Village Alive Project Phase II (VAP II) is a very exciting project that has grown out of an earlier project supported by
American Leprosy Missions to help poor villages improve their conditions. The original VAP project centred on education, income generation, and village improvements such as water pumps and began in a very poor “Sada” village called Dhatora where a leprosy self help group was already active and trusted within the community. The folk at Dhatora were living a very hand-to-mouth existence, where education was undervalued, most of the villagers were landless, and only a few villagers had any education beyond primary level. The village itself was in a poor condition, with almost no sanitation, and problems with drugs and alcohol. Many of the men in Dhatora migrate to India regularly to earn some money, leaving their families to fend for themselves as best they can. The LLSC Community Department team had been working for some time with the village and had seen some improvements but villagers had a very limited understanding of health issues and their access to the government health services was poor, due to distance and a lack of awareness of what they were entitled to.
VAP II is also supported by American Leprosy Missions and Dr Mike Lavender and his wife Sue, and was inspired by a visit that several key staff from LLSC made with Mike and Sue to the Comprehensive Rural Health Programme at Jamkhed in India. There they learned from the inspirational Dr Arole, how to interact with a community to improve health awareness and access, and make a real difference to the health status of a poor village. With help from Mike and Sue, they developed an action plan and put together a multi-disciplinary team that included medical staff as well as community development staff, and began the VAP II Project.
Having carefully selected villages based on criteria of poverty, landlessness, and the presence of a nearby and well-established self help group, a Participatory Rural Appraisal, and baseline survey is carried out by the VAP Team, including helping the villagers to draw a map
of their village, with numbered households and names identified, along with the poverty levels, water pump, school, and other useful features. The team then carries out household surveys for each house, to find out what the villagers regard as the main problems in their village. This often establishes that poverty, education and hygiene are the biggest problems and the team subsequently develops an action plan, agreed with the villagers, to tackle these problems. The villagers, including many women, “sign” this agreement with a thumb print.
The VAP team makes many visits to help the villagers bring the improvements that they want. These include:
- The establishment of women’s groups to encourage the women of the village to take an active part in all areas that will contribute to the development of the village. These groups have led to a new “road” being made through the village with drainage channels to prevent flooding in the monsoon. Light bulbs have been fixed onto street poles. Water pumps have been installed. Some people have started to build toilets. All these projects have been initiated by the women with support from LLSC.
- Three local women were selected by the village to be trained as Rural Health Facilitators – taken from the
Jamkhed model. They received a 2 week training in basic healthcare and can recognize symptoms for common diseases and give treatment for diarrhoea and malnutrition. They have all carried out several safe home deliveries and have given advice to women who need to attend hospital for a difficult birth.
- Weekly adolescent girls groups have been established to discuss personal hygiene, education, adult literacy, and other issues. A female staff member from LLSC supports this group. 3 of the girls go to school and are now giving free literacy lessons to the other girls in the group. They have aso requested a sewing machine so that they can learn to make clothes.
- Three farmers’ groups have been established and mainly focus on the development of the village. They have helped the women with some of their objectives such as water pumps and toilets. However, as many of the men have to go to India for work, these groups have not been as successful as the womens groups.
At the end of 2009, the VAP team started work with a new village, called Pakariya, another Sada community carefully
selected due to it’s extreme poverty. The same process has been followed by the team and the villagers have identified their key issues. A review in October 2010 showed that even after only a few months, VAP at Pakariya had made impressive progress with the various groups functioning, and the Rural Health Facilitators working well and hard. There is a lot of interest in income generating projects, which in the longer run could help to keep the men working in the village rather than going to India.
The VAP Programe is continuing to flourish, and the communities have expressed their sincere admiration of the commitment and faitfulness of the LLSC Community staff who go back week after week. This apparently contrasts dramatically with other organizations that started work in some of these areas but quickly faded away, and has helped enable the VAP team to make the various initiatives work.
By 2013, with additional support from Sasakawa, a Japanese foundation, VAP was working with five villages and since 2014 has been working with a further three with support from Irish Aid. One was not working effectively because there was no self help group to support the work, but nevertheless, seven years after NLT began this work with one village, we are now working to transform seven villages. These were all marked by the ravages of deep poverty, and are changing into places where hope is a normal feeling, where livelihoods are developing strongly, and where education and health are understood and valued as normal rights for people who previously frequently wondered each day where the next day’s food would come from.
From 2016, funds are being sought to continue work with another 10 villages, probably addressed in two groups of 5, building on the lessons learned from the work so far.
Keep watching this space….