Jhabua, a small town in Madhya Pradesh is located remarkably on the Gujarat- Madhya Pradesh – Rajasthan intersection. The area in and around Jhabua is populated primarily by Bhil tribes indigenous to Central India. They have faced systemic issues when it came down to their inclusion into the mainstream by guaranteeing education or livelihood opportunities.
Sara Seva Samiti Santha recognising the gravity of the problems and addressing the need for interventions, started working closely with the tribals to solve all these issues. Jimmy Nirmal, the founder director of SARA Jhabua, formed the organisation and started actively responding to the problems in the year 2011. “The lack of opportunities in and around the place has resulted in years and years of migration. Jhabua has been a socioeconomically backward region and is famously known to be notorious, with rampant robberies carried out by the tribals in the area. ”, says Jimmy.
SARA Jhabua was formed and stepped in to restrict migration, create livelihood opportunities, inform the people of their rights, responsibilities and increase the levels of education of the indigenous communities in the area. Since its inception, the organisation has worked on a wide array of problems ranging from awareness, advocacy, interventions, relief and resilience building, that they have encountered and found relevant. The team of SARA Jhabua are a group of young and enthusiastic individuals who are local to the region, part of the community and understand the problems. “We are fortunate to have found this driven set of individuals who know the land, the people and the problems.” , says Jimmy.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, and SARA Jhabua found itself amidst a rapidly evolving set of problems. Jimmy says, “As the lockdown hit, a lot of migrants started walking back home, crossing inter-state boundaries. Jhabua being in the middle of three states, there were a lot of migrants crossing through the area, ‘Palayan’ as they call it in the local Bhili/Hindi.” They also saw a lot of migrants coming back home to Jhabua who were left without any money, food or livelihoods to fall back on. SARA Jhabua immediately started the relief effort for all of them. They built Relief Centres for Migrant Labourers, which served as a rest stop for them during their journey home and also served as Quarantine Centres.These Centres also offered food, water or medical help to those that needed it.
“We received help and support from COVID Action Collab whenever we reached out to them through the pandemic. It started with us receiving ration kits and masks for migrant labourers and it was a huge relief at the time. We received all sorts of information and got connected to a lot of other organisations that could help,”, recalls Jimmy. Later in the pandemic, vaccinations started with full force and SARA Jhabua also prioritised it over everything else. “We employed 6 people from the help we received from the collaborative. They worked closely with the government officials to track people who have not been vaccinated and carry out follow-up calls, especially to the migrants who have left Jhabua and are due for vaccinations.”, says Jimmy.
SARA Jhabua worked parallelly on COVID and vaccination awareness and also implemented behaviour change initiatives. They used mechanisms like ‘Khatla’ or village meetings that were organised in different villages. “We identified women as the driving force or change agents in the process and specifically focused on training and inducting teenage girls and young women to drive the change,” says Santosh, a field staff at SARA Jhabua. The organisation has been successfully able to vaccinate 80-90% of the people in the villages they work in.
The needs are now changing from relief to recovery and can only be addressed by guaranteeing sustainable livelihood support to the local people, especially to those who migrated back after the pandemic. There are various farm and non-farm livelihood initiatives that are being implemented by the organisation in the area. The IPOs through Swasti have enabled SARA Jhabua to start training centres for livelihood development of young women at a minimal fee of Rs. 500/-. There is tailoring, beauty and grooming and computer literacy training that happens in the office everyday. The response has been very good, the batches are almost full and women have gone on to start their own small businesses after receiving the training.
The need is however immense for technical support to the farmers, information of the schemes to the laboorers, etc. “There is a lot of work to be done and we are just trying to do the best we can with the support from initiatives like CAC, says Jimmy. The #COVIDActionCollab has always aimed at ensuring thorough hand holding for all its partners. It has recognised the need and adapted to provide maximum support in order to help build resilient systems. It is dedicated, sincere and community focused work by organisation like Sara Seva Samiti Santha that is helping us in enabling these communities to #BounceForward.