We selected the problems around and looked for resources within.
Moved a few steps ahead and people joined us to keep walking on the paths unravelled, and here we are completing and running successfully the 4 Projects in just a span of 1 year.
The TatavGyan achievements so far are as under:
This was the start point of our journey to social service.
We just happened to be there in North Bengal region from tourism perspective, as this region is very strategically located. We landed in Bagdogra Airport, from where we were supposed to head either towards Darjeeling or Gangtok, as the destination was dependent on availability of hotel reservation, we had to standby for a while in the nearby city, which was Siliguri or Jalpaiguri. Incidentally, we happened to meet this cab driver who explained the other possibilities too. From that location 50 Kms any side was a different country – west was Bhutan, North was Nepal, East was Bangladesh and south was India – West Bengal. And just about 80 Kms down was a place called Binnaguri, wherein our Trustee Mr. Madhukar Swayambhu had stayed as a kid, during his father’s posting in Indian Army. As the driver was also from Binnaguri and there were nostalgic memories attached, we decided to visit Binnaguri for a day and get closer to nature.
Binnaguri is a town located in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal state, India. It is located at 26° 46' 0N latitude and 89° 2' 60E longitude at an altitude of 216 meters above sea level. It lies close to the Bhutan and Nepal border, the Bhutanese town of Samchi being 10 km to the north, in deep Dooars country. Tea gardens are nearby, prominent amongst which are the Binnaguri Tea Estate (Binnaguri Tea Co. Pvt. Ltd. Kolkata), Moraghat Tea Estate (Binnaguri Tea Co. Pvt. Ltd. Kolkata), Telepara Tea Garden, Banarhat Tea Garden, Karbala Tea Garden, Lakhipara Tea Garden, and Gandrapara Tea Garden. The decline in the tea industry has increased the poverty and unemployment in the neighboring areas. Most of the employment opportunities are in the Army cantonment, apart from the tea gardens.
The nearest place of tourist interest is the Jaldapara National Park 30 kilometers from the town.
Till now it was an adventurous trip, but we didn’t know what destiny had in store for us.
We were simply enjoying the serenity of nature, away from city life of a metropolitan like Delhi. It was lush green everywhere, recent rains had brushed up the entire environment, and filling up the seasonal rivers and the small ponds and lakes around, air was fresh and cooler naturally. Road were a bit bumpy but scenic beauty and soothing breeze of fresh air had compensated for it and made the experience way beyond pleasant.
Finally, as all good things come to an end, so did our journey and we arrived at Binnaguri. Just a small flock of some villages on the outskirts of a Cantonment. Primarily you can see some small time shops, a tea Garden and lavish gate of an Army Cantonment. Too small to be called a town, but bigger than a village. The day went pretty well and we enjoyed the journey and meeting some old batch mates and had fun, not knowing what destiny had in store for us for the corresponding days.
The next day during our visit to a nearby village of Tea garden workers called “haldibari”, we saw some posters, pasted by the worker’s union of the tea gardens. The demands on the poster were petty, but it seemed that the guys there were really serious on those. We didn’t even imagine what we were about to get into.
We happened to meet one of the union workers and discussed with them on general chat that 60% of their demand listed on the poster were already allowed by Government of India. This was shocking to them. And this also opened plethora of their problems in front of us. They made us meet a couple of old guys, who had just retired after a service of 32-35 years in the Tea Garden and got a gratuity of mere ₹26-28 K. they were not being paid as per the minimum wages act. They were not being made permanent employees in spite of 2-3 years of regular service. They were not given basic medical facility. It was like a Bollywood film.
Our adventure tour, by now had become an eye opener for us, explaining the basic and grass root level of problems. That was very though provoking. We discussed the plight of these poor workers and decided to help them. They were in big numbers, they were hard working, only weakness they had was lack of knowledge of their rights and transparency with the Government policies. We updated them.
Just a 3-5 minutes of google search, made us arrive on the minimum wages act for the state of West Bengal. We found out about ESIC hospital nearby, the military hospital inside the cantonment. But this wasn’t a one day activity, this was required on a regular basis.
And that was the inception of our first project – the Birsa Munda Bhawan. We’ve taken the first steps towards bringing in the change. As the saying goes, “don’t wait for the change to happen, be the change that you want to bring”.
We’ve arranged for a donor for the land to build a community centre for the Tribals of the Land in the name of the Tribal Saint & freedom fighter – Veer Birsa Munda.
The land was owned by an Army Officer. A war veteran of 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war, Late Lt. Col. Amod Kumar Sinha. In a modest ceremony attended by the who’s who of the region, the land was pledged by Mrs. Ranjana Sinha for building up the Birsa Munda Bhawan for the community services.
The Nobel social cause was supported by all the local political leaders.
The support extended by the local administration, Banarhat electricity department, DM office &Banarhat Police Station was commendable to make the ceremony a bliss for the people.
All the distinguished guests were welcomed by the Voluntary ladies from Haldibari Tea Garden. After the hand wash and tilak ceremony, the badges were put on to each of the invitees. Later a Tribute was paid to the Son of the soil – Veer BhagwanBirsa Munda.
In the diffident ceremony, there was a remarkable participation by tribals from the nearby area. Girls from Nagarkata Tea estate performed a tribal dance with bright colours along with live song and traditional orchestra, then there was yet another dance of hope performed by girls from Binnaguri Tea estate, little angels from Telepara tea estate preformed a mesmerizing dance sequence. The laughter bone was tickled by Jayant da from Haldibari Tea Garden.
The plan is to build up the Veer BirsaBhawan, in Telepara – Hatkola, Binnaguri. This Bhawan or the community centre will have a temple, a library – with a vast section on tribal history & culture, an office complex / information centre / kiosk to eradicate the information / knowledge poverty in the tribal of the region, a community hall for holding meetings & seminars or even other social functions, a kitchen, a washroom complex and some guest rooms on the ground floor. Some guest cottages and lecture rooms & halls on second and third floors respectively.
We’ve engaged a Delhi based Architect for designing the whole complex. Idea is to make a self-sustaining unit dedicated to development of tribes.
This was a yet another interesting chapter in our journey to the domain of social services, which cemented our thoughts and firmed our mind-set that we rolled up our sleeves and started working towards TGHF.
Our Trustee Mr. Naveen Verma, happened to be there in one of the Arshrams, - a kind of a pilgrimage home in one of the holy cities in Northern India. Founded in 1952, it was an organization dedicated to the spiritual development of the seekers – a very Holy though indeed. But today, it had entered into an era of deterioration wherein most of the people moving to Ashram were at an old age, when they were already retired from actively life and had started seeking the spiritual goals to the diminishing end of life. As a result a result the Ashram was getting converted into an “old age home” and there was no young generation to work and slog through the day.
To understand the situation better, we devoted a couple of days to get to the core issue and make a complete SWOT analysis.
We understood that the Ashram had only volunteers working for them, there was no source of income and I was running only on donations. The donations were irregular and thus the complete operation was in jeopardy, more over the number of elderly people were increasing.
In the name of infrastructure, they had a hall for spiritual discourses, a cow shelter for about 70 odd cows and some farm land, apart from the living area, which was already occupied by the elderly residents.
The aim we got out of the discussions was to make the Ashram self-reliant and self-sustaining, irrespective of the number of residents. So, we needed young staff to work for the elderly people, service and maintain the cow shelter, and utilize the land for farming or any other economic purpose, enabling the Ashram to become independent.
Once the goal was frozen, we started working on the concept note that under the given circumstances, how we would make the fiscal liberation happen?
On doing a lot of research and studies on all aspects of the available resources, we could conclude that the rich source of income could be the cow shelter if exploited in the right fashion and that’s why we called the project “eCOWnomy”. The PlanThe Plan We made list of cow produces and yet another list for the product that could be made out of them and the market which could be created with those products, which in –turn would create the whole COW economy making the Ashram fiscally autonomous.
We have an ancient Indian system based on “PanchGavya” – which are the five products from Cows – namely, milk, curd, ghee (an Indian type of clarified butter), cow dung and cow urine. These five “panchgavya” products are the basis for creation of hundreds of products from medicine to cosmetics, from toiletries to cleansing agents, from bricks to buildings. It a system with a complete ecological balance, 100% organic and not just it is eco-friendly, but it also contribute to nature.
Now in order to make it happen, we need to set up the plant and machinery for the first time, which’ll help them create the products and also we need to create a market for those products, for which we’ve started talking to various NGOs, various departments of Government of India, many five star hotel chains and other institutes.
KVK – Kaushal Vikas Kendra or the Skill Development Centre, was the project that we initiated with the help of many volunteers from the society. It all started from a social gathering for one of our common friends.
We got a in touch with a few young ladies who wanted to work, but they had their own time constraints, as they had kids at home and had just had half of the day free for working. Off course, no commercial entity would work that out. As the ladies were skilled and educated enough we assured them to work out something for them.
Meanwhile, while travelling to North Delhi for some business meetings, our trustee Mr. Naveen Verma, happened to have a situation while driving. He saw some young kids playing around on the road without any guardian or adult attendant and one of them barely escaped an accident. He parked his vehicle to settle the matter and asked the children, if they were going to any school or any other institution. The obvious answer was a big “NO”. By then their parents also arrived, who worked as unskilled laborers at nearby construction sites. The basic reason for not sending kids to any school was also economic.
Now these two incident, made us connect the dots and that’s how the project KVK got created.
We hired a modest size of hall in North Delhi got those ladies to teach voluntarily and utilize their time, energy and knowledge and got these children into skill development totally free of cost. They teach various interesting subjects of vocational studies like arts & crafts, painting, dance, stitching, embroidery etc.
Eventually even the mothers of the kids attending the classes got interested and requested to join the centre, and were permitted in turn. This lead to production of some beautiful handicraft work.
The obvious next step for us was to make them self-reliant. Thus we started searching for a market to sell the produce from the centre. In the quest to find out a suitable seller who could do recurring buying for the produce, we got in touch with two different individuals from entirely different domains and business model.
One of them was a whole seller of carry bags. Since the time, government of India had banned poly bags (polythene based carry bags) there was a substantial demand generate for paper & cloth based bags. This gentleman had a consistent requirement for bags, which was one of the products of our KVK.
The other gentleman, was in a very interesting business model. He used to get handicraft products from the actual craftsmen organize an exhibition is plush localities and get good price for the art. He wanted some of his own designs and build it as a business model, and we had the talent in KVK to get that done, thus it was a marriage of convenience.
Today, our KVK is running on successfully for last 1 Year on completely self-sustaining model.
As we all know that we recently had a disastrous earth quake in Nepal. People from all across the world got shaken with the extent of destruction happen and everyone were contributing for rehabilitation. Being a neighbor ours was a higher moral and social responsibility to work for the cause.
We did a little bit of brainstorming on this and decided to work on this.
The plan was very simple – use social, web & electronic media for collection of donation and propagation of the idea. We got an EDM made from our designer and sent EDM to all our friends and colleague in the IT industry. We were able to arrange for INR 2 lakhs from various donations from across the industry.
We donated the funds to UNICEF for the rehabilitation centre in Nepal.