“This is the first time that kids themselves change the scope of a rural village in India, in an area – Bundelkhand – which is known for its resistance to change and its tremendous poverty. I’ve never seen a village changing so fast!” said Mehmood Khan when he returned to Janwaar after nine months last week.
Mehmood is my guide for the change process we’ve started almost a year ago when the construction of the Janwaar Castle skatepark began. He is a well-known change agent in India and he has decades of experience when it comes to innovation. Last year at Christmas when he was in Janwaar the vibes and energy of the village were pretty much like in any rural village in India. There was no hope. No work. No fun. Villagers were following their daily routines and struggling to survive. Yes, there was some kind of suspicion in the air because of our ongoing construction work – the villagers didn’t know what was going on. And even when we would have told them about the skatepark project – none of them would have understood. Even the local stakeholders weren’t very clear about the project but to their credit I have to say they trusted and supported me. So when Mehmood and I walked around in Janwaar late in December last year and spoke with the villagers and the stakeholders of the project – it looked like a long way to go and many hurdles to overcome until we would spark interest and drive change.
But all this has changed.
The Janwaar children have changed their village in the last six months. The children who initially whiled away their time aimlessly and skipped school and often indulged in chewing tobacco, smoking and drinking and had a lack of respect for each other in general abusing violently, now work together and believe that there is something for them that could shape their future. The positive energy they bring in with their activities around the skatepark trigger their parents, their teachers and everyone who is there! The principal of the nearby government school said: “The skatepark has really helped the kids – they are clean, follow a routine and are cordial in their behaviour. They now want to be champions of a sport they never heard about one year before. We see a lot of social change with kids moving in and out for competitions in the village.If this continues it will bring change in other nearby villages, block, district and even in the entire province. Kids have a lot of potential here – be it academics, sports or painting. Its just their circumstances that drive them to become labourers. We believe in this approach and would be happy to keep supporting this initiative.” I never thought that this was possible in such a short period of time …. a rural village in Bhundelkhand has started a wonderful journey and bursted into life.
So this was the right time to enlarge our circle beyond the children and involve all stakeholders, teachers and villagers to discuss Janwaar’s urgent problems and the potential for solutions. I invited Mehmood to conduct a (design-thinking) workshop with all of them. Just like we did in Patha two and a half years ago. The workshop took place last week. We’ve held it at the far end of our skatepark under our huge tree – the spot which also suited so well during our summer camp. A diverse group of people participated: surprisingly many women of all ages, the teachers and the principal of the school, many of the children and the usual crowd of male villagers who hardly work but have the say.
The process was collaborative in all phases. In small groups of 4-6 people they were asked to write down their main problems in their own words. Every group presented the results afterwards – and slowly our tree – which was providing shadow on very hot October days – was functioning as a bulletin board.
After three hours of hard work we were losing the villagers’ attention and all of us were ready for a break. So we collected the chart papers and translated and summarized what was written on them in the afternoon. Below is the list of the chief problems the villagers identified:
- Unemployment and poverty
- Scarcity of water for irrigation and consumption
- Inefficiencies and corruption in government officials at an operating level in various areas of farmers interface
- Lack of secondary, higher secondary and technical education
- Lack of cooperation with the Forest Department with respect to forest boundaries
The second day was “solution” day – Mehmood explained the villagers what we’ve done in summarizing the problems and he was trying to get them into “solution” mode. Again they were intensely working in small groups, discussing and writing down potential solutions. Co-creation has started. At the end each group presented their solutions and all of them were debated and evaluated. At the end we’ve had the following five suggestions on which we were planning to focus.
- Setting up a Farmers Producers Company (FPO) to create a critical mass of farmers to generate employment and economic activities.
- Request the government to create a second water reservoir for the village.
- Create an interface through the collector to get various government schemes delivered to the farmers. eg. meeting of agricultural officers with the farmers.
- Request to the member of parliament to get approval for the 10+2 school and skill development initiatives.
- Installation of fencing around all the fields of the villagers to avoid damage of crops.
A funny thing happened at the end of day 2. A woman stood up and basically said, that they’ve now all said what they need and now she asked me to get it done 🙂 And she left with a smile on her face.
If it were all that easy …
Finally at our last day our goal was to bring all the solutions together into what we call an action plan – a joint venture of all the stakeholders and villagers. The action plan includes the necessary actions to be taken and by whom and when they will be taken. And at the end Mehmood – as a symbolic act – took the oath from everyone to follow the plan. We were very lucky at this day, a couple of coincidences happened and fueled the process with positive energy.
First on our way to Janwaar we’ve met postgraduates from an agriculture university in Rewa, a city 150 km from Panna. They are doing their field work in Janwaar. We invited all of them to the workshop, including their professor and the official from the Panna Agriculture Department who accompanied them. All of a sudden we’ve had access to all the farmers and to the details of the land. The second very helpful coincidence was that the entire management of the close by Taj Safari Hotel came – they’ve been to the government school the day before and the principal has told them about the skatepark and our activities. They were so surprised to find a skatepark in the middle of nowhere and immediately understood the potential it has to offer. So they’ve decided to join the team and showed up with a very clear vision of what they can contribute (see further down in the action plan). And their medical officer immediately initiated his work by explaining the children the first aid box I’ve brought in from Germany. In the future he will hold periodically first aid workshops to train and prepare the kids for accident cases and he also committed himself to be available for medical emergencies. And thirdly Vini, my landlord and son of the member of parliament for the district in which Janwaar is located, encouraged the farmers to join forces and get things done – he envisioned the solution on how to do the fencing and how to strengthen the farmers in all their activities. Furthermore he will file an application for a higher secondary (10+2) school – because many families can not afford to send their kids to Panna for higher education. So our action day really turned out to be empowering and everyone could feel it.
My job now is basically the job of a project manager.
I will bring together all the people needed and I follow up where needed.
I truly feel we’ve reached a point where we can bring this village and the surrounding area to the next level and that all the causes on our action plan are within reach.
A huge thank you to the kids of Janwaar Castle – its them who bursted the village into life!