Uniting communities: insights and lessons from Samaj Pragati Sahajog’s visit to Gram Vikas villages


By GV News Desk

6 December 2023

A team of ten members from the nonprofit Samaj Pragati Sahajog (SPS) visited Gram Vikas partner villages Tamana, Betajhari, and Khajurisahi, in Ganjam district, to gain firsthand knowledge of the progress made in these communities. They also visited Gram Vikas’ Mohuda campus to understand the development initiatives and strategies being undertaken for the communities it partners with across Odisha.

SPS is renowned for its work in water and livelihood development in several Adivasi districts of Madhya Pradesh and has been actively addressing the challenges posed by recurring droughts since 1990.

Their extensive efforts include watershed development, land improvement, sustainable agriculture, livestock management, health, and nutrition. These initiatives have benefited over 41,000 families across the state over the past three decades.

During their visit to Khajurisahi village in the Khallikote block, the delegation received a warm welcome from the residents. The hosts organised a gathering where both residents and the members of the visiting delegation  could meet. The residents provided refreshments and ensured a hospitable environment for discussions.

During the meeting, Rashmita Sabara, a 28-year-old Community Resource Person (CRP) and a member of the Maa Bhabani Thakurani Self-Help Group (SHG) in Khajurisahi, took the initiative to lead the discussions. She inquired about the visiting team’s expectations regarding their visit to Khajurisahi.

Kantabai, a 38-year-old member of the SPS visiting team, expressed her curiosity about how the residents of this remote village, surrounded by hills and forests, became aware of the existence of toilet and bathing facilities in their community.

Village institutions learn from each other

In response to Kantabai’s question, Rashmita, wearing a warm smile, shared her observation, stating, “It was quite remarkable to witness their expressions filled with astonishment as they posed that question”.

The gathering comprised approximately 40 women from Khajurisahi, representing three Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in the village — Maa Tarini, Maa Bhabani Thakurani, and Maa Raimali SHG. The participants actively addressed all inquiries while also showing keen interest in learning about the development initiatives undertaken in the visiting team’s village.

Kanti Sabara from the Maa Bhabani SHG told the visitors that each of the three SHGs in the village divided responsibilities among themselves to monitor and mobilise 10-12 households each, ensuring that water supplied through taps at homes is used optimally and not wasted. The SHG members regularly inspected the households’ toilets and bathing rooms to maintain cleanliness and ensure that taps were not leaking.

Sasmita Sabara added, “The visitors came and inspected our toilets and bathing rooms and commended their maintenance and cleanliness”.

While interacting with the visiting team, the SHG members asked if the visitors had toilets and bathrooms in their homes. Sunita Bai, a 41-year-old member of the visiting team, mentioned that they had recently initiated toilet construction in their homes.

Understanding water conservation

The team from M.P. also learned about water conservation efforts and sustainable practices followed by the residents, such as using wastewater from their bathrooms and kitchens and channeling it to their backyard gardens to grow vegetables.

They also learned that the VDC was active in the village, taking various initiatives to maintain the water and sanitation infrastructure. This included regular inspections of the pipes from the overhead water tank and the individual pipes to homes to ensure that the pipes have not cracked or broken.

Kasturi Malabisoyi, 42, Treasurer of the VDC, mentioned that upon seeing the water metre, the visitors enquired about its purpose in every household and were told that the installation of the water meter has led to optimal water use and discouraged unnecessary wastage.  She went on to say that all the households pay a standard monthly user fee for the water they use from the taps which is collected by SHG members every month.

The team visited the Sujal Water Quality Laboratory in Gram Vikas’ Mohuda campus. At the laboratory, they learnt about the twelve tests conducted to make water safe beyond just water supply and usage to partner communities. Sunita Bai, 41, a part of the visiting team, shared, “Back home, we test water from the source only during the monsoons and send the samples to private laboratories for testing. The private laboratories tested the samples on only four parameters – Bacteria, Ph, TDS and Fluoride”.

The lab in-charge explained to the visitors that Gram Vikas distributed Field-Testing Kits (FTKs) to the villages for first-level testing in the field, which assess parameters such as pH, TDS (Total Dissolved Solids), turbidity, chloride, total hardness, fluoride, nitrate, free residual chlorine, iron, alkalinity, ammonia, and bacteria (H2S).

The Water Quality Management (WQM) cadre in a village, selected by the VDC, tests the water twice a year—before and after the monsoon season—for contamination. For secondary-level water quality testing, the WQM cadre sends the samples to the Sujal Water Quality Testing Laboratory in Mohuda. If any contamination is detected, including bacteria, the laboratory informs the cadre and immediate action is taken by the cadre as recommended by the laboratory.

Meeting with the technical resource groups

At the campus, the Water Resource Technology Group (WRTG) and the WASH Nutrition Resource Group (WNRG) presented their work to the visiting team members.

The Water Resource Technology group supports work around the water source sustainability aspects to ensure the long-term water security of the rural communities.

About 35% of the villages supported by Gram Vikas build piped water supply systems that depend on spring water sources. Over the years, there has been a reduction in water availability due to human and natural interventions in the spring sheds and the weakening of spring aquifers.

Similarly, groundwater depletion, affecting the yield of borewells (that account for about 50% of the sources) needs better understanding and management of the hydrogeology. Gram Vikas is building capabilities within and the communities on the technical aspects of hydrogeology, springsheds and understanding aquifers.

The visitors also met the WASH-Nutrition Resource Group (WNRG), operating under the Sanitation & Health Focus Area, which aims to enhance health outcomes by providing vital support in areas such as nutrition, menstrual health, access to safe water through research, capacity building and Behaviour Change Communication Tools.

At the end of their trip, the visiting delegation felt that their meetings with the SHGs and VDC members in the villages were inspiring. They were particularly moved by the way the communities lived, the problems they encountered, the solutions they were able to bring about, and the small joys and bonds the communities shared among themselves. This left them feeling that the trip was insightful and memorable.

Kailash Chandra Das and Chandrika Patnaik reported this news. Photographs by Kaliash Chandra Das.

The team visiting the Sujal Water Quality Testing Laboratory in Gram Vikas Mohuda campus.

Photograph by Kaliash Chandra Das


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