Working on education, child protection, women’s empowerment, peacebuilding, mental health

By Sagar Singh*

Dr. Sunil Kaul is the founder of ANT, an NGO headquartered in Western Assam that works to improve communities in the North-East. The team has reached out to 900 tiny hamlets via its current work on education, child protection, women’s empowerment, peacebuilding, and mental health.

The following are some of the highlights of the ANT’s  in FY 19-20:

• Cases of domestic violence reported in the past three years – 383 of which 189 cases had direct community involvement in reporting

• The organisation was successful in providing legal counsel to 1794 middle school students and 2444 pre-primary students

• NGO facilitated Career Counseling with 80 students of 10th standard

Ant is one of the few NGOs that publishes an Annual Report every year, detailing their accomplishments. The aspect that distinguishes ANT is that they utilise a unique evaluation technique to evaluate the program’s effectiveness. In India, there are about 3.2 million non-governmental organisations (NGOs), yet they lack the necessary structure to go ahead. Sunil has developed 6 evaluation criteria that examine every programme that ANT executes in order to address this problem; if any programme fails to match with the following criteria, it is instantly flagged and halted.

• What is the program’s effectiveness? (In terms of the end result)

• What is the program’s efficiency? (Emotional cost included in cost-effectiveness)

• What is the state of community participation (do they make a contribution or not, do they take time off or not, did they engage during the introduction of the programme)?

• Was the programme successful for the poorest people you know?

• Long-term viability: Will ANT continue to operate if it withdraws today?

• Is the programme capable of bringing diverse groups together?

The path from Medical Doctor to ANT

Sunil served in the Army as a medical doctor before founding the ANT. The seed of Gandhism and righteousness was planted deep in his childhood, as he narrates one of the incidences where, during his medical college journey, he discovered that there were instances where his friends who used to be aware of the questions before the examination, but it didn’t come to Sunil’s attention until he graduated from the college , as everyone else was of the opinion that if Sunil got to know about this, he would do something about it.

He joined the Indian Army after completing his medical education. Still, he didn’t find the kind of patriotism he was searching for. Sunil was also seeking self-discipline rather than enforced discipline. Sunil, on the other hand, has always wanted to accomplish something significant, particularly in Northeast India. During his time in Arunachal, he had the notion to leave the army. He eventually quit the Army after being stationed in Rajasthan, where he had numerous run-ins with his superiors. The idea of starting an NGO was sown in Rajasthan; his first encounter with an NGO was with Health Research Trust.

To make the most of his concept, he set off for the Northeast with Mr. Sanjoy Ghose, who served as Sunil’s mentor and adviser. Sanjoy Ghose was an Indian campaigner for rural development who made groundbreaking contributions to community health and development media. Unfortunately  Sanjoy was murdered by militants after a brief stay in the North-East of approximately 1.5 years.

Sunil moved to London for his master’s in public health after this horrific incident. He felt compelled to return to the Northeast after finishing the training in order to carry on Sanjoy’s legacy. When he arrived in the Northeast, he met Jennifer, who was also working there; the two of them married and began the ANT adventure.

Initial Obstacles

The effort was started by the NGO in Assam, but no results were seen during the first six months. Furthermore, the location where it began was completely militant, further reducing production. Sunil’s team handled the initial financing for the first 2-3 years while the NGO did not seek outside assistance. They justified it by stating that they did not want to operate under financial constraints. The organization’s philosophy was that as an NGO, we would never accept government assistance and would stay self-sufficient. The fear that seeking government assistance would limit one’s independence is the most troubling.

Furthermore, the goal is to contribute back to the government rather than receive from it. The production started to flow after the NGO established some roots in the area. The organisation got its first-ever financing of 1.3 lakhs in 2003, and as a consequence, many programmes and initiatives were launched, including “the weaving programme,” “women cycle bank,” “village health workers,” and so on.

Projects in Progress

Education

  1. LEAP (Learning Eco-System Augmentation Project): The organisation enhances pedagogy everywhere there is a government school. Teachers are being prepared to provide interactive training. The NGO devised a system that enables children in grades 1 through 5 to sit together. It’s an example of iterative learning in action. There will be a single narrative, but the question or problem set for each class will be different. This approach assists junior students in listening to what fifth-grade kids are learning. Because the procedure is repeated, the idea becomes ingrained in the minds of these youngsters. For 5th grade kids, there is added pressure since they believes it would be an insult if they don’t grasp the idea while juniors do.
  2. Shiksha: In areas where there are no government schools, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) employ para teachers who are constantly trained and then educate the children. In addition, NGOs offer nighttime supplement lectures as instruction to pupils in areas where para instructors are not available.

Unequal Gender Dynamics

  1. Avahan: The goal of the programme was to prevent violence by highlighting the inequity in the dynamics. Domestic abuse is a public health problem, according to the experts. Being beaten as a human is not a family problem; it is a social one. Men, women, and young people in the community have formed response groups in the hopes of developing a social engineering model that would dispel the idea that hitting spouses is not a personal problem. Simultaneously, make it a public issue.

Mental Health

An app-based mental health model has been created by the non-governmental organisation (NGO). The main reason they came up with this is because psychiatrists don’t typically write diagnoses. They often fail to record symptoms, which presents a problem when we need to follow up. Sunil’s team uses a camp style to promote the process, with a volunteer guiding the patient through the app and facilitating the connection between the patient and the doctor.

COVID’s Influence

In comparison to Covid, Lockdown had a greater impact since the manner in which it was publicised instilled dread in the hearts of the people. Villagers forbade outsiders from entering the area. But as time passed, the terror dissipated. By May 15th, the whole NGO was on the ground, and the organisation was able to begin its normal work wherever the villagers agreed. By August, the villages had also become more accommodating, and the organisation was fully operational. During the Covid, when the majority of the economy was in a downward spiral, the NGO expanded both in terms of its workforce and in terms of its financial resources.

In addition, he states that all of the organization’s workers have been vaccinated. The NGO has organised a number of public events to raise vaccination awareness. The villagers and volunteers were also given live instruction on vaccination and raising awareness about “WHAT IS covid.” The AASHA in the village received medication and an oximeter from an NGO.

Sunil’s team’s contribution to the area has been nothing short of a miracle for the locals. The level of responsibility shown by his whole staff is something to anticipate.

*PGP-2 Student, IIM Ahmedabad

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