Project UDAY: How Odisha Institute Is Creating Change Agents For Marginalized Tribals

Project UDAY: How Odisha Institute Is Creating 'Change Agents' For Marginalized Tribals

A unique initiative of Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd. (REC) which aims to reduce vulnerabilities of young people from tribal communities & create a cadre of tribal youth leaders who would be change agents in their respective communities.

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Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) is a residential institute for 30,000 marginalized indigenous students. It is located at Bhubaneswar, Odisha and holds Special Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council).

As a model institution in the country meant for indigenous population (covering 62 tribes including 13 PVTGs (particularly vulnerable tribal groups)), it provides education (from Kindergarten to Post Graduation), accommodation, food, health care, vocational training (farm and non-farm sector), sports for development, computer education, life skills education amongst others to the students totally free of cost.

Work of the institute is directed towards creating "change agents" - a stronger generation of tribal people equipped with knowledge, basic life skills, etc. who go back to their communities to make a difference in the lives of people. KISS through its mandate and work is an example of "Blueprint of SDGs in action".

KISS in partnership with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and with support from Rural Electrification Corporation Limited Foundation (REC Foundation) has rolled out Mission-UDAY in 2018. It aims to reduce vulnerabilities of young people from tribal communities & create a cadre of tribal youth leaders who would be change agents in their respective communities. They will be engaged in addressing various social concerns; assisting communities to take advantage of welfare programmes and develop a model for youth engagement in conflict affected areas of Odisha.

The project is implemented in 19 blocks of three tribal dominated districts of Odisha, i.e. Rayagada, Koraput and Malkanagiri. The project has built the capacity of 722 young people in the identified districts, who are now the 'change agent's' in their respective communities.

Agents of change

During the span of two and half years, in depth intervention has had a positive impact on the trained youth. The highlights of the intervention has been the involvement of 48% young girls as change agents for their communities as well as productive engagement of young boys and girls who have left the extremist groups. They have been moulded to contribute effectively towards the well-being of their communities and society in general.

Showcasing human impact stories:"Journey of Salami to BANK MADAM"

Salami Sashankar is a 27 year old girl from Toyaput village of Laxmipur Tehsil, one of the Maoist affected areas of Koraput district, Odisha; where she lives with her parents and sibling. Apart from studies, she has been actively involved in community work since childhood. She has completed her graduation and was looking for employment opportunities, when in the year 2019, she got to know about Project UDAY and joined as a volunteer.

What persuaded Salami to be a part of Project Uday was its goal – i.e., "To reduce vulnerabilities of young people belonging to tribal communities and create a cadre of tribal youth leaders who would be change agents in their respective communities." This, according to her, was the ideal platform to bring about the changes in her community that she aspired for. After getting 10 days residential training she has gone back to her village and created awareness on different health issues in her community.

By seeing her passion for work, communication skills and relation with the community, she has been given an additional responsibility of studying various "Government Schemes" and dissemination of its various provisions amongst the community. At the same time, she is also involved in assisting individuals who are eligible to get benefit of the schemes and are left out due to some reasons or the other. Salami helps them fill up application forms, collect documents, submit application and its follow up.

She also disseminates information about various loan facilities available and subsidies related to the schemes and encourages SHGs and individuals to avail the same. To further improvise on her work, she purchased a laptop, learnt to operate it and continues to use it for the larger benefit of her community.

After completion of her graduation, Salami was hired as a contractual staff in collaboration with Odisha Livelihood Mission in December, 2019. Her responsibilities included working with self-help groups, strengthening their skills and engaging them in different livelihood programs. Her earlier experience of working with social action project on Government schemes helped her to work intensively and accomplish her job role.

Prior to the pandemic, in the month of March, Salami got an opportunity to work with State bank of India as an outsourced employee staff. She was assigned the responsibility to reach out to people of more than 20 tribal hamlets adjoining her native Toyaput Village. Since then, she has been travelling to each of these places on a two wheeler for providing banking services to nearby customers. Using whatever space is available in the village, she sets up her office and provides all possible assistance to the community members.

As a professional, Salami plans her day in advance and ensures easy and safe transactions of money in the field. She has created good rapport with the youth in the community, who assist her in the field and act as a connector between her and the villagers/ customers.

Salami adds, that she is grateful to KISS, UNFPA and REC Foundation for strengthening her knowledge on "Financial Literacy" during the 10 days residential training which not only enhanced her knowledge but is also helping her in carrying out this job efficiently.

Voices from the community:

Para Muska, 53 Year old woman says: "Bank is 10 kms away from my home. No transportation was available during the lockdown. I am unable to withdraw money from my bank account to meet day to day expenditure. I had received money under KAALIA and PMJJY Schemes, but feeling absolutely helpless. It was our BANK MADAM, Salami who brought the bank (banking service) to my door steps and I was able to withdraw money and meet my expenses. I am thankful to my BANK MADAM for her kind heart and wish her all good luck for her future."

Lachi Hikaka, 70 Year old man from Toyaput, Laxmipur, Koraput, says: "Due to lockdown I was unable to withdraw money which I had received from Madhubabu pension Yojana and KAALIA Yojana. As I stay alone and due to COVID restrictions my neighbour did not accompany me to visit bank as always. I had no money to buy food to eat. I am thankful to BANK MADAM, who came like an angel and gave me my money at my door step so I would able to take my food and do other expenditures."

"My life, my decision- No more child marriage." Story of Radhamani Majhi :

Adolescence to youth is a critical phase of transition that every boy and girl come across as a part of growing up. While the body and mind grow up to attain their full potential, they have a lot of confusion around their own body and reproductive health. These confusions are further mystified when they are forced to get married at an early age without their wish and consent, especially girls.

An example in sight is of the hilly terrains of Kangraguda village in Koraput district of Odisha. It is home to tribal communities (Kondh and Paraja tribes), where access to basic services like health, market and information is still limited. Some of the socio-cultural beliefs and practices have created barriers for girls in gaining confidence and optimising their potentials.

Girls have to be ready to get married once they reach their puberty. Besides, they would not be allowed to move freely, they have to learn to cook, take responsibility of their families and siblings so that they are prepared to take up such responsibilities in their in-laws house. This is a common practice across the community and all the girls have to go through the pain by leaving their study, dreams, and parents at an early age. Marriages are fixed by parents, where, at times the grooms are lucky to be part of the selection process whereas, the brides are never part of the entire process.

Similar is the story of Radhamani Majhi. Radhamani is 15 years old and after she got her first periods, her parent's chose to get her married to her uncle's son who is 16 year old.

Radhamani had stopped going to school as her marriage was fixed and it was supposed that the groom's family will not support her further studies. She wanted to study further and had also requested her family to allow her to pursue education. She did not get much support from her family as the myths about "getting married early can lead a good life for a girl" still continues in her community. She decided to break the chain and pass on the message of the ill effects of child marriage amongst her family and other community members.

In one of the UDAY meetings she had met Mithulia Ghasarlia, an UDAY member who had narrated stories of sufferings of girls who were married at early age. In the same meeting, she also got to know about the watch dog committee that was formed in her village under UDAY project and she reached out to them with the support of Mithulia Ghasarlia. She expressed her anguish and seek help from the committee to convince her parents to not get her married at such an early stage.

The committee members with the help of ASHA and Anganwadi workers educated her parents about the ill effects and consequences of child marriage. They also reached out to the larger community and its representatives and made them aware about the issues of child marriage and its aftermath on the young girl and boy. With a lot of persuasion and understanding, both the families agreed to cancel the marriage and gave Radhamani a chance to pursue her education.

Radhamani says: "I am glad to see the change in my parents. With the help of UDAY members, not only my marriage was cancelled, but, it gave me an opportunity to live my life, complete my study, fulfil my dreams and take my own decision of getting married."

"Reaching to the most vulnerable and marginalized communities during the COVID-19 pandemic" : Story of Arati Kousalaya

Ms. Arati Kousalaya along with three trained volunteers Ms. Rita Kousalaya, Ms.Subarna Karkaria and Ms.Ranjani Karkaria carried out an awareness campaign on COVID – 19 amidst the the Dongria Kondh communities in Rayagada district, Odisha. The Dongria Kondh villages are located in the hill-slopes or valleys in a tangle of thickly wooded hill ranges called Niyamgiri hills. It is one of the most difficult to reach pockets in Odisha. It is covered by densely forested hills, deep gorges and cascading streams. These young girls took up the leadership role to create awareness program amongst these communities on hand sanitization, importance of using mask and social distancing. They reached out to more than 500 people in the selected villages.

Arati Kousalaya and her peers have supported Aganwadi workers, ASHA workers and Gram Panchayat officials in distributing ration to the needy. During ration distribution they helped the crowd in maintaining social distance, orient them on how to use mask and its importance as well as stigma and discrimination and myths related to COVID - 19. They distributed handmade/ reusable mask in the community and also assisted the old people in wearing the masks. The efforts put in by these girls has been highly appreciated by the district administration.

The community working as a whole to bring a change

Voices from the community

Sundari Kousalya (Anganwadi worker): "Very much thankful to UDAY volunteers of KISS for extending their support in distributing ration to the beneficiaries. Without them it would have been difficult for me and my colleagues to manage the crowd following social distancing as well as ensuring everyone uses mask."

Jitu Jakasaka (Village leader) "My gratitude to UDAY volunteers those have been trained by KISS and UNFPA to respond the deadly disease COVID-19 in our community by creating awareness on importance of hand sanitization, social distancing and using mask. As we are from a primitive group of tribe and live in difficult to reach area, we are very much prone to myths and stigma and discrimination. The initiative taken by these volunteers are helping us to adopt new things like using masks when going out and maintaining social distance even from our neighbours. They taught us how to use the mask and even the old people are obeying their instruction."

Engagement of UDAY Volunteers to tackle the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the outbreak of COVID-19 in Odisha, different preventive measures has been taken by the State and Central Government, to check the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

In these trying times, UDAY volunteers have come forward to respond the outbreak of the disease in the state by focusing to create awareness in the tribal communities of Rayagada, Malakangiri and Koraput districts of Odisha. KISS alumni forum and its Parents Committee were also engaged in addressing issues of COVID-19 along with the volunteers. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation, 319 youth have directly reached out to more than 30,000 people covering 259 villages in creating awareness on hand sanitization, importance of using mask, maintaining social distancing and other safety measures. Further, 22 young boys and girls have joined as volunteers through the COVID Sangramee APP developed by Government of Odisha and have been involved in different COVID response activities and extended their support to the front line workers.

Also read: Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, KIIT Group Is Diligently Assisting The Needy

Contributors Suggest Correction
Writer : Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences
Creatives : Vijay S Hegde

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