An Idea Whose Time has Come
Updated: Feb 18, 2019
Abhilasha Sinha writes on the initial days of Asmat heading to Soda village in Rajasthan and all the preparation that went into it
By Abhilasha Sinha, Founding Member, Asmat India
Summer 2014, End of May to Mid-June
Temperatures in Delhi are soaring, peaking at 47 degrees celsius. The obvious solution to this brain-numbing heat wave? Go to Rajasthan, of course! It’s only a little hotter there.There’s always a method to madness, and the reason that 9 college students would traipse across Rajasthan in the middle of Indian summer has just 5 letters: ASMAT. An NGO started by a group of students at Lady Shri Ram College, ASMAT aims to bring about youth involvement at the grassroots level of the country. Since ASMAT’s inception in October 2013, it had been working towards its pilot Volunteer Program in Soda Village, Rajasthan. After months of interaction with Soda’s Sarpanch, the eminent Ms. Chhavi Rajawat, lots of research, field work and choosing from hundreds of volunteer applications, ASMAT began the Volunteer Program in Soda this summer.
ASMAT’s prep team arrived at Soda ten days before the program started to make sure all the arrangements were in place for the volunteers. Work began immediately, and meetings were arranged with the self-help groups, women’s groups (Anganwadi Karyakartas) and the children. It was quite a wake-up call for us the next morning when the children arrived at 6:30am sharp for their session, and at 7:30am, we were still groggy. Hasty apologies and promises of future “punissment!” were meted out, and we began the first of many wonderful morning sessions with the children. The days are incredibly hot, so we would begin work early in the morning, and stay indoors during the day. We looked forward to the evening walks with the girls of the village, and they showed us their homes, the temple and the reservoir.
We interacted closely with the women and young adolescent girls, and laid the groundwork upon which the volunteers would be working. Sessions with the Self Help Groups producing Spices were conducted, the ‘Spices of Soda’ women who produced hand-made organic red chilli powder, turmeric powder and coriander leaf power. We helped them with the costing of their products, to ensure that they benefited at least marginally from their efforts. In addition to this, we had personal sessions with adolescent girls and women about female hygiene, and with the help of some interactive videos, we provided menstrual awareness and dispelled some myths about menstruation that were prevalent in the village areas. Sessions with women about financial literacy and prudence with money and savings were also conducted, and evening recreational sessions with the children comprised very serious and competitive games of Hangman, Kabaddi, Dog-and-the-bone, Kho-Kho and Ghoda badam chai. Our team members played bravely, but were thwarted by the children, and each step after the games reminded our aching muscles of lack of exercise.
After just a few days spent interacting with everyone in Soda, we were no longer outsiders. We were “didis”, and the children and adults alike treated us like one of their own.
The heat of the days were nothing compared to the warmth and hospitality we received from them. At the inauguration of the local Shiv Mandir, we all went to pig out at the “bhog” (communal meal prepared and served by the locals), and we were served by the little boys who we taught each morning, and they were delighted to see us there. Despite being stuffed to bursting, we were asked to visit the homes of the villagers and were served even more food there. Needless to say, we answered nature’s call several times over the night. After the week of “pre-program-prep” concluded, we welcomed the volunteers on the 1st of June, and from that point onwards, the real work began. ASMAT’s pilot volunteer program concluded on the 15th of June, and it was a success. Sarpanch Rajawat truly appreciated the efforts that these young people made; baby steps towards development at the grassroots level.
The most incredible part of the experience at Soda was that every person was open and receptive to learning and change for the better, villagers and volunteers alike. The volunteers arrived as strangers with a common goal, and left as family. Though this program was but a small stepping stone in a vast sea of change, it had impact: It changed a mindset. It gave someone the impetus to study. It gave a household a reason to send their girls to school. It made a child learn about the importance of teamwork. It made a mother realize that her child will have a better future that she did. It planted the small seed of an idea, and nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.