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symposium2007:srinivasan_soundara_rajan

Community Controlled Monitoring and Evaluation - A Barefoot Approach

Talk by Srinivasan Soundara Rajan

http://www.barefootcollege.org/

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Abstract

Social Work and Research Centre, (SWRC) also known as Barefoot College, is based in a small village called Tilonia that has a population of 4000. Barefoot College works with the poorest of the poor, men, women and children living in 110 odd villages of Silora Block, Ajmer District, Rajasthan. The organisation established as a registered voluntary organisation in 1972 and founded by Bunker Roy and two others that included a cartographer and typist, presently has a critical mass of more than 250 full-time and 400 part-time volunteers, men and women as well as 5000 or more honorary members belonging to different village committees. As a group they are continously involved in an on-going process of decision-making to monitor and evaluate all initiatives of the Barefoot College. This participatory process of monitoring and evaluation has emerged over three decades through their role-perceptions and regular self-evaluation exercises that determined the working principles of the organisation which are non-negotiable. Over the years Barefoot College has been taking up joint efforts with the marginalised sections of rural communities as well as economically deprived groups for meeting their basic felt needs like Education, Drinking Water, Health, Employment, Energy and Womens’ Rights through legal literacy. The groups consist of Agricultural Labourers, Women and Children, the Physically and Mentally Challenged, Artists, Artisans, Tribals, Small and Marginal Farmers and Landless Labourers.

Transcript

This is the transcript of the talk by Srinivasan Soundara Rajan at the Luminous Green Symposium in 2007

Social Work and Research Centre, (SWRC) also known as Barefoot College, is based in a small village called Tilonia that has a population of 4000. Barefoot College works with the poorest of the poor, men, women and children living in 110 odd villages of Silora Block, Ajmer District, Rajasthan. The organisation established as a registered voluntary organisation in 1972 and founded by Bunker Roy and two others that included a cartographer and typist, presently has a critical mass of more than 250 full-time and 400 part-time volunteers, men and women as well as 5000 or more honorary members belonging to different village committees. As a group they are continously involved in an on-going process of decision-making to monitor and evaluate all initiatives of the Barefoot College. This participatory process of monitoring and evaluation has emerged over three decades through their role-perceptions and regular self-evaluation exercises that determined the working principles of the organisation which are non-negotiable. Over the years Barefoot College has been taking up joint efforts with the marginalised sections of rural communities as well as economically deprived groups for meeting their basic felt needs like Education, Drinking Water, Health, Employment, Energy and Womens’ Rights through legal literacy. The groups consist of Agricultural Labourers, Women and Children, the Physically and Mentally Challenged, Artists, Artisans, Tribals, Small and Marginal Farmers and Landless Labourers.

Allow me to first introduce myself. My name is Srinivasan, but people call me Vasu. I live and work in an organisation called the Barefoot College, in Tilonia. The College also known as the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC). It is located in a village called Tilonia in Rajasthan. It has a population of about 4500 people and it works in an immediate work area of about 500 square kilometres. These people are involved primarily in subsistence farming and animal husbandry, as well as a large constituency of artisans.

The Barefoot College was founded in 1972 by Bunker Roy. It took Bunker Roy and two others, including a cartographer and a typist to start this organisation. Barefoot College was started with the firm belief that the poorest of the poor in the villages, who have no alternatives, can acknowledge the interdependence amongst themselves rather than the dependence on external sources, to solve some of their immediate problems. The immediate problems are, as we found out in '72, access to clean drinking water, energy, livelihood, a healthy living, education and integrated into this was a need for a more equal distribution of gender awareness.

Barefoot college Tilonia has tried to introduce community managed and controlled processes, in order to teach the communities how to take charge of their own natural and human resources. Between 1972 and 2007, the Barefoot College grew into a large community. We are now a group of 450 part-time volunteers, 250 full-time volunteers, and 5000 honourary members, members of the village community.

What do we do? Gandhiji said - 'You should be the change that you want to see'.

When we started working we realised that children never went to school because they had to graze goats. If there were schools, they were schools where the teachers commuted from the towns, so the schedule of the school was designed according to the timings of the bus and the train. Women had to walk for kilometres to access drinking water and probably that much again to fetch fuel and wood. Furthermore, there was absolutely no primary healthcare whatsoever and so forth.

The importance of the people from the community understanding the problems by themselves was to break the culture of silence. The poorest of the poor had never acknowledged their interdependence and they always expected someone from the outside to suggest what is good for them. A critical mass of 600 or so part-time and full-time volunteers had to come together and were forced to believe in the need for acknowledging interdependence. They became the members of the Barefoot college, in order to change their own attitudes and also the attitudes of the policy makers. It is only when people are able to control their own processes that they are able to understand the relevance of how to improve the quality of their lives, and make them more sustainable. In effect, in the past 34 years, by acknowledging the interdependence amongst men, women and children, they have been able to set-up a group of 'non-negotiables', with which they were able to create a process called 'The Barefoot Approach'. SInce '72, the Barefoot Approach has been a concept tested in practice, over and over again. The communities sat down and decided on five non-negotiables with which they would never compromise. These non-negotiables are very easy to internalise. They are (1) the collective decision making, (2) decentralisation, (3) a sense of equality, (4) self-reliance and together with these there is (5) the importance of living an austere lifestyle. These principles have given us a process that enables us to constantly evaluate ourselves.

We live and work together, on a campus. The campus has a forty kilowatt solar power-plant, established and maintained by semi-literate and illiterate men and women. We emphasize the need for self-reliance for energy and drinking water, While in the rural areas surrounding the Barefoot College, the society is primarily male-dominated, on the Barefoot campus there is a sense of respect to gender, The austere life-style has made us go through a constant self-evaluation process. Every six months when we give honorariums and salaries to ourselves, we stipulate that no one will get more than 100 dollars a month, and no one will get less than a minimum wage. What binds us is the self-belief, that comes from living and working together, with all the people involved and knowing that this critical mass is endorsed by the rural communities themselves. This has made us adapt to a lifestyle that respects traditional knowledge, and in a way provides a tangible, practical and replicable model, which makes seemingly impossible things possible.

The entire group that makes up the Barefoot College have no educational qualities to speak about, that is to say - in the conventional world they have no educational qualities. What they do have is the dignity of labour. They cherish the soil in their hands and the firm belief in learning by doing. Everyone is a learner and a teacher.

When we teach women at our facilities, these women probably don't speak Hindi. What they know and learn is that they are able to partake in a residential training process of six months, at least. Within that time they are able to come together and to evaluate to one another - be mentors to one-another. This mentoring process allows them to learn in a more practical, hands-on manner, so when they leave, they do not forget. When they go back, the knowledge and skills make them more credible within their own communities.

Within these 30-odd years, men and women from all over India came for six months and went back to their own communities and started new Barefoot Colleges. In 2007 we can say that today there are about 20-odd Barefoot Colleges, in the 18 states, throughout the country. We are working directly with about 2 million people in India. All together we are able to work in a 'social catchment', or a 'human catchment' of about 5 to 10 million people.

In the seventies we realised that to have a blinkered approach to development would not give us enough conviction to start the Barefoot Approach. Over these three decades what we have been trying to do is to change the mindset of policy-makers and planners, and to boil it down to two or three very critical priorities that have to be changed. To provide access to drinking-water, employment, energy, health and education. These priorities are all linked to one another, at the micro level, as well as the macro level. In 2007 the government of India has a separate ministry for water resources. They have picked up the idea of rainwater harvesting and they have implemented this in about 20 states of the country. So you can have rural schools with separate toilets for boys and girls, both with running water. We realised the importance of this when we learned that many girls do not attend rural schools, because of the sanitary situation, where at a certain age boys and girls have different psychological and physiological needs. If these needs are acknowledged, the parents often decide not to send the children to school any more.

When we look at a not-blinkered approach, we realise that today we have been able to harvest about 40 million litres of rainwater every year. We have been generating about 400 to 500 kilowatt energy every day and created a model where decisions are taken bottom-up. In the village committees, it is the children's parliament who can take decisions. They are endorsing the decisions and this is ratified by the group which is the governing body. So in this way the Barefoot approach expects endorsement at every level, all through the learner-teacher structure. This includes the selection of people who want to get trained.

When we started in 1972 Gandhiji said - 'First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win'. He said that in a bigger context, but when we felt that we wanted to change mindsets they exactly did that - ignore, laugh and fight, but today I think that we are in a win-win situation at least in our area. Thank you.

Articles

Biography

Srinivasan Soundara Rajan, Barefoot College. A luminous representative of the Barefoot College, a centre for learning and unlearning in Rajasthan, India. A place “where tremendous value is placed on the dignity of labour, of sharing and for those willing to work with their hands”. The college is designed for and run by the “poor in India who pass on the knowledge skills and wisdom of their forefathers, live and work barefoot”. Their programmes include solar engineering, water harvesting, education, crafts and design.

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