Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Sunday 22 September 2013

Respect as a basis for help

The Indian Sashwat NGO received in 2012 the Equator Prize. Based on the UNDP case study (United Nations Development Programme. 2013. Shashwat, India. Equator Initiative Case Study Series. New York, NY), we retell the story from the perspective of one of the founders sharing with other NGOs how Sashwat could add value to the official resettlement arrangements of the Indian government. 

Strategic Story Elements
Target audience: other NGOs
Key point: respect as a basis for helping communities to help themselves improve their life
Conflict: displacement of villages after construction of a dam
Hero: Ms Kusum Karnik
 desparation, illiteracy and apathy of displaced tribal communities  

"It is important to understand that those who have lived with the forest for centuries and preserved the forest for centuries are the best people to know how to conserve it, how to use it, and how to take care of it. Without them, who knows the forest?” In her colorful sari, Ms Kusum Karnik a strong local NGO leader with an academic background, tells about the ancient culture, the traditions and tribal life in rural Maharashtra, India.

She then tells with passion how the construction of a large dam disrupted the life of many villages in areas that would be flooded. She tells about the damage to nature. How helpless, desperate and hopeless the people felt when they had to move. She explains that she decided to take up the challenge of dealing with the apathy and engaging the affected illiterate tribal farmers in positive action. "Traditionally we believe that one must respect the people one works with. Vision and mission are not written on a board somewhere high above an office, they are discussed; and the values we believe in – fraternity, equality, freedom, justice, truth, love of fellow human beings, and valuing physical labour – are often brought up regarding day-to-day matters, thus keeping this spirit alive.”

Based on this philosophy of respect, equity and equality Ms Karnik continues, she founded with others the Sashwat organization to help the displaced communities with concrete actions that could improve their situation. Over the years - with the support of national and international donors - she helped to set up small-scale fishing activities in the dam reservoir, improve farming on the remaining cultivatable land. She supported farmers with the paperwork to secure their new land. She then extended the work to education and health care for women and children. Through all these efforts she mobilized a great number of men and women from the village to assist her in helping villagers to help themselves and improve the life of the resettled communities.

Today families have new livelihoods and better prospects through education. The remaining forests are being conserved and the ecosystems restored.

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