By Tejonidhi Aphale*
Shri. Anil Vyas was a lecturer at college during 1990-91 and witnessed a massive influx of people coming to the cities for education. Bhadas, Gawdewadi, Shileshwar,Asde, Khubawali are 5 villages located on the bank of river Mula in Pune. They were isolated from rest of tehsil due to dead end of the road at Bhadas. There was no school from 5th standard onwards for future studies in the entire region. Hence, Shri. Anil Vyas founded Swami Vivekanand Vidyalaya in 1995 with the aim of providing equal education to the rural population in the isolated regions of Mulshi taluka of Pune who were primarily dependent on agriculture and has no opportunities to transition into any other sector.
The vision and mission of the organization is to empower economically and social weaker sections of the society with self sustainable, eco-friendly, self reliant, healthy and comfortable lives at their residence.
Some of the objectives of the foundation is to educate the children, unite and empower women, enhance the skills of the youth, guide farmers regarding the best practices and inculcate good values in children which are aligned with the betterment of the entire society.
During the initial 12 years after founding the organization, Mr. Vyas balanced his work along with the day to day operations and responsibilities of the foundation. In 2003, he decided to completely focus on the foundation and decided to fully transition out of his job. He then focused on identifying the needs of the people by working along with the Gram Sabha and by conducting surveys among households.
To ensure that the decisions that are taken are in resonance with the betterment of the region, he looped in experts in their respective fields for validating the decisions of the foundation. There were numerous milestones that the foundation achieved since its nascent stage with 5th standard classroom and 34 students in a temporary room in 1995. Having established a school in the region, there was a pressing need to establish residential hostels in 1996 in Shileshwar along with adding 6th standard classes. In 1997, 7th standard classes were introduced and added classes every year till 2000. The government of India finally recognized the classes from 5-7th standard formally in 2001. By 2009, the school had been granted full approval and recognition by the government.
By 2017, there were 209 students comprising of 92 girls and 117 boys studying in a newly constructed building. A total of 900 students had registered in the school in 20 years with an excellent boy is to girl ratio of 52:48. 335 out of 441 students passed the SSC exam and the last 3 years passing rate has climbed to 98% in the school.
In addition to studies, the school organizes interactions with various groups on a weekly basis to help students in self-development like handwriting, sculpting, origami, etc. to provide an opportunity to the students to discover their true callings.
In terms of women empowerment, before the organization was founded, women depended on their husbands financially and had no say in any decision making of the household. Identifying this as a major concern, the Rashtriya Sarvangin Gramvikas Sanstha helped the women in forming SHGs with 900 members covering over 26 villages to this date. The annual cumulative transactions are now totaling over Rs 20 Lakh with loans up to 5 Lakhs given at nominal interest rates towards children’s education, medical emergencies, house repairs, marriages, etc. Women have now moved away from utilizing the moneylender’s funds and have gained a substantial degree of financial freedom. There were cancer awareness camps which identified 3 cases and the treatment was funded by the same SHGs.
The women were trained in tailoring, embroidery, jewelry design and quilt making which led them to selling these products in various cultural fairs resulting in confidence building and paving a way towards economic independence.
In order to have a widespread impact on the agriculture based region, RSGS started working with farmers to promote organic farming which is more economical and is free from chemical contamination. Soil testing was undertaken to determine the optimal crop to grow and draft an annual sowing and harvesting plan based on this soil testing. Drip irrigation was introduced to Mulshi by RSGS along with poultry vaccination to reduce the probability of bird flu. These initiatives increased the average output of crops by 35-50% and even by 100% in some instances.
For the drought prone Marathwada region, Beed and Osmanabad were identified as the most affected regions and were trained in water management, organic farming, youth development and providing support to families of farmers who committed suicide. 450 Sintex water tanks were installed across 380 villages.
Some of the challenges faced by Mr. Vyas during this journey of RSGS were mainly in terms of maintain the dialogue with the concerned local leaders and sarpanches and convince them of the need to bring about a change for the betterment of the region. They would commit to allowing schools to be built in the village but back out later on once the date of construction arrived. There was also the issue of building trust where the villagers could not believe that there was no hidden agenda or that there were no strings attached to the help that was being offered.
Today, there are some initiatives being undertaken towards supply of electricity, installation of solar pump, and solar lights. RSGS, under the guidance of Mr. Vyas is on track to bring about positive changes in the society by following a multiple pronged approach to countering some of the critical issues that villagers in remote areas face.
*PGP Student at IIM Bangalore