Despite the exquisite and picturesque sights, the local population has witnessed decades of hardships. Desertification issues, scarce water and sparse vegetations pose grave threats to the population of the Thar Desert amidst the woes of extreme temperatures and limited employment opportunities. In such despair, when survival becomes the foremost priority, people strive for alternate livelihood avenues to generate a steady source of income and often tend to overlook issues around Education, Health, Child Rights.
Realizing and researching about the decade long hurdles, Urmul Trust and HDFC Parivartan have launched efforts towards aiding the people to explore their true potential and prospects of the region. Under Project Marugandha with continuous interventions 70,000 individuals across 14 villages in 7 gram panchayats were positively impacted since 2019. The team’s vision for sustainable, inclusive growth and a holistic cluster development has enabled infrastructural support, capacity building and support of a range of services for the marginalized sections of the society to achieve nature based solutions facilitating livelihood generation.
To achieve self-reliant holistic transformation in the rural communities, the members are linked with the required knowledge, technology and resources resulting into a well-knit community with increasing capabilities and confidence to organize themselves for collective action
A holistic cluster development with quality services to remotest areas enabled by synergized efforts through exploring the untapped potential of the people and the region and building alternate livelihood avenues eventually facilitated and supported by themselves.
In order to bring about an all-round development, it was necessary to create sustainable and healthy relations between the community members and the natural resources that they rely on for sustenance. The most pressing needs of the community – water, sanitation, hygiene, healthcare, education, dying livelihoods, etc., had to be addressed simultaneously.
The best-fit opportunity lay in adopting the principles of a circular economy that integrated livelihoods with the desert ecology and created self-sufficiency for the communities of the region. With these principles in mind, Marugandha envisioned to undertake improvement in Agriculture and Water Resources, Health and Nutrition, Education and Financial Inclusion and Skills Development.
The heritage of the region has been passed on to generations through varied handicrafts. The locals through their skills and talents have captured intricately designed and beautiful hand-crafted items. Jaisalmer is home to artisans who are extremely skilled in warp and weft, and applique.
Urmul with the aid of the community understood that by harnessing the traditional skills of the community, handicrafts could be developed that would ensure a steady source of livelihood. With the vision of socially and financially aiding the communities, Urmul launched specific interventions. They focused on the capacity building of the artisans and providing significant infrastructure support. Experience in the Thar has taught us that a society that leaves behind its women would never be able to succeed. Through programme interventions under Marugandha, key activities were charted under the craft vertical to speed towards the goal of creating self-reliant women that reflect progress with each step
The camels have enjoyed high popularity and demand amongst the herding communities of Rajasthan for its resilience to the climate of the region and the functions it has played. It is a unique feature of the Thar desert. Their interdependence with community and living has meant special care and utility for the animal.
Over the years, however, there has been a significant decline in the population of this animal – a crucial component of desert living and the overall ecology of the region. In 2014, in a well-meaning gesture, the government declared camel as the state animal to prevent its slaughter, trade, and illegal transportation. However, this measure destroyed whatever little income the herders could earn from their camels. in order to contain the decline of camels in the region and open an alternative stream of livelihood for the significantly marginalized communities rearing these animals, a significant institutional mobilization under Marugandha was undertaken in 2019-2020.
Under the Programme spearheaded by HDFC Parivartan, Urmul has furthered the agenda of enhancing alternative livelihoods and growth ecosystems for camels and herders. This will develop new employment opportunities for the herding community. The interventions focused on building a camel milk collection centre and working towards mobilizing, training and institutionalizing the camel herders towards a livelihood mechanism.
Urmul has always believed in ensuring equality through provisioning of good education to the remotest of rural areas. Western Rajasthan still lags far behind in ensuring quality education for the youth of the place. The schools of the programme villages surrounding Pokaran suffer from high absenteeism and dropout rates with literacy rates and children acquiring primary education on a rapid decline. The existing schools are unable to provide adequate learning opportunities for children which discourages them from attending school and pushes them toward helping out with household or farm chores instead. According to a needs-assessment survey, 78% children admitted not having computer skills and children desired that a model school have technology-enabled learning along with qualified teachers and improve basic facilities at school including hygienic toilets and clean water for consumption. It was deemed necessary to address the gaps underlying the education system for children in the villages surrounding Pokaran.
With children being a primary target group of Marugandha, Urmul and HDFC launched initiatives to increase interest in learning for children and ensure the children in the programme areas achieve class appropriate learning levels in 14 villages. Parents were also looped in through awareness initiatives for a 360 ° impact.
Through Marugandha, three schools in Pokaran have undergone complete complex renovation. Classrooms have been refurbished, libraries have been equipped with new books and storage and seating facilities and science laboratories have been stocked with new apparatuses. Children have been regularly issuing and reading these books.
Bridge courses were rolled out to help drop-out children catch up with lost years of education and re-enrol into regular schools in age-appropriate classes. The children were taught to read and write subjects like Hindi and Mathematics. A second chance at learning has instilled hope in the students and boosted their confidence and interaction skills. Most children exhibited an increased interest in learning, playing and even looking after their personal hygiene after the completion of the bridge course.
Modern Anganwadi Centres: Five model anganwadi centres have been renovated to adopt visual-learning methods. Distribution of playing toys and sports materials and refurbishing the centres with interesting graphics and new management policies have significantly increased the attendance of children and also ensured staff are more readily available for the children when needed.
Generating Awareness and Capacity Building<
Bridging the gap
Holistic Interactive Learning
Ecotourism programmes are beneficial for achieving natural resource conservation and improved livelihoods of host communities. For rural communities, whose main sources of livelihood are natural resources such as forests, the Programme provides a more sustainable way of managing these natural resources by fostering conservation through the involvement of local communities, which in turn provides economic incentives to the communities.
Efforts were launched with the vision to create a village-level community-based ecotourism enterprise across the Programme areas. Four villages- That, Gomat, Chacha and Khetolai were identified to be part of the Pokaran cluster. Infrastructure upgrading work has been achieved.
Out of the 40 households trained and mapped, 15 households were identified and trained, contributing to 20 homestay rooms in the inventory. In 2019-2020, nine households across four villages were refurbished to host tourists and function as community-based ecotourism enterprises. Basic needs like toilet facilities, wash basins, water tanks and drinking water provisions have been developed. Gaps in skills of hosting eco-tourists have been addressed through multiple customised training sessions on cooking, hospitality and ledger-keeping. Local theatre groups are also hired and trained to perform for the guests. Piloting of tourism activities have led to an additional household income of INR 6000 per household.
Immediate interventions on management of water and all other resources dependent on it was deemed crucial to achieving sustainable development of the desert communities. Under Marugandha, revival of multiple traditional water sources and storage structures was done. To fully reap the benefits of increased access to water at both household and community level, input support was provided to boost agriculture, livestock rearing and hygienic sanitation across households, schools and community centers.
Rainwater Harvesting and Storage
Tanka: 118 new tanks were constructed and 62 old tanks repaired and retrofitted with rainwater harvesting facilities. More availability of water has increased water security and autonomy. Households have more ownership and are now less dependent on others’ water properties. Water conflicts and stress during the dry season when water levels are low have decreased. More water has ensured better sanitation and hygiene. Toilets and washrooms that were once defunct are now being used regularly. This has also reduced open defecation by family members. Handwashing and hygiene have improved as a result. Beneficiaries now wash hands more often, take bath regularly and keep their toilets and houses cleaner. Time spent on fetching water is now better utilised for other activities. Children who were bound to spend time fetching water or going out for defecation are now using their time for studying and playing. More water has made household chores such as cooking and washing utensils easier for women. Surplus water is now used for additional chores such as growing vegetables and crops and tending to livestock and sick animals that require more water are able to recover quickly. 289 community members were employed for tank construction and repair through NREGA and provided with a steady source of income for 73 days during the COVID-19 lockdown when unemployment was high
Nadi: Community and Panchayat leaders came together to increase storage capacity of five ponds that would cater to the needs of five villages. Desilting and renovation were undertaken at these water bodies under the supervision and management of Jal Prabandhan Committees. 70% of the financial costs for renovation were borne by the community members and the Gram Panchayat. Water bodies can now collectively store an additional 10, 00, 00, 000 litre of water. Prolonged availability of water even during lean season is catering to the water needs of livestock animals and communities from 10 villages around the year. Increased groundwater recharging increases the level of water table in the aquifers. Water is now accessible at a lower depth than before. Vegetation around the reservoirs has increased with more amphibians and avifauna using the lake as their habitat. This has boosted conservation of local biodiversity and also improved the aesthetic and touristic value of the region.
Health care facilities in western Rajasthan are sparsely located and cater to settlements across large areas. Often under-staffed and ill-equipped, block-level health care centres are unable to provide specialised diagnosis or treatments. Access to affordable and quality healthcare is limited. Awareness and know-how about basic maternal and child health including proper management of anaemia, menstruation, malnutrition, etc., are extremely low. Health being an underlying denominator of social growth, it was deemed necessary to roll out multi-pronged initiatives to improve overall healthcare and nutrition status of both the community and its livestock in the programme location
The interventions ensured that not only infrastructure support was provided to the families but the families were made aware of how they could think about the health of their family members in the long-run. The activities undertaken ensured that the family pays special attention to the health of the women and girls.
Rural areas with increasing settlement and populations, are facing new challenges in effectively managing copious amounts of waste. What would waste-free villages look like in India? Project Marugandha envisioned to develop one gram panchayat as the model for a ‘Waste-Free Panchayat’ and started initiatives to address both organic and inorganic waste in village Khetolai
During a field visit in Pokhran, one of the cluster coordinators received a call from a camel herder in Khetolai. It was found out that a camel was injured due to a road accident. Our team immediately contacted the district animal veteran and reached the spot with him.
On reaching, it was found out that the left limb of the camel was injured and required immediate treatment. The veteran started treating the camel and provided the necessary medicines for pain relief. Sukhram, the owner of the camel was thankful to the veteran and project team for their immediate response. This incident was later covered by local media. To address these problems, the Marugandha team has conducted 14 animal camps and treated 355 animals in the area.
“I was really worried when I saw my camel with pain and blood lying on the road. I felt helpless and called the Marugandha team. They arrived here immediately and saved my camel. It has been 2 months since that incident, now it can graze. I am really thankful to Marugandha team for their support and help”
Towards addressing the challenges of limited employment opportunities, HDFC bank and Urmul trust are committed to develop alternate livelihood avenues for the households which will generate a steady source of income and arrest the problem of poverty.
Alaine and Claudine who were accommodated in Bhanwari Devi’s tourist stay tells us that they had an authentic experience. They also added that they are thankful to the guides and the coordinators for this trip. Through this trip, they were a part of the local experience – starting from cooking, recreational activities with the children, yoga and even taught how to milk goats.
“Without any opportunity for agriculture, we often face challenges to generate a steady source of income, but we are grateful to Marugandha Team for developing an eco-tourist stay. We have already accommodated a few guests and we don’t have to worry anymore about an income. Through this venture, we also get to know about new cultures while we try to give them an authentic desert experience. Moving forward we want to accommodate more guests and give them a wholesome experience”
SMILE Programe is an initiative launched by Rajasthan Education Department to facilitate students to learn from home during lock down period.
The lockdown has halted education procedures for many. Towards circumventing this challenge and facilitating the youth to pursue education HDFC Bank and URMUL Trust has participated in the Smile Programme.The project team has launched “Promotion of Education in 8 villages while keeping in mind the COVID-19 guidelines. Through this initiative, the project team is breaking barriers to provide quality education to the youth even during lockdown.
“At the time of COVID 19 the schools were closed and I was not able to study at home. But Marugandha team started providing us classes around the common space of the village where the entire students are gathered and provided education. This helps us to study and also meet my friends at the time of lockdown. The team taught us about the smile program and WASH facilities and connected us through what apps to study our regular course. Now I will make sure that all my family members wash their hands before eating.”
On setting up the health camps under Marugandha Programme, the team received a lot of queries and patients who were undergoing health problems. Similarly, Kapu Devi a resident of Odhaniya was facing back problems for a few months. Despite visiting the govt medical facilities, she was not cured and reached out to us. The project team immediately responded to her and visited her house with doctors to provide the necessary medical assistance for her fast recovery.
“Due to my backpain, my family was facing a lot of issues. Since, I was in bed rest for months; I couldn’t contribute to household work. We even went to a government hospital but couldn’t receive a good treatment. However, after the Marugandha Team has set up health camps, my son went to speak to them. The team with doctors came to our house and provided me with medicines, good treatment and spoke to me about traditional methods like hot water bag. We are thankful for the assistance provided to us by the Marugandha team. Now I am able to contribute to the household and also work in the farm.”
Under the HRDP Marugandha programme, Urmul Trust had worked on the revival of five ponds in That, Chacha, Badli Nathushar, Kelawa and Odhaniya village in Pokaran, Jaisalmer district. The onset of good monsoon has also helped solve the water crisis of these villages.
These model ponds today, filled with water sufficient to fulfil the water requirements of 10 nearby villages for a whole year. The community members are excited and look forward to our continued efforts towards holistic development of the region.
“We are dependent on this pond. Almost 10-12 villages come here to fetch water with their cattles and camels. But due to the low water quality and limited water resources, we face a lot of challenges. When the Marugandha Team conducted a survey, we conveyed that reviving this pond is the first and foremost need and soon Urmul Team and HDFC Parivartan delivered with impressive results. Now, we neither have to buy water nor worry about water scarcity. This is the first time in 35 years that we had ample amount of water supply.”
The village of Suganpura, Pokharan, is known for traditional craft of applique and Greenland in Thar. Kamala Devi is one of those who are trying to conserve this art and her husband is supportive of her pursuing this venture. Hailing from a good educational background, she was able to grasp an entrepreneurship mindset with the guidance provided by the Marugandha team of URMUL Trust supported by HDFC bank Parivartan.
“I like creative craft, mostly sewing, crochet and knitting but in these trainings provided by HDFC bank through URMUL trust in our village have given immense knowledge on applique and patchwork. In these training sessions, I learnt cutting, pasting and most importantly creativity through these craft techniques and hope to conserve the crafts of my region. Recently in product development training, individually we got square paths to develop our product and we also got our first order with the help of the project team. I am really happy with the progress I made in these training sessions and I would like to thank HDFC bank and Urmul trust.”