Starting with a simple idea that problems are interconnected, so must be the solutions, AID grew as people came together to be part of the solution. What have AID volunteers learned from the grassroots about the meaning of development and the meaning of India?
25 years ago AID started supporting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in underserved areas. Some of these NGOs ran schools or health camps, dug wells, or trained youth in vocational skills. Adapting some of their effective practices, AID initiated efforts in other needy villages, supplying ragi to malnourished children, promoting kitchen gardens and in the process, getting to know the priorities of people living in poverty.
When we asked why the wells were dry, why the poor were hungry, or why they spent more on illness than the non-poor did, we found injustice behind every answer.
Organizations concerned about poverty in the villages had to decide: should they fight these injustices so that people could obtain services by right and have a voice in their own development? Or should they provide services?
We found that the stand taken by the most effective, mass-based groups was to link the two, both on principle and as a matter of strategy. Organizations that provided services worked in solidarity with those that trained people to monitor and advocate for public services, and also questioned the policies and practices that led to denial of rights to basic needs such as food, water, health, education, land and livelihood. Movements questioning unjust policies and paradigms of development supported efforts to practice alternatives and demonstrate models that the government could adopt at a large scale. Creating alternatives, known as Nirman, went hand in hand with challenging injustice, known as Sangharsh.
In these approaches, the poor, marginalized and oppressed people are not passive beneficiaries but active agents of change whose results will benefit society as a whole. The non-oppressed who join hands in struggle learn to speak truth to power, even if it means asking uncomfortable questions about their own role in social, economic and ecological system.
This leads to the third component of holistic development: responsible living, known as Seva.
While opposing deforestation or expressing solidarity with farmers in crisis, were we eating foods harvested sustainably, with fair wages paid, and without wasteful packaging? Or were we consuming the fruits of destructive development? Never underestimating the role of thoughtful personal actions, AID volunteers have supported one another in the effort to be the change: conserving water, avoiding disposables and packaged goods, questioning caste, class and gender injustice and striving to practice equality.
Even when one achieves success it may appear to be “a drop in the ocean.” By working in a spirit of unity, we can make our efforts, our solidarity, and our commitment represent, as the poet Rumi once said, “the mighty ocean in the drop.”
|How AID volunteers work towards sustainable development through the three synergistic approaches of sangharsh, nirman and seva.|
|Sangharsh||Speak Truth to Power, Challenge Injustice|
|Nirman||Practice the Solutions, Create Alternatives|
|Seva||Live Responsibly, Be the Change|