Ajay Pandit grew up in a small village in Dhar, a tribal district in Madhya Pradesh. At the age of 10, Ajay needed a good school to go to, but the village had none. The desire to learn and his father’s support led him to cycle 14 km to school every day. While his village lacked opportunity, information, and guidance, his father showed him the way with a piece of advice – ‘Work hard to create an environment that fosters learning in those around you’.Experiences and influences from his childhood left an indelible mark on Ajay. He went to study Master’s in Social Work (MSW) in Indore, but the desire to give back where he came from kept growing. In 2005, Ajay and a group of his friends, who were also pursuing MSW at that time, decided to start Synergy Sansthan. It wasn’t a project that ended with college.
Formally established in 2006, Ajay, now 32, and his group of colleagues have been running Synergy Sansthan for 10 years.
Synergy Sansthan is dedicated to working in the socially backward areas in Harda district in Madhya Pradesh. Synergy Sansthan helps children get access to play areas, quality education, and health facilities that contribute to their overall development. Ajay says,
We want children and youth to know their rights and get access to them. We work for the development of youth, ensuring their active participation in the society that helps them take the journey from ‘me’ to ‘we’. This helps them connect with the society.
In the last decade, Synergy Sansthan has not just rallied for child rights and children’s development, advocacy against children in bonded labour, youth learning and leadership initiatives, but also in entrepreneurship, local self-governance, women’s leadership, and health initiatives.
Initiatives, collaboration, and impact
To champion the cause of child development and child rights-related programmes, Synergy Sansthan has the following active initiatives.
- Non-formal education centre called “Chahak – Ek NIrali Pahal” is a platform that creates learning opportunities for slum children from Harda. The target age group is between 6 and 13 years, with special focus on the girl child. The programme is run with the help of the community.
- Awareness about malnutrition and holistic development programmes by the organisation have been active in 10 tribal villages in Madhya Pradesh since January 2010. The programme help strengthen local institutions like village health, water, and sanitation committees, school management committees, self-help groups (SHGs), etc.
- In 2012, the organisation started collaborating with the Childline India Foundation to help cater to children who express their distress through the 1098 helpline 24X7 emergency helpline.
- Synergy is also involved in addressing child right issues such as child trafficking, child marriages, and child abuse through the District Child Right Forum. This forum is an initiative under a programme by UNICEF (Child Rights Observatory Madhya Pradesh). The forum includes media representatives, advocates, police representative, and a Synergy team member. In last two years, the forum has trained over 200 young citizens, and formed 10 child rights forums in schools to raise awareness about these issues.
In the area of gender equality and leadership in women, Synergy has helped create SHGs to promote leadership and gender parity. Women representatives at the Panchayat level and the entire women village community is sensitised about issues such domestic violence, gender inequality, and women’s rights.
Another major focus area being health, Synergy has been able to assist 230 ‘ASHA’ workers in refreshing their skill set by imparting trainings listed by the National Rural Health Commission. These women have also been educated about sexual and reproductive health, maternal and child health, and diseases such as malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, etc.
Synergy has also been mobilising health care services for the HIV-infected groups. Synergy is a member of District AIDS Prevention and Control Unit (DAPCU) and has spread awareness about AIDS to over 200 villages in Harda.
Other than carrying out initiatives, Synergy is dedicated to carrying out research studies that give insight on primary factors such as health and education in other districts in Madhya Pradesh. Till now, Synergy has collected such information of about 16 districts of Madhya Pradesh – Khandwa, Betul, Sehore, Raisen, Vidisha, Khargone, Barwani, Jhabua, Hoshangabad, to name a few.
Other than the organisation mentioned above, Synergy Sansthan is also collaborated with Pravah (an NPO) and Community the Youth Collective (CYC). Synergy Sansthan is also a part of the National Child Labor Campaign and an active participant in its ‘Jan Swasthya Adhikar Abhiyan’ programme.
Ajay says that when they started in 2006, most people though that it was just the whim of a couple of young adults to make a difference and would soon fizzle out, but the team has put its naysayers to rest. The organisation has covered 52 villages in their 10-year journey. It has worked closely with 150 children who were once bonded labourers and has also worked with 1,000 youth directly. Synergy Sansthan has raised and invested about three crore till now. Ajay tells us that over the years, funding has poured in from Action Aid, Pravah, Unniti Foundation of India, CYC, UNFPA, UNWOMEN, UNICEF, and the Maharashtra Government.
Ajay says that while they have been working to create a better life for neglected districts, much work still needs to be done. He says that the government and the urban-educated citizens need to do their bit by revisiting the laws around child and youth development and participating in creating awareness, respectively.
Ajay points out that a massive challenge in social entrepreneurship is to encourage the youth to be involved with the society and lead initiatives and organisations. Ajay adds, “The society doesn’t encourage this choice of career and the youth want to run after the jobs that pay well. Youth from villages also don’t want to go back and work to make their homes and villages a better place.” As for Synergy, Ajay lists sustainability, and lack of funds and resources, as a challenge. Synergy Sansthan is running a crowfunding campaign to raise funds for rehabilitating child bonded laborers across Madhya Pradesh.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Friends and family often question him and his colleagues on their choice of career and fail to understand why they’re not interested in a desk job that would make them financially comfortable. Unfazed by it, Ajay says that his next dream and project is to create a rehabilitation centre and community college for children involved in bonded labour.
Ajay says that the change he hopes for, is possible. Reflecting on his own journey, he says, “We were a bunch of youth from the village. We had many roadblocks but once we overcame that, we were able to be productive in the space and create impact. If we can do it, anyone else can too, it’s a matter of perseverance.”