AThe Thar Desert is one of the most barren landscapes, but also the most densely populated desert in the world, with nearly 27 million people living there. With less than 200 millimeters of rainfall in a year, there is a great need to capture as much rain a possible in Thar. The difficult climate, soil erosion and the lack of drinking water lead to malnutrition and various health problems. Moreover, due to remote locations of the villages, the inhabitants also lack basic services, for instance, health and education as well as basic infrastructure.
Working in Thar, major programmatic areas for GRAVIS are improving health status, water security, agriculture, and animal husbandry and promoting training, awareness and educational activities for the villagers.
GRAVIS work is meaningful and successful, mainly because of the inclusion of the villagers and their wisdom and experiences. The goal is to create self-reliant village community’s (Gram Swarajya) and also to engage the whole community in the decision making. People’s organizations have played the foremost role in every community intervention, initiated by GRAVIS. People’s organizations are trained by GRAVIS and each are responsible for different aspects of programs. There are Village Development Committees (VDCs), Village Education Committees (VECs), Village Eye Care Committees (VECCs), Village Older People Associations (VOPA) and Self Help Groups (SHGs).
Moreover, 50% of the participation in the Community-Based Organizations is from the females and there are also organizations only for women, for example, Woman’s Self Help Groups (SHGs). SHGs have 10-12 female members and create financial opportunities for members and other women, for example with micro-credits. Moreover, women are building leadership skills, talking about their problems and being able to influence the decision making on community levels. Till 2018, GRAVIS has promoted 987 VDCs, over 200 VOPAs and 1,703 SHGs and much more. The SHGs have 17,030 members in total.
In 2018 GRAVIS also expanded its work and reached out to new people in new villages. GRAVIS leads Skill building centers, with computer and embroidery training. In 2018, much of GRAVIS work was also focused on improving the lives of the elderly. For example, GRAVIS is implementing a project called Water Nutrition and Heath in Thar (WNHT) supported by Help Age International. This program works with VOPAs to accomplish more social and economic security and to change the isolation and poverty of the elderly.
With the support of communities, GRAVIS has an overview of the processes, outcomes and emerging needs and can assist the villagers with judicial help. Through advocacy, GRAVIS is raising attention about the problems and promoting the replication of its projects. Because of that, GRAVIS published several studies and organized advocacy campaigns in 2018. For example, GRAVIS organized many events, like the World Woman Day, World Health Day, and World TB Day. Furthermore, GRAVIS has worked together with many partners this year as well as in the years before, like groups, organizations and the government.
As GRAVIS was founded, water security was one of the important topics and that has not changed until 2018. GRAVIS focuses on organizing community-based interventions leading to water security especially renovation of traditional water harvesting structures such as village ponds (naadies), percolation wells (beries) and drinking water tanks (taankas). This year, GRAVIS has constructed 151 taankas, 7 beries and 6 naadis. The traditional water harvesting structures are built with materials from the region and so easier to repair. Also, these structures are familiar to the villagers and not too complex to use. What is more, GRAVIS provides training for on optimum and substantial use of the water harvesting structures. In 2018, 66 trainings on water harvesting structures maintenance have taken place. In 2018 GRAVIS worked a lot on water filters and got a lot of positive results. In the last years, GRAVIS has experimented with the use of Bio-sand water filters (BSWF) (with the funding and support of People for Progress in India (PPI), USA). The BSWF is a low-cost technology that improves the quality of drinking water through filtration with local materials like sand and pebbles. In 2018, GRAVIS built 235 BSWF. Water is important for the people, animals, and plants in the desert, but it has also an impact on health, financial security, hygiene and even education of girls. If there is not enough water the villagers have to buy water or have to migrate to the cities. What is more, women, especially girls in rural areas have to walk a long distance to collect water, instead of going to school.
Education decides the course of life. In the Thar Desert, the literacy rate is low and the dropout rate is high. Government run schools provide elementary education, but are often too far away and unreachable to remote parts of rural Thar communities. Village Education Committees (VECs) have been formed by GRAVIS to run the education programs effectively. They monitor the school activities, like managing the education fund and other financings, support the teachers, secure food and other material needs for school, discuss future plans for schools and link to government funds and programs. Moreover, to support girls’ education and to make it easier to reach the schools, GRAVIS is supporting bicycle scholarships for girls. This program is going on for the last few years and was continued in 2018. It is covering over 400 girls till date and in 2018, 70 bicycles were distributed.
It is really important to educate all of the villagers not only the children in school about health. Because of that GRAVIS provides health and awareness camp, where they train villagers to Village Health Workers (VHWs). The VHWs take care of immediate basic health education and medical needs of the villages. Advice on health and hygiene spread awareness about risky health behavior and preventive measures. Insufficient nutrients, hard physical labor, extreme weather conditions like relentless sunshine, lack of basic vaccination, dirty or not enough water or lack of hygiene are leading to many diseases. For example glaucoma, tuberculosis and eye diseases like glaucoma or eye infections are widely-spread. Furthermore, medical care is far away and therefore hard to reach. Therefore GRAVIS is organizing medical camps and a local hospital. In 2018, in the GRAVIS Hospital, 38,162 patients have been treated and 94 medical camps have taken place with over 6,000 patients covered. If the patients need further medical attention, GRAVIS transports them to the larger hospitals or other nearby major medical facilities. There are also special medical camps like eye screening camps or mine-workers medical camps. What is more, there are also special health programs for older peoples and female villagers (girls, pregnant woman/mothers or women in general). Moreover, with the support of The Hans Foundation (THF), GRAVIS took up a major sanitation project in 2018, benefiting over 500 rural households of poor families. GRAVIS also provides assistance in environmental disasters, with medical aid, food, sanitation and more. In 2018, GRAVIS had projects to help the victims of the flood in Kerala and Uttar Pradesh.
GRAVIS also has a program for the well-being of the animals, where villagers are trained to become a para-vet. In 2018, 15 para-vets were trained and four animal camps have taken place. To create fodder security for the animals and in this way also for the villagers, GRAVIS has built community fodder banks. The fodder banks are buffers in the dry spells. In these fodder depots, the villagers can collect fodder so that it is protected from the environmental influences. GRAVIS also develops community pasture land and woods to support the livelihood and fodder for animals. What is more, GRAVIS trains the villagers in livestock development with a focus on good breeds, fodder production and quality of feed and more capacity building methods for the community? This is trained especially in Self-help groups so that women a have a central role in livestock development. After agriculture animal husbandry is the second main occupation of the villagers. Both are not a reliable source of income.
Drought, high animal population, wind erosion, and mining are causing deterioration of the area. GRAVIS creates improvement through grass, for example in pasture land, but also with other plants such as trees (including fruit trees), shrubs and vegetables. GRAVIS supports poor families with horticulture units so they have nutrients and the surplus products can be sold. 185 horticulture units were provided in 2018.
GRAVIS is committed to the revival of traditional and sustainable techniques for active food security and also participates in research and development innovations. One of the traditional techniques is Khadins. Khadins are runoff based farming systems. GRAVIS made some innovations and updated these. For example, GRAVIS made them smaller and constructed spillways so the water gets to the next field and no water is wasted. In 2018, GRAVIS built 120 Khadins. With Efficient structures, like this, monsoon crops, as well as winter cobs, can be produced. GRAVIS provides also training for agriculture, there the farmers learn for example what seeds there should use at what time.
All in all, it was a very successful year, with many great projects and good progress.
“Like in the past, the year was full of good outcomes, new challenges and lessons learned. We look forward to another year of sincere and dedicated community development.” Shashi Tyagi, Annual Report 2017-18.
Volunteer from Germany
Communication Coordinator at GRAVIS