Community Development

As GRAVIS firmly believes in the empowerment of local communities, we have helped to organize a variety of community organizations where villagers can come together to discuss and plan projects on a number of topics. These groups are the foundation of community engagement and unite individuals for the betterment of their lives and the lives of others. Participation of the beneficiaries also helps to ensure the project’s continued success as members will be more likely to stand behind something they helped to create.
 

Village Development Committees (VDC)

VDCs are the centerpiece of GRAVIS' work and therefore one of the first interventions in the development of a village. Founded through local election these groups are comprised of representatives from all castes, genders, religions, and social groups and are found in every village where GRAVIS works. These groups work as an intermediary between GRAVIS and the rural community and are responsible for village funds, selecting development initiatives, supervising projects, and allocating wages and materials. Through VDCs, community members are able to voice their opinions and organize for the improvement of their village. Currently we work with 902 VDCs. 

Gender Equality

Women in the Thar Desert face many hardships as their restrictive social obligations and unending household duties collide to create some of the most oppressive conditions in India. Girls are often seen as a burden to families as the practice of giving dowries is still common in many rural areas. It is seen that a young bride will require a smaller dowry and many girls are married off as child brides as a financial decision. Women also bear the brunt of carrying water which can mean many hours walking in the heat with heavy loads. This and other household duties can leave school aged girls with no time to attend classes and adds to the continuing trend of female illiteracy.
 
Women are also dependent upon their husbands financially as they have no property rights and cannot leave their home unless they are performing household duties. This dependency creates many challenges for widows as they do not inherit the land of their husband and have no means of economic security. Widows make up around 55% of elderly women in the Thar and many of them must live with family members who do not have the means to support them.

GRAVIS believes strongly in the right and ability of these women to live with dignity and freedom and to pursue education and economic stability. Many of our projects give women a voice in public gatherings where for the first time they can participate fully in the development of their community. GRAVIS also organizes trainings on traditional crafts and facilitates micro loans and group funds which allow women to start small income generating units or buy livestock.

Self-Help Groups

These all female groups meet once a month to discuss a variety of social justice issues that affect their community. GRAVIS field staff attend meetings and bring learning materials on subjects of the women’s choosing. Topics range from nutrition, to organic farming, to watershed techniques. These groups also form a community fund which is used as a micro lending facility by women who wish to start entrepreneurial projects.The aim of these SHGs and their community fund in particular is to empower women economically and develop leadership in themEach month, members deposit between 25 and 50 Indian rupees and individuals can take out loans for various projects as members see fit. GRAVIS has helped establish over 1,860 self-help groups. 

KRIYA

This group facilitates training on traditional crafts to give women access to livelihoods . KRIYA helps rural women develop financial independence through the sale of handicrafts. Additionally, KRIYA has joined the effort to better the lives of women prisoners. Imprisoned women are given the opportunity to learn the crafting skills and stitch clothing or uniforms to sell. Members of KRIYA also have regular meetings with prisoner administration, local NGO’s, and police. The program also holds motivational lectures and meditation classes for female prisoners.

Vocational Training 

During vocational training women are trained by GRAVIS to acquire skills that enable them to set up their own small salary generating ventures. These skills include the making of spices, sewing, embroidery and more vocations linked to economic self-reliance and increased self-dependence.  In the past year GRAVIS trained 950 women in 50 of these trainings.

Gramodyog

These cooperatives allow women to communally produce organic spices and wheat porridge. Grains and spices are prepared in villages around the GRAVIS Field Centres and are then sold to GRAVIS for a fair price.

Exposure Visits

These visits allow women in rural communities to see the work that GRAVIS is doing around the Thar. Women are able to see project sites and field centres to learn how they can be involved the similar projects in their own community. So far, GRAVIS has led over 100 exposure visits.

Ageing

The elderly of India comprise of approximately 7.6% of the population. This number is expected to grow to 10% by the year 2021. Those over the age of 60 have unique needs and are often marginalized due to cultural norms. Many live in poverty in rural areas and are unable to work or provide for themselves. As a result, 65% of the elderly depend on others for their day-to-day life and only 20% of elderly women are economically independent. We supply them with the health care needed and support them in obtaining benefits and programmes for elderly. 

Village Older People’s Association (VOPA)

As part of GRAVIS’s commitment to the aging population of the Thar, these groups help the elderly voice their opinions in the community. In cooperation with our partner Help Age International, we ensure that the elderly are respected in their village and are able to contribute to the development of their village. These groups also help to ensure that projects are serving the needs of those over the age of 60. There are currently over 152 VOPAs operating in villages around the Thar.

Farmers Associations

This network of farmers from all castes plays an important role in the agricultural stability of the community. As farmers are the most vulnerable to drought and soil erosion, their voice is vital in planning development projects. Together, they work to develop and disseminate drought resilient farming techniques in order to increase yields in low rainfall. Farmers Associations have monthly meetings to spread their best agricultural practices like sowing and irrigation. GRAVIS has helped establish 75 Farmers Associations.

Village Education Committees (VECs)

These groups are mainly focused on the schooling system GRAVIS has implemented in rural communities. Over half of all members are women or parents and together they work to ensure a well-rounded education for their children. The committees are in charge of daily administration of schools, the community’s education fund, the teachers, and their salaries. The VEC also makes decisions about the school’s future in terms of government partnerships and curriculum changes.
 
Mining community
 
Rajasthan is known for its marble and sandstone. However, the process for extracting these materials is hazardous and many workers become disabled with chronic diseases and ailments. Over three million work in the mines, nearly half of which are under the age of 20. Miners work long hours, sometimes reaching 12 hours a day, and only receive 50 to 90 rupees ($1-2) for their daily work. So far, mine owners have refused to comply with safety regulations and workers lack the necessary safety gear. This results in many cases of occupational lung disease after continuously breathing in silica dust. Miners also often lack access to sufficient drinking water, toilets, and safety kits. Laws to protect workers, like the Mine Act of 1952, are not enforced leaving miners utterly vulnerable in the face of corrupt and greedy mine owners. This also makes it challenging for worker to seek compensation after injury and they are often forced to continue working, even at the cost of their health. It is estimated that half of all mineworkers in Thasr Desert have some form of lung disease.
 
GRAVIS sees this injustice and has been working to better the lives of miners for many years. We have partnered with a number of local and international organizations to seek justice and improve working conditions for miners.

Alternatives for Women and Children Working in the Mines

Women and children working in the mines face particularly difficult challenges, as they work under the same hazardous conditions as the men and face frequent psychological and physical abuse. GRAVIS provides children in mining communities with access to education as a pathway out of the mines. We have established five primary schools in mining communities thus far, with a total of over 300 children enrolled. GRAVIS has also facilitated the formation of over 100 women’s SHGs in mining communities.
 
Mineworkers' health
 
As mineworkers are exposed to a number of health issues, GRAVIS has made an effort to educate miners about their health as a preventative measure. We organize regular awareness camps and hold street plays focused on health hazards in mines as a way to involve the community. The GRAVIS Hospital and health camps also treat many workers who have occupational lung disease or any other variety of work related ailments. Silicosis is a major occupational health hazard and GRAVIS is working actively on its prevention and control.