Rashtriya Sewa Bharati Passion for training activists and building organizations
By Shyam Parande
A bright but shy looking young boy of 9, I walked into while I was visiting Shanti Niketan—a free hostel run by Sewa Bharati Himachal Pradesh in the panoramic Dadsai, some 100 kms off Shimla, stunned me when he revealed that it was his first bus ride of life and that he had never seen a bus before he boarded one for Dadsai. He had to walk some 20 kms down the hills to hit the road for boarding a bus. “Am I living in 1908 or am I in 2008,” I pinched myself before I believed the boy. How the hell this young boy missed the buzz of modernity, leave alone missing the first look at a “bus”.
However, for a change, the boy had arrived in the hostel and was admitted to the nearby school and that assured me of his future. That brought me to some more prodding on my part. How does someone reach the remotest village to pick up this boy? Who did the job and how did this person convince the villagers that the boy would be taken care of and get educated? Why the parents of the boy did trust this person?
My probe led me to some consoling and convincing responses. But for the motivation, and the training of the activist, that he received from Rashtriya Sewa Bharati (RSB), this would not have happened. Without the motivation he would not have walked up the 20 kms “uphill task” to reach the village! Without the training the activist could have failed in impressing and influencing the minds of the boy’s parents and the villagers who trusted his words!
I started looking into more such experiences and was astonished to find that this did not happen only in the picturesque Himachal Pradesh but is happening across all the states of Bharat. The more I try to probe the more revealing it is.
I was listening to the experience of a lady full timer, Sewavrati as they are known, from Tamil Nadu. She narrated the action in one of the Self Help Groups (SHGs) in Kanyakumari district wherein more than 3000 SHGs are being managed by women under Sewa Bharati. In a village called Thirparappu the SHG comprised of 18 women members belonging to one particular caste and two members from another caste. Caste divisions in rural areas are distinct and divide society many a times. The caste association wanted the less represented caste women to be removed from the SHG. The activists who were running the SHG refused bluntly to budge. The caste association tried to play the other card of tempting them with an interest-free loan of Rs one lakh against removal of the two women belonging to the other caste. The SHG members turned down this offer and defied any discrimination in the name of caste among them. This is something unheard of otherwise in that part of the country in a village.
I visited Assam last May and had an opportunity to talk to a group of youth working as Arogya Rakshaks in the North Eastern states. This was probably the most convincing experience for me. A young lady Arogya Rakshak who had completed the training of 21 days duration saved a patient’s life who had a severe health problem. She first tried to treat the patient with whatever medicine was available to her in the kit and then decided to take the patient to the district centre to an expert doctor. The timely action saved the life as the problem might have been fatal, informed the expert doctor.
The case of Manjunath, a paraplegic boy whose parents, relatives and neighbours had lost hope on, is today a guide to many other handicapped or differently able children. The transmutation was possible because of the sustained efforts of dedicated women Sewavratis in Bengaluru and the experts who involved Manjunath’s family as well as school teachers from the village. Everyone around was bleak about the future of this young kid when the Seva-in-Action, an associate organisation of RSB, started working with the kid to rehabilitate him. And lo, the boy is up and moving and working and encouraging many others with physical disabilities.
Why did the Seva-in-Action activists and the Sewavratis at all go to the village to find out Manjunath through a survey? When everyone around including his own parents was hopeless why did they accept the challenge? Obviously, they were fired with the idea of serving selflessly. Obviously, they are inspired by the lives of some famous personalities. Obviously, they were motivated. Obviously, they were trained for the job unlike others. Obviously, they continue to work tirelessly for the society for decades.
The job of picking up the raw volunteers from the society, orienting and motivating them to serve the society, providing the training for the required jobs, developing the skill sets of the person to suit the tasks, utilising the best in a person towards social service and that too voluntarily, is being carried out by Rashtriya Sewa Bharati.
Promoting voluntarism in the days of “professionalism” is a huge challenge, one might think, but RSB can state proudly that the youth of Bharat are eager to volunteer their time and talent, given an opportunity and orientation. Good number of youths has joined and is devoting their time despite the professional pressure on them, despite the educational challenges they face. Well, one cannot also negate that the corporate sector is encouraging their personnel to volunteer, the colleges and the universities wish their students serve the society.
Every voluntary organisation faces certain problems which can be foreseen and yet for the individual organisation, tackling these is most difficult. RSB has a pool of experts who can help out in such situations and provide the consultation. To enlist a few common problems here will be worth. Preparing project proposals, building resources—both human, financial and expertise, training and orienting volunteers, assessing the projects, analyzing the challenges, involving communities, preparing flyers & brochures & handouts and such public relations activity, are some of the problems and challenges that every social service organisation faces, irrespective of the size of the organisation.
Sewa Sadhana the annual publication of the RSB provides a window for the organisations to present their achievements. Every issue of Sewa Sadhana highlights one dimension or the other. Urban slum programmes, some inspiring experiences in serving society, rural development were certain issues that Sewa Sadhana presented in last couple of years. These issues have been received by many with admiration. They are published in both Hindi and English for maximum outreach.
(The writer is presently International Coordinator of Sewa International and has an experience of three decades in the voluntary sector.)