By Anil Gulati
Village Kolhari, Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh: Fourteen-year-old Mamta had to abandon her studies after Class 5 because her village in Madhya Pradesh did not have a higher education school. Three years later, however, the story has changed - Mamta can continue her studies with a middle school opening up near her home thanks to a new initiative where the residents themselves identify their needs.
As part of the village planning programme started by UNICEF, the district administration and some NGOs, Mamta's village Kolhari in Shivpuri district now has a middle school where she has been admitted in Class 6 this year.
The project involves the community using norms of participatory rural appraisal techniques; villagers themselves chalk out the needs of their hamlets and apprise the government about their requirements.
Under the micro-planning programme, social maps are prepared to assess the distribution of available resources in the village. Household surveys are then conducted to collect basic information about the village, the community and the needs of children, primarily in areas of health, education, nutrition, drinking water and sanitation.
The programme, started initially in Guna and Shivpuri districts, has wrought a profound change in the lives of many villagers. “After the introduction of village planning in Kolhari, we got an all-weather road and over 94 hand-pumps were installed in Guna and Bamori blocks. Since our village had no toilets and most diseases are spread because of open defecation, we have now applied for over 5,336 individual toilets for 305 villages with an approximate population of 25,000 and we hope to get soon,” an enthusiastic Mamta said.
The women in the village have also applied for opening of anganwadi centres in 5 villages that will benefit over 400 children in 5 villages of Bamori block.
Information is on the socio-economic condition of people is mapped. The data collected is used to prepare developmental plans for presentation and approval in a special 'gram sabha' (village council) meeting. Then, the plans are passed on to the district administration for implementation.
The areas chosen for rural planning include birth registration, maternal and infant mortality, maternity benefits (including regular health check-ups, immunisation), breast feeding, malnutrition, health and sanitation, controlling diarrhea, decreasing child marriages, consumption of iodised salt, supply of drinking water and personal hygiene. Special stress is given to enforcing girls’ education.
“The programme requires villagers to meet twice a month at the village community hall where each hamlet formulates its own plan for development and analyses the progress. Then they submit an application with the district administration, which sanctions funds and directs the concerned department to implement the works”, said Umesh Vashisht, convener of the Centre For Integrated Development, an NGO working on the project.
From each village, one male and female volunteer is selected to support the village facilitator to guide a group of 10 additional volunteers in each of the panchayats. Also, master trainers are appointed to teach volunteers the basics including rapport building with villagers, conducting door-to-door surveys, social and resource mappings.
“They are also trained in how to address the gram sabha and talk about the problems of the hamlet and seek solution,” Vashisht said, adding that the results have been amazing and pointing to Kolhari as a case in point.
Dr Hamid El Bashir, UNICEF State Representative for Madhya Pradesh, says “the time is ripe for the state government to scale up this initiative as it empowers communities and raises the demand for services and will ultimately change the realities of children, particularly in education attendance and quality, in nutrition and also on reducing the levels of under five mortality and maternal mortality. Village planning in one of its facets imples a rural and community development approach that is more likely to produce results in terms of social change.”