How SOS lived up to its name in an Assam village
A chance visit by SOS officials changed the future of villagers living in penury
Two square meals a day was a luxury for them. Paying school fees for their children was nearly impossible. Then things changed.
The SOS Children’s Village in Guwahati became an economic messiah for families living on the margins in Nahira, the second largest village of Assam.
A visit by SOS Children’s Village authorities to Jajarbori in 2007 turned the tide for the villagers. SOS officials had brought along children from the Guwahati school to get a feel of the pastoral environment of this agriculture-dominated village. The derelict state of the village school moved SOS officials. “SOS authorities organised a camp at the school three months after their visit to the village and that gave a new lease of life to the students,” says Niranjan Hazarika, a local youth who was animator of the project.
“We selected the poorest of the poor families within a 20-km radius and covered them under the Family Strengthening Programme (FSP). The objective of the project was to prevent children being abandoned by parents because of their battered economic status,” says Subodh Das, in-charge of SOS Children’s Villages, Guwahati. Presently, life has changed for 232 families in Assam who are under the programme.
Initially, to develop infrastructure, SOS provided furniture to the school and books, uniforms, stationery and meals to the students. The outcome of this was dramatic. From 50, the strength of the students shot up to 100. Then SOS took it a step ahead. They gave training to school dropouts to make them self reliant. Training was imparted on the basis of the calibre of the dropouts. So some went into fabric designing and computers, others were taught to drive vehicles. This way, SOS ensured that 107 families became economically self-dependent under their Family Development Plan.
The SOS story does not end here.
It was not just children and dropouts who benefited. As the project came to an end, SOS asked the families how they wanted to earn their livelihood in the years to come. Even some capital money was offered if villagers wanted to start a small business to sustain their families. Most of the villagers were for rearing goats. SOS then gave Rs 14,000 to each of the 36 families to buy goats, Rs 15,000 each to 7 families for pig farming. Others were helped out to start businesses like sewing.
“We brought a breed of goat from Mangaldoi that were being reared there,” Hazarika says. To give them scientific training, SOS took up the matter with Goat Research Station in Burnihat, a part of the Assam Agriculture University. Interested villagers were sent to Burnihat to be trained in goat husbandry. Later on scientists from the station inspected the site before taking the responsibility of management. “The visiting scientists were impressed by the whole-hearted commitment of the families to animal husbandry,” Das says.
The project is under the All India Coordinate Research Project on Goat Improvement. Under this project there are 18 sub centers including in Guwahati. The Assam Hill Goat Field Unit under the Guwahati Sub Center has four units at Batabari, Khetri, Nahira and Tepesia. Every unit has 200 breed-able animals. 'The objective of the project is development of selective breeding to propagate the local breed,” Naba Nahar Deka, a scientist with the Goat Research who is project in-charge says.
Scientists from Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) and New Delhi have also visited the village to document the rearing of goats. “We sell the male kids. Those that look healthy are castrated. Minor veterinary care is provided by Niranjan Hazarika, who is in constant touch with us,” they said.
As a further incentive, nine women are handpicked every year to visit Mathura, home to the Central Institute for Research on Goats. So far, three batches of women have been to Mathura. Selection of villagers from Mangaldoi, Tepesia and Tetelia are also made for the yearly visit. “We are taught the scientific way to rear goats and this has paid off for us,” Bhanu Kalita, a beneficiary under the project, said.
For villagers who were once living on the edge, SOS has given them a future. Like, Bharati Kalita, a widow, says. "We owe a lot to the project of SOS because it gave us the opportunity to make a decent living."
(Kishore Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. His areas of interest include Development journalism and Environment journalism. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )