I really should finish writing this piece before thinking about the last year, and greeting the new, becomes totally redundant. Somehow the transition to the new year becomes truly real by now – the (few) greeting cards start to arrive in post, complementary calendars begin to unfurl, diaries and planners start appearing on the table and most of all Jitendra comes with a fresh list of holidays to be approved for the year!! As in the past few years I hosted our annual new year Vimarsh meeting at home where a lot of us sat around with hot chai and snacks and talked about the year gone by and the year ahead for Aajeevika. This has become one of the really important conversations we have as a team – liberated as it is from a fixed structure or agenda but still full of purpose.
As always it is difficult to sum up the year gone by but I guess “satisfying” comes closest the overall sense it leaves behind. Three new initiatives stand out and have brought great excitement and energy all around.
Firstly, our work with women of migrant households where they are organised as Ujala Samoohs became truly significant. Every rural block where Aajeevika works, witnessed the emergence of Ujala Samoohs that become rapidly visible on the landscape of typically male governed Panchayats and local administration. An inspiring cadre of women leaders – Ujala Kirans – have become prominent and assertive in demanding MGNREGS work, ensuring ration shops are being run properly, Anganwadi-s are opening and Panchayat meetings are not being held without active presence and participation of women. The mobilisation of women is particularly strong in Aspur, Gogunda and Kelwara and it has started to grow rapidly in Salumbar and Kherwada where this work only just began. Most women who are enrolled as members of Ujala Samooh are also wage workers even though they do not themselves migrate long distance. MGNREGS is a very important potential contributor to their household economy, which is heavily dependent on remittances from the male migrant worker in Gujarat or further afield. I believe the Ujala Samooh mobilisation will become a solid framework for our “source end” work – and not just merely as an instrument of delivering “project services” for the well-known and often misused ease of bringing women together!
Secondly, in the year gone by we were able to launch our much awaited health services initiative – now known as AMRIT. AMRIT bridges a huge gap between shocking health and nutrition status in high migration areas and the almost negligible availability of public health services. The model is new for our region – it provides high quality yet low cost clinical services in remote tribal villages in addition to addressing the very causes of recurrent sickness and hunger, especially among children. AMRIT has been made real with the arrival of our friend and colleague (who is also a Trustee of Aajeevika’s) Dr Pavitra Mohan who brings with him solid public health experience as well as a single minded devotion to getting the health piece right. Within a short period of one year AMRIT is on a high road – starting from tribal Salumbar it has already made an entry in Idar (north Gujarat) where vast numbers of poor agriculture workers live dispersed and unattended. AMRIT can well become a game-changer in years to come, not just on Aajeevika’s playing field of serving migrant households but also in making an impact on the health status of impoverished communities.
Thirdly, and on a slightly different note, we undertook our most ambitious offering to other civil society organisations. The CMLS team successfully designed and ran a full 9 day Certificate Course in Migration Services and Labour Protection in partnership with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai. The certificate programme went far beyond being a training course – it dwelled on theoretical perspectives, political economy and approaches in response to the phenomenon of seasonal migration for work. The programme selected a group of 15 participants from NGOs across the country and brought to them a range of reputed faculty from academia, practice and policy. The TISS partnership – and the Tata Trust’s generous support – made the programme a terrific success and has given us the confidence of doing this regularly, every year, refining of course its content and delivery as we go along.
Several other promising developments made their mark on the year – STEP Academy came out of a period of sluggish numbers and went viral in Saabla – a far off location on the border of Dungarpur and Banswara where a large number of youth (especially girls) have already started to walk in to be trained; LEAD cell’s cadre of para-legal workers are becoming a powerful presence in the community otherwise bereft of legal advise and aid; RSSA’s financial services work got off to a much awaited and healthy start in Salumbar having reached an assured stability in Gogunda, the Ahmedabad team finally completed the registration of the strong Hamaal Union, Kherwada created a huge collective of construction workers within a few months and so on so forth. The Finance and Admin team made its processes even more efficient despite the extraordinary load and came through impeccably in external audits and reveiws.
Our losses were humbling too – we could not save our relationship with the Jaipur Construction Workers’ Union and couple of key field centres became bereft of their Coordinators bringing great uncertainty to the team and core operations.
As always the year was made special by our team – whose single-mindedness at work, modesty and ability to adapt is as inspiring as their lusty singing and dancing! Several found new things to do in other locations – and some departures were as unexpected as they were frustrating – yet Rahul’s, Kapil’s and Mahesh bhai’s presence in the staff camp told me that we have a community everywhere. Our Trustees came together for what must be our most significant meeting in recent years – we presented to them the plans and perspectives for the next 5 years and got stern warnings, rich feedback and insightful suggestions. Thanks to you all – but I have to mention Jagdeep and Vanita particularly whose regular return to Udaipur this year brought a sense of strong assurance and advise to me.
So much to do this year too – we’re falling behind on our policy work, Jaipur needs urgent attention, several new and eager colleagues are here and will require careful induction and mentorship, older colleagues need to re-energise themselves and we need to reach out to several other organisations and alliances to create a louder and more powerful voice for migrant workers.
We’ve been bestowed with a uniquely supportive group of donors – Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Human Dignity Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, EdelGive Foundation and most recently the IKEA Foundation have helped us remain faithful to our script. Many thanks to them – Sanjiv and Poornima, Amrita Patwardhan and Uma Krishnan, Kasia and Mary Healy, Vidya Shah and Nayana Chowdhury and their teams.
And there are several friends – old and new – who’ve continued to raise the bar for us – Dr Ramani Atkuri, Dr Neelam, Dr Tarun, Jyotsana, Sanjana and the entire group of AMRIT advisors, Manisha and her team at Start Up; Ravi, Ashraf and the CYC team, Rakesh whose report put our Idar work in perspective, Prof Debi Prasad Misra, Prof Janat Shah and Priyanka Singh who took our ASCEND programme to an amazing plane of enquiry and insight; Prof Ramesh Bhat and Prof Kajri Misra who generously volunteered their time to teach and train our teams; Sushil ji Dwivedi, Umi Daniel and Dr Biswaroop Das whose presence in our CMLS meetings is sheer wisdom; Dr Ravi Srivastava, Rukmini Datta and Uday Kagal whose sessions at the certificate programme were incredibly done; Prof Amita Bhide and Prof Manish Jha at TISS without who the certificate course would have been impossible to execute, Preeti Sahai and Jaipal Singh who’ve been there solidly for RSSA and many, many others whose name I may miss just as I write this but to who I remain deeply indebted for their support to Aajeevika, its team and its mission.
Greetings to all for 2014!