When Barsha Mishra chose to live with a family in interior Jharkhand, she realised the privileges of her urban life. “The challenges of living frugally and staying away from family and friends was an eye-opener. Detached from the mainstream, I learnt to apply myself to local problems and address contextual issues,” she says.
Today, a confident and aware Barsha works as a team coordinator at Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) to bring in more youngsters for the Development Apprenticeship Programme (DAP) that she undertook 13 years ago, as a Social Science student at Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
She is among the 5,000 students trained in the last four decades to strengthen the ability of the rural poor to earn better. Since 1990, PRADAN, a national support organisation to the government’s flagship rural development programmes, has enabled youngsters from various academic fields such as Management, Engineering or Agriculture to Culture, History and Politics to work with 9,63,324 marginalised families across 9,127 remote villages of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal.
Back in 1983, Deep Joshi and Vijay Mahajan started PRADAN with the conviction that rural India’s endemic poverty could be solved if educated youngsters worked with weaker communities to empower them with the information required to improve their lives.
The idea, over the years, has inspired a movement of young people passionate about tackling the pressing problems in villages, as PRADAN played a major role in developing programmes such as the as Integrated Rural Development Programme, Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana and National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM).
“Giving back to society can be a fulfilling and viable vocation for educated youngsters. We groom them to work at the grassroots level and be empathetic towards the poor, something that needs to be at the forefront of the education system,” says Narendranath Damodaran, Integrator at PRADAN.
“We try to impact the lives of villagers; it requires a lot of mental resilience,” says Arnab Mitra, who was a PRADAN apprentice in 2014, working and coordinating with 1,200 women SHGs in Chattisgarh. “It helped me learn skills crucial to the social sector; to identify the gaps and facilitate existing government programmes to reach and benefit the rural poor. PRADAN is like an activist helping in the last-mile contact with a structured intervention.”
“We look at students who have the natural capability to work systematically towards a solution as a team and understand how the local governance functions,” says Damodaran, “as this is the social innovation generation that can bring in skills and systems to help women, families and communities gain confidence and take charge of their own lives.”
“India is overwhelmingly poor and the poverty is stark. If we pull together, it is possible to continue to work for change that is sustainable and self-perpetuating,” believes Mitra, who, like many of his colleagues, is working to bridge the disconnect between the elites and the weakest, and make the marginalised aware of their entitlements as citizens, develop their own skills and initiatives and build a livelihood.
For more details, visit https://www.pradan.net/