By Ratan Sharda
As an SME entrepreneur swayamsevak had changed lives of 100s of people by providing them employment and training them in business and manufacturing. Now, he is training and nurturing rural youth to make their lives better, and also creating a unique Rural-Urban Connect.
What would a person do as he reaches 70? A smooth-running business, a well settled family with son and nephews taking care of the business established by him; grandchildren to play with and it seems like time to enjoy the evening of one’s life. All his life he has devoted most of his time to RSS work with only short quality time for the family because he had committed 45 years back that he will not work for more than 8 hours in a day for earning income. He had dedicated all his balance time and life to society. Now is the time to lay back and relax at his farm house with children or perhaps focus on the spiritual aspects of life.
But, what does this person do? He is stirred by the backwardness of the region where he has one of his factories. He takes along a few trustees of Keshav Srushti and visits the youth of that region who wish to bring up their villages and give a better life to their brethren. He has not seen the inside of a village till that time in true sense, having lived his entire life in cities. How could he help the youth achieve their dream? He must understand them first. He has been a convenor of a monthly meeting of young professionals and business persons for a year now under Sewa International. They tell him they wish to contribute to the society now. He sees a ray of hope. He takes them to the region that is 100 km from Mumbai and shows them around. There is a joint meeting with the local young activists and the idea of Rural-Urban Connect is born.
These successful urban youth will adopt one village each and keep in touch with their friends from the village. They will not tell them what they should do, but help them in what they wish to do for their respective village. They will also visit their adopted villages every month. Sit with them, dine with them and live with them when required. Slowly the idea picks up, with families of the urban youth joining in too. They celebrate festivals together; they invite their brethren from village to their homes in Mumbai. They provide any support that the team in their village requires.
– In all this, our elder swayamsevak is part of the teams, leading from the front. He does not just visit the villages, he coordinates with government officers, he gets local elders involved, and stays there overnight, nearly every week to keep the momentum on. Keshav Srushti, an RSS-inspired social service complex wedded education, environment, cow protection, herbal medicine development is involved in this outreach all through. There is complete synergy. The region is Wada. All this began three years back. What has this team of youth guided by a youthful elder achieved in three years? Here is a quick glance –
Four model villages have been created. Three more are lined up. A model village is one with a gram samiti, no liquor, no disputes, regular satsang, classes for education and samskara, special training for health and hygiene.
– 51 villages have daily and weekly samskara kendras where children are taught good habits, told about dharma, history and Bharat, trained in games, encouraged to read in small library.
– Computer classes, tailoring classes are going on. 283 youth were trained in computer with MSITC certificate, of which 38 got jobs in nearby industrial areas.
– Three science laboratories on wheel – called Knowledge On Wheels – have been introduced for school children to help them do experiments; with wonderful results. Fourth van is on way.
– Youth centres encourage and train youth in sports to raise their energy levels and sense of comradery. Annual sports events take place now on January 12, the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.
– Leadership course has been introduced conducted every quarter to hone the leadership skills of the youth and prepare leaders at the grass roots.
– Irrigation is improved. Check dams have been constructed as per village requirements to rejuvenate wells and ponds. Drip irrigation has been introduced in some villages, and solar pumps in some villages to provide water and electricity. Yes, there was a village – Dongripada that did not have electricity and water even after 70 years of independence. A village just a few kilometres from Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway. It raised farmers’ income from 10000 INR pa to over 100000 pa with multiple crops, not just rainfed crops. This has also stopped seasonal migration of village folks in search of a jobs outside village.
– Health and Hygiene – 1100 children in 32 villages were checked on healthy parameters. 95% were suffering from malnutrition and 60% were anaemic. They are given protein laddus regularly now. Each child is issued a Star health card to keep track of his/her health.
– Idea of Swasthya Rakshak Dampati is implemented where a couple is trained in primary health care and linked to Iskcon hospital. Plan is to have 10 such couples in 40 villages to begin with.
– Two hundred girls have been trained in hygiene and health related issues.
– Thousands of fruit trees have been planted in in farmers’ backyards and fields.
– 2 lakh seedballs were manufactured by teenage boys and girls and spread in fields and jungles nearby. Target this year is 5 lakh seed balls.
– Plastic free village – Plastic is collected from the village and sold to a vendor. Effort is to create a smaller plant for making paver blocks from plastic waste. Samples have been tried.
– Project to encourage Organic farming has begun.
– Project Green Gold has become a success with women being trained in bamboo craft, earning for the first time in their lives even during Covid. Bamboo cultivation is being encouraged. It was a part of their village life earlier. 15 acres of field has been turned into bamboo plantation as an exhibit. Hundreds of jobs have been created. Now trained women are training other women from neighbouring villages.
– Now Project Mangal Fibre has been launched for manufacturing handicraft and other useful items like bags and footwear from fibre taken out of banana plants removed from fields after two years when their quality falls.
– Cotton bags worth 18 lakh were manufactured during Covid and sold to a reputed bank.
– Next in line are FPO and OFPOs to market village produce better and work on Farm to Fork chain. It will become a training ground for the local youth in business and commerce.
– Tourism with stay in village and enjoy local natural beauty has begun in 6 villages.
– The team has adopted 75 villages and hope to have permanent longterm improvements in all these villages before 2025.
These urban youth have been nurtured by RSS philosophy that Sewa is our duty, not a charity. So, there is no question of ego or feeling of doing anyone a favour. It is about raising the capabilities of the rural brethren to bring in positive change. Their sense of oneness with their rural brethren is total.
I was part of the first team that went to do a survey of the villages to understand the ground situation there. I could see the huge change in those rural youth now from the time they spoke in the first annual get together. It is such an emotionally uplifting experience.
All this has happened in just three years with the sustained encouragement, support and personal interest taken by a 72year young swayamsevak, who believes in karma yoga that RSS has trained him in. Talk to any of the youth in his team, and he/she will tell you how this one man has changed their lives.
I have not mentioned his name. He is my mentor. I know he will be upset if I do so. He feels he is not unique; there are thousands of such noble faceless and nameless dedicated swayamsevaks who have been catalysts for changes, offering themselves as the ‘samidha’ in the yagya of rashtra nirman or building of our nation. I personally know a few such extraordinary human beings who live ordinary life but achieve extraordinary results by providing service to the society. I hope I can, someday, record lives of some of such elevated aatmans.