By Kavitha Srinivasa
Miitti has been conceptualized to scale up the quality of rural life. Sustenance is the driving force of the NGO, which focuses on engaging youth to work for Rural India.
As a student pursuing chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, Lokesh Meena along with his team got an opportunity to visit Ralegan, a village near Pune. The project has led to farmer interactions. Those fleeting moments made a lasting impression. “I didn’t want to work in corporate India, as I had made up my mind to do my bit for farmers,” affirmed Lokesh.
Understandably, Lokesh has to begin somewhere and so he worked with a service based startup between 2014 and 2016. Though he was part of a startup, he didn’t lose sight of his vision. Rural India remains his calling. In his own way, he began to research on villages. It was evident that many farmers across states lacked the wherewithal; Lokesh felt he could learn from villages that were better off than Ralegan. For a clearer understanding he visited Hiware Bazar, a village in Ahmednagar, Pune and networked with Popat Rao Pawar, its sarpanch. Lokesh saw agrarian life in close quarters, which has been a revelation.
Several visits to Hiware Bazar revealed many pleasant truths. Hiware Bazar is a model prosperous village. The fate of its people has changed as they tapped government schemes to make use their natural resources. So the forests, watershed and soil have been fully utilized, against the backdrop of a strong village body.
Ralegan, however, is a sharp contrast. “Many farmers were earning Rs 30,000 per annum as they didn’t know about advanced farming techniques,” he recalled. With little choice, farmers had to rely on local consultants whose guidance became expensive. Strangely, the village is progressive in other areas like waste water management and rainwater harvesting. The fact that farmers couldn’t access web based information in a place which is otherwise advanced is the turning point. Lokesh and the team have set out to mend many broken links.
He has moved out of the startup to concentrate on rural India. This led him into the NGO space. A beginning was made in 2016 when he along with likeminded people launched Miitti. With Hiware Bazar as an inspiration, Lokesh has decided to turnaround the life of the villagers in his home-turf Rajasthan. The Mumbai-based NGO stamped its maiden footprint in Jhali Ji ka Barana, Bundi, 70 km from Kota in Rajasthan.
‘Projected Nation’ a piloted project has been launched in Bundi district, whose immediate concern is agriculture and education. Hence, the NGO has launched two projects, SMAL and KC in Rajasthan’s villages — Barana, Sambhariya and Udaipura. SMAL or the short form of Mini Smart Libraries is to inculcate reading habits among students. KC or Kisaan Corner tries to improve farmer’s lives.
As both projects are underway, Lokesh has been able to gauge the situation. Projected Nation has been renamed as ‘Miitti Smart Library’ (MSL) Miitti’s visionary project. This is expected to evolve into a flagship project which will be initiated in the village.
MSL is a platform for focus domains like Education, Sports, Employment, and Agriculture. “As per plans we have already started activities in the Education and Agriculture. Heading to our vision we are now conceptualizing plans for Sports and Employment along with the execution of SMAL and KC,” he added.
Farmers are the immediate concern, a priority which has led to Kisaan Corner (KC). This information hub takes into account farmer’s interest and offers solutions for their basic field problems. The application of technology, agricultural practices and employment opportunities hope to lead farmers towards sustenance and potential development.
Many farmers didn’t know about Government schemes like Soil Health Card (SHC) which assesses the current status of soil health. Likewise Kisaan Credit Card (KCC) offers financial support to farmers. “'There is at least one Smartphone in every house in our village, but no one knows how to use it for agricultural related information. Our Sarpanch told us about the Miitti's Kisaan Corner platform, whose information is useful for farmers,” said Suresh Jat from Sambhariya village.
Miitti aims to start sports club in villages. “We plan to provide awareness to create an enthusiastic atmosphere for sports within the surroundings,” added Lokesh, who felt that sports can be an employment option. Youngsters are trained in football and athletics to become coaches. There are 15 such coaches.
The idea of coaching being a career option sprung up when summer camps have been conducted for students at the primary, intermediate and secondary level of government schools in Bundi. Over 130 students participated in various activities. “'It is really fun to see animations of textbook contents. It stays longer in memory and helps in scoring good marks as well. Also we get other readings books then the textbooks at the library,” said Amit Sharma, a class VII student of the Government Sr Sec School, Sambhariya sharing his experience
Kabaddi for boys and Kho-Kho for girls have been introduced. Physical Training Instructors (PTIs) from the village assisted Kabaddi. Football and Frisbee are part of the agenda.
Besides sports there is also a dance workshop. The summer camp urged students to do informative projects on Seeds and Leaves Collection and Things missing in the Village. This set them thinking.
Clearly students wanted to study, and if possible, get exposure to things outside their textbooks. “We would like to train young students to become independent and self sufficient,” explained Lokesh.
SMAL’s presence in these villages hopes to make learning easier, interactive, flexible and more accessible. The content, in sync with state and NCERT syllabus, is provided to students free of cost.
So far, around 700 students are being benefitted by SMAL, wherein 400 are from Sambhariya, 180 from Barana and remaining ones from Udaipura. “SMAL is a great approach to kindle interest among students. Use of visuals along with books is definitely more effective than the traditional methods of teaching,” added Mukesh Kumar, a teacher in the Government Sr Sec School, Udaipura.
Apart from this, Miitti has also tried to kindle the entrepreneurial spirit among the village folk. A career counselling event has been organized in Bundi, supported by government officials of Kota. Speakers with a background in engineering, medicine, commerce, law, defense and civil services shared their views. Teachers and 400 students have participated, of which 180 are girls.
Miitti has organized a gram camp in Sambhariya under its village development plan. Personality development, a key concern happens through education, sports and cultural activities. An interaction with villagers revealed basic problems such as waste management, drainage and dustbin usage. The NGO along with the students has organized an awareness drive. Students enacted dramas to covey social messages like tree plantation and the significance of education.