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DEVIPUR EXPERIMENT : Fourth Report: Two more achievements

October 25, 2010

A. Earlier reports:

Please click the following links to see the earlier reports on this experiment:

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/joydhak-workshop-at-devipur-in-the-sunderbans-–-may’30-2010/

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/the-devipur-experiment-follow-up-workshop-on-11th-july-2010/

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/the-devipur-experiment-report-3—15th-august-2010-the-first-tangible-results/

B. Recap:

Location :

the location

A Sunderbans village named Devipur, on the bank of the river Thakurani in South 24 pgs of West Bengal, India.

Aim of the experiment:

Economic development of the village by optimum utilization of available resources, both material as well as human, available in the village and its surrounding area, involving residents of both genders and imbibing self-confidence and courage among the residents, especially the younger generation.

Background:

The Viswasuk Shevashram Sangha, a philanthropic organisation from Ichhapur, North 24 Pgs, West Bengal, has a small branch at Devipur , around 150 Kilometers away from Ichhapur. The economic conditions of the already poor village took a nosedive after being hit by the terrible cyclone Ayla some time ago.

The Ashram authorities wanted to start a revival activity at this village. On a specific request from the Ashram authorities the experiment was started from end of May 2010 at Devipur by an expert team comprising Debjyoti Bhattacharyya, Arindam Debnath and two Ashram Representatives viz. Sri Makhan Maharaj and Sri Shankar Mandal.

Methodology being followed:

a. On the spot assessment of needs, resources and capabilities

b. Assisting the local people in understanding their own requirement and in devising (by themselves) suitable strategies to achieve them.

c. Setting up milestones for implementation of such strategies and ensuring that participants stick to the schedule

d. Providing limited marketing and HRD assistance when such requirements arise.

e. Periodic evaluation of progress and providing guidance to participants in devising suitable modifications to their own strategies.

Results achieved till date:

1.      They have formed a self help group named Sunderban Vishwasuk Swanirbhar Goshthi with the women of ten families willing to participate in the experiment.

2.      The men have started a small enterprise of packaging locally available spices and honey. For this purpose the villagers have pooled a small initial capital from their own resources. No external fund has been provided.

3.      The Shevashram Sangha has opened a sales outlet for these products at their Ichhapur Premises.

4.      The women have arranged for a tailoring instructor from a nearby place and have started a tailoring class for themselves. The Vishwasuk Sevashram Authorities have provided them with requisite space and two old sewing machines for that purpose.

C. A new scheme introduced:

The agriculture in the village is highly dependent on large doses of chemical fertilizers which are expensive as well as harmful. In view of this, the Adult education centre of the University of Kalyani was contacted and with the active help from Prof Jiban Sarkar (Retd) of Bidhanchandra agricultural University, Kalyani, 4 of the villagers were given hands-on training in the techniques of vermicomposting.

The two-days course  was conducted by Prof Sarkar at Kalyani, in the first week of October’2010. The training fees of Rs 300 per head as well as the board and lodging of the trainees were borne by the Sevashram Authorities. The trained villagers were given the responsibility of starting  a vermicomposte farm in the village. The Ashram authorities would provide the requisite land for this purpose.

In this matter our expert group is thankful to Smt Sanchita Ghosh of “Concern India” who was kind enough to provide the necessary contacts.

D. Report of latest field visit to Devipur

The latest field trip to Devipur was organised on 10th October’2010.

The aims of the trip were

(a) to visit the tailoring training facility created by the villagers, evaluate its performance, to meet  its women participants  and discuss, in situ, the various problems as well as suggestions for better performance of the facility.

(b) to inaugurate the Vermicomposte farm and prescribe achievement milestones.

(c) to resolve the problem of manning of the sales outlet at Ichhapur through a tripartite discussion among the Ashram Authorities, the villager and the expert group.

The visiting team comprised the followings:

The expert advisor team:

Debjyoti Bhattacharyya, Arindam Debnath

The Ashram Team:

Sri Makhan Maharaj, Sri Shankar Mandal, Smt Aradhana Bhattacharyya, Sri Pashupati ,

Guest participants:

Sri Prosenjit Chakroborti, Sri Santanu Bandyopadhyay

The Trip to Devipur:

On 10th October, three of us were picked up from Barrackpore railway station by a hired vehicle. Pashupati and Makhan Maharaj were already there in the vehicle. Rest of the members joined us from various locations along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

Our car then veered east, left the neighbourhood of the Metropolis and dived into the Sub-urban Bengal. Within two hours we were beyond the township of Baruipur and were once again hurtling through the ill maintained  village roads towards the tiger terrains of Sunderbans.

This time there was a change in the route. After “Priyo-r More” T- junction, the vehicle left the straight road, took a right turn and  within an hour we reached the small riverside village of Dhaki on the bank of Thakurani. An unbroken chain of Mangroves greeted us from the other bank of the river. There, hidden somewhere amongst those swampy forests of Bani, Sundari and Garan, stood Devipur, our destination.

It was high-tide time. Our overcrowded country boat chugged its way through the slightly choppy waters of the river. At places the boat was almost brushing past the branches of some mangroves invading the river. After sometime  the boat changed its course and within a short while we were on the other side of the river.

A motorized cycle van was waiting for us there. A narrow ribbon of a road meandered in front through a confused landscape of river, mud and mangroves overlapping one another in a surreal harmony. This last leg of our journey proved to be the shortest yet bumpiest. However, once we reached our destination, the warm greeting we received from the villagers compensated well for all the tribulations of a challenging road.

The days’ work:

1. The Tailoring section:

The hitherto empty corridor of the Ashram building at Devipur was now agog with activities. Many women and girls were sitting around two sewing machines. Tinkling of trinkets, dashes of colors from their sarees and floating pieces of words spoken in sing-song voices all these were mingling together and giving rise to an almost festive environ in that darkish clay and bamboo structure.

A blue clad lady rose from beside one machine and came forward to greet us. She introduced herself as Lakshmi Mistri, the Sewing instructor for the girls.

Lakshmi Samanta, the trainer

During the evaluation session that followed, it was seen that the ten trainee ladies aged between 17 to 35 had already achieved some expertise in cutting and stitching of four items, namely Basic Salwar kameez, ladies’ inner gown (locally known as Saya) penny frocks and midi gowns. When asked they immediately brought in some samples of their works.

Fashioned from some old pieces of cloths, the dress materials were reasonably well made. The expression of achievement written on the faces of the ladies while displaying their works was quite satisfactory. Two enthusiastic girls changed into the salwar kurta stitched by themselves and came forward with shy but beaming faces for a photo session.

The girls and women of Devipur displaying their work

It may be recalled that the decision of starting the tailoring training facility was taken sometime in July and two second hand machines were provided to the villagers only in August’2010. The above progress was achieved by the group of uninitiated village girls within a time span of less than two months only. The entire visiting group congratulated the trainees as well as their instructor for this achievement in so short a time with the help of two old , rickety machines only.

The evaluation session was followed by an interaction session among the trainees, their instructor, the Ashram authorities. This was moderated by the expert group.

During the session, the trainees placed their requirements through their instructor. She was well prepared with her observation and demands. The following demands were placed:

(1)   They need a proper, well-lit training room as the makeshift training arrangement at the corridor is not conducive.

(2)   They need proper cutting tables, sitting arrangements for the trainees and proper placement arrangement for the machines.

(3)   They need a proper board for teaching the drawings.

(4)   The two available machines are defective. They need to be repaired to avoid false stitches that result in wastage of time as well as material.

(5)   Number of machines is highly inadequate. It needs be immediately increased.

(6)   They need standard shape-scales for proper cutting.

(7)   They need a supply of old cloths for practicing and learning exercises and new cloths for producing usable items for which they have already learnt the cutting and stitching.

(8)   The trainee ladies were finding it difficult to find time for training during the daylight hours as they had to remain busy in their daily chores. As the place did not have any electricity, it would be helpful if a solar light could be arranged in the training room so that they could work after dark.

Decisions and observations:

1. The Ashram authorities immediately allotted one half of the only brick structure available in the Ashram premises for establishing the training room.

Makhan Maharaj with the trainee ladies inside the newly allotted room that will become a proper training facility soon

The room , though sturdily built, was found to be dark due to absence of proper windows. It was decided that the villagers would put four big windows on its walls. The Ashram authorities would bear the expenses.

2. Regarding sitting arrangements and cutting board, it was decided that instead of purchasing costly wooden furnitures the villagers would create the sitting arrangements and the housing for the cutting board with bamboo poles fixed on the clay-floor of the room. A thick ply-board will be used as the cutting board. The expenses so incurred would be borne by the Ashram Authorities.

3. Regarding the Drawing board and the shape scales Mr. Santanu Bandyopadhyay, the guest participant  in the field trip promised to provide the same.

4. Regarding more sewing machines, Sri Prosenjit Chakroborti, another guest participant, promised one machine within the month, Sri Ashish Sarkar, a follower of this blog has also promised Rs 10000. It was decided to purchase another machine from that money. Finally, the Ashram authorities also promised another second hand machine which would be properly repaired before sending to the village from the Ashram.

5. It was also decided that the villagers would immediately arrange to repair the defects of  the available machines and make them functional.

6. The Ashram authorities would also provide enough old cloths for the practices. However, new cloths for producing usable items would be required to be procured by the villagers themselves. Initially they would produce goods that would fulfill their own needs. They would then produce for the neighbouring villages and the men would help in marketing them by door to door hawking. Only after these two stages would come the stage for commercial marketing of the items.

7.Regarding Solar lighting, it was discussed and found that it would not be possible at that stage as it involved an investment of at least Rs. 20,000.(approximately USD 450) which is quite substantial and difficult for the Ashram to bear at this stage.

Through this blog it is being appealed to the larger community of readers to contribute whatever possible for this solar lighting project. You can contact Sri Shankar Mandal ((91)9007422880. email:  spmondal@ymail.com ) for details.

The target date  for implementing decisions 1 to 6 above was fixed at 10th November’2010.

2. The vermi-compost project

The four villagers who were trained at the Adult education centre of University of Kalyani in the process of vermicomposting were found to have prepared the first vermicomposting bed which was kept ready for our inspection. A longish shed , erected on the Ashramland has been prepared for being used as the vermicompost farm whereas the composting pits would be placed just beyond the shed.

Inauguration of the Vermi compost project

The farm was inaugurated by Hon’ble Sri Makhan Maharaj.

It was decided to start with one thousand earthworms for which the villagers would arrange funds and the target date for introducing this first batch of worms was fixed at 15th November’2010.

It was also planned to add more beds every two months.

The third target was that after gathering first hand experience in vermicompost production for next six months, the trained villagers would start vermicompost training programme for the benefit of others , on 15th April’2010.

It was also decided that for the initial period the vermicompost so produced will go to satisfy the requirement of the families of the members of the Self help group.

3. A problem statement and solution mechanism suggested

The Sevashram runs a school for children of poor families at their Ichhapur premises. Many of its students are provided with hostel facilities. After the inauguration of the sales outlet at Ichhapur , it was suggested that services of such students should be utilised for running the outlet. The Ashram Authority initially agreed but the experience of last two months has showed that the Ashram authorities have totally failed to provide this manpower. As a result the business of the sales outlet is suffering.

On the other hand, as the village and the sales outlet are separated by a very difficult stretch of 150 KM, It is also not possible for the villagers to commute daily to run the outlet.

The problem was raised by both the sides, i.e. the villagers as well as the Ashram Authorities to our expert team during the expert team’s field visit on 10th October’2010.

The suggested solution mechanism:

We found that there are a number of  young individuals in the village whose education donot progress beyond secondary level due to remoteness and poverty. Some of them were seen to be quite capable of absorbing advanced education. After a discussion on the matter it was suggested that one such volunteer would be chosen from the village who would stay in the Ichhapur Ashram premises and look after the sales outlet there. In exchange, he would pursue further education at Ashram expenses. Ichhapur being closer to the Metropolis of Kolkata, the volunteer would get a better opportunity to educate himself.

The proposal was found acceptable by both the sides and it was decided that it should be implemented within 15th November’2010. In the meantime Mr. Pashupati, one inmate of the Ichhapur Premises of the Ashram was given the charge of the Sales outlet till the volunteer from Devipur takes over.

In this context Sri Makhan Maharaj pointed out that during Deepavali a huge gathering takes place at the Ichhapur Ashram premises and the villagers should take this opportunity for achieving a substantial sale of their products during that time. It was informed by Sukharanjan that they have been already preparing themselves keeping that date in mind. The results will be reported in due course.

Postscript

On our long way back, the issue of replication of the experiment was discussed. Now that the Devipur Experiment is steadily under way, the next target area was decided to be in East Medinipur. Sometime in next spring we shall start the first steps towards replicating the Devipur experiment in a selected village there.

The Devipurites also hinted at their interests in getting the project replicated locally in neighbouring areas. The matter will be examined and analysed to decide whether to get this replication done through the Devipurites under indirect guidance from the expert group or to conduct the replication experiment through the Shevashram directly as is being done at Devipur. Let us wait for the developments in near future.

Last but not the least, I would take this opportunity to introduce to you the two brave ladies, Laxmi Sutar, the experienced President and  Krishna Roy, the young and energatic  Secretary of the Organisation (Sundervan Bishwasuk Swanirbhar Gosthi),  who are providing a very capable leadership to the people of  Devipur in their endeavour to change their own lives for better. Here’s their photograph:

Laxmi Sutar and Krishna Roy (Left to right)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. D.D.Rishi permalink
    October 26, 2010 10:55

    Great job. Keep it up.

  2. November 17, 2010 18:20

    Hey very nice blog!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds
    also…

  3. Asish Sarkar permalink
    November 21, 2010 08:40

    Missed a great opportunity to be part of this interesting trip specially since I was there in Kolkata on personal business. Pleased to see progress on all areas……thanks to the team. It is so inspiring to see Devipur is moving ahead to stand on its own feet. Debjoyti……good work indeed.

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