My work takes me to areas that are less heard of and struggle with problems that most people are either not aware of or don't really care about. One commonality that I have noticed in all of these spaces is a dearth of local people as leaders working towards the development and growth of their communities and regions. The search for better livelihood takes most of the people from rural and tribal areas away from their land. Those who are left behind continue to struggle for their basic rights and needs. There is a high dependency on external people or organizations for support to make ends meet.
Observing a similar pattern across so many places as an external agency, I always wonder, how sustainable is this? For how long can a community operate with external support? While most of our society has looked up to those in positions of authority to solve problems, the need for more and more individuals to take responsibility for the changes they want to see is urgent and much required.
In my quest for such individuals and leaders, I came across some very powerful stories of what grass-root leadership can look like across various geographies and contexts.
From Cattle To Classrooms
Nisha comes from a marginalized community forced to live on the outskirts of a village called Kotri in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan and struggles for her basic food and water needs. Being the eldest daughter, she supported her family by grazing cattle and fetching water from far-away places.
Manthan, an NGO based in Kotri came to know about Nisha in 2009 and immediately realized that there are different problems that need to be addressed to bring Nisha out of child labor and get her to school.
Manthan built water tanks for her family so that she wouldn’t have to go too far to fetch water and could save time. After some convincing, she was finally allowed to study at the night school after completing her household work during the daytime. Nisha performed exceptionally in school and got admission to a government school. She continued to excel in her class.
Currently, Nisha is pursuing graduation in Biology and teaches girls from her village at a school run by Manthan and is a strong role model for them.
Her vision is to educate and empower every girl of her village through education so that they can live a life of their choice and pursue their dreams, for which she is going to join the teaching fellowship to be launched by Manthan soon.
Nisha very strongly believes, “Gender is not a parameter to decide whether a child should get an education or not.
The Boy Who Never Gave Up
20-year-old Babu, from Snehagram, Krishnagiri is the only HIV athlete who participated in the Laguna Phuket International Marathon in Thailand at the age of 15. Babu lost his parents to HIV but never succumbed to his fate. Discrimination in society at multiple levels and the stigma associated with HIV couldn’t stop him from pursuing the life of his dreams. He found his love for life in running. An activity that he started to keep himself fit has now become his passion and a way to spread awareness in youth that HIV is not the end.
This world and the people who struggle with HIV need more role models like Babu who don't just understand the challenges of living with such illnesses but have also experienced them day in and day out.
Babu strongly believes that nothing should stop people from pursuing their dreams, not even HIV. With this cause in his heart, he works closely with children and youth in the Snehagram Charitable trust. He helps them identify their dreams, adopt a healthy lifestyle and carve a path for their future. This world and the people who struggle with HIV need more role models like him who don't just understand the challenges of living with such illnesses but have also experienced them day in and day out. Role models who made a choice of taking charge of their lives and giving new meaning and shape to it irrespective of their circumstances.
Babu had this realization at an early age and he is currently supporting Snehagram in launching a fellowship program to create a network of role models like him, who will come together to mentor HIV-infected children on a path of health, happiness, and success.
A Humanist From North East
The 27-year-old Mathanmi was born in Imphal. He pursued his Master's degree from the prestigious Delhi School of Social Work and had an opportunity to settle for a high paycheque in any metropolitan in the country or abroad. Mathanmi instead chose to return to Kamjong and establish his own organization - Recognise Rise and Empower Association (RREA).
He believes that building local leadership is the way forward for the development of rural regions of the country. He is a strong advocate of building leaders from the community, for the community, and with the community to bring transformational and sustainable change in the region. This is exactly what Mathanmi chose to do himself. His knowledge of his community and belief that the needs and aspirations of the community should be addressed by the locals, made him stay back rather than migrate.
Mathanmi is on a mission to create many more such leaders and to be able to do that he has recently launched a fellowship program called Teach for North East. He envisions that through his fellowship, one day every child will have access to quality education and take ownership of their region towards growth, peace, and prosperity.
These are the stories of HOPE. Hope that an empowered local youth has an agency to bring change. Hope to bridge the gap between different sections of society. Hope to reach out to the most marginalized communities. Hope to travel to the last mile.
“We keep saying that we must spread awareness about issues that matter to the world but the people who suffer do not need awareness, they are the most aware because they are the ones experiencing it every day. What they need is to be empowered.” - Tejaram Mali, founder of Manthan Sansthan and an Alumni of TFIx incubation program
This is exactly what the TFIx incubated teaching Fellowship programs are working towards. To create a movement of leaders at all levels (Students, youth, and Entrepreneurs), which is of the locals, by the locals, and for the locals towards reducing the gap of inequity by creating a change that is relevant, contextual, and sustainable through the medium of education.
About The Writer
Neha joined the Teach For India Fellowship in 2015. Post fellowship she worked with Teach For India as a Program Manager for 2 years. She is an Engineer and an MBA graduate. She worked in the automotive and construction equipment sector for 4 years prior to her journey with Teach For India. She joined the TFIx team to get a deeper understanding of the education landscape in India. Presently she is working closely with 2 Entrepreneurs in rural Maharashtra and 2 Entrepreneurs working in rural Karnataka. Neha is an avid reader and an eloquent writer. She also finds time to meditate and travel.