biggest ongoing disaster for many.
” Poverty is after all the biggest ongoing disaster for many”
2008 Kosi Floods
Floods are routine phenomena in Bihar as is migration, but the 2008 floods came to parts which had never seen floods before, so things were a bit different this time. Hundreds of villages were in the path of a river that changed its course, rendering nearly three million people homeless. More than 3,00,000 houses were destroyed and at least 8,40,000 acres of crops were damaged.
Khursid Alam, a daily wage tailor, stayed away from work, confined to relief camps for months. He soon realized that there wasn’t much left for him. With no resources or support, even the little work he earlier got from the other tailors also came to a standstill.
Kripananda Sharma, a physically disabled carpenter, made a little income from his profession and from the shared agriculture on a small piece of land he owned. The Kosi floods submerged his land with tons of silt. His home collapsed and with it went his carpentry instruments. Kripananda went from being a Kaarigar (artisan) to a labourer.
Munni Devi had nothing left to lose after the floods. Struggling to feed her four children, Munni Devi desperately sought anything to do while waiting for her husband’s money order, (who had moved to Punjab after the floods).
The desolation and the harsh reality of these people hits you hard. Would it be wrong then, for these people to move to the city for their survival?? And what do these people need to sustain their lives? The fact is that even before the floods, income and livelihood for thousands was a doubtful prospect in Bihar.
Acres of cultivable land flooded in the Kosi region is still covered with sand. In such a situation, the idea of alternate employment opportunities became a big hit, apart from restoring the land as per need.
Vaapsi means restoring back. Goonj conducted a massive survey among the flood affected people to understand their needs; we asked the community members about their previous occupations and the resources they had lost. Goonj also asked about the aspirations of those who had dreams but could never take them up due to gaps in resources.
Through all of the data collected, Goonj mapped out 35 traditional occupations for which Goonj designed low investment occupational kits – right from labour to barbershop, Dhaba or Manihari to rickshaw puller and tailor. The occupational kits include the basic tools, clothing, and material required to get a fresh start.
To make their life sustainable again, Goonj supported these communities with more than 20,000 such kits, worth Rs.1.15 crore. About 70% (more than 14,000) of these were labour kits which included basic tools such as shovels & pails with some working outfits.
Meenakshi, co-founder of Goonj, while talking to The Logical Indian told that the Vaapsi program was initiated in over 300 villages of Madhepura, Saharsa, Supoul, Khagaria & Purnea districts in Bihar.
Impact of Vaapsi
Munni Devi opened a Tea Stall under Vaapsi. The villagers helped by erecting a makeshift shop near a bamboo bridge. Now Munni Devi earns around Rs.150 every day and sends her children to school as well. She says, “Now I am feeling that I am a nobody in the village, I have become somebody, all the credit goes to Goonj.”
Khurshid was offered a sewing machine under the program. With this basic tool, he launched his business from home and within no time, started working. He worked overtime, met deadlines regularly, and before long he became a serious competitor to other established tailors.
Khurshid says, “Now I don’t have to wait at these people’s shops to ask for work. I have plenty of it myself and more keeps coming in every day. I have stopped going to other places.” By other places, he means Jaipur or Ludhiana. Khurshid doesn’t rule out going there in future but says he is comfortable in his own village as he earns more. He is happy that he can now devote more time to his sons. Now, Khurshid wants his sons to study as much as they want, even if they decide to take up tailoring as their vocation. “It will make them better businessmen than I am, and that is what I want – a better life for them.”
Kripananda Sharma, the carpenter, was able to restart his work as a carpenter at his home. Now Kripananda’s family is heaving a sigh of relief, maintaining their life as usual.
Many people started their new life after getting Vaapsi kits. In some areas, new village markets have started because of these shops, while in many families people who were headed to the cities to work as migrant labourers to eke out a living, now stayed back, as they had a basic source of sustenance.
Vaapsi – A Replicable Idea
Ms Meenakshi also stated “We have started the program again in 4 districts of Bihar. It can be replicated by NGO’s in another place if they were to identify local skills and occupations rather than try to introduce any outside ideas and training. It would make the whole thing more sustainable, cheaper, less dependent on the NGO while it will help vitalize the local economy and provide income and employment to unskilled and even illiterate people who would otherwise end up as migrant labourers in cities. On the whole, it will help nurture and utilize local wisdom and resources instead of being dependent on any outside inputs. It will certainly be cheaper since some of these labour kits start at a cost of Rs 500 for the NGO to procure. The bigger benefit is that in return for getting these kits if people were asked to do some work for their community, it would end up solving some bigger problems of the community instead of just benefiting one person. ”
Goonj replicated the Vaapsi program in J&K too with the help of local panchayat with women who do not have a source of sustenance. Apart from this, Vaapsi was also implemented in Khandwa district in Madhya Pradesh, and now is being implementing on a large scale in Tamil Nadu, post the devastating floods of last year.
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