The Village Improvement Programme (VIP) spearheaded by NLC had its origin in the health camps conducted each year by the K J Somaiya Hospital.
By focussing on mother and child, and curbing migration, the Nareshwadi Learning Centre is transforming the lives of the tribal community in the hamlets of Dahanu Taluka in rural Maharashtra.
The Girivanvasi Educational Trust (GVET) was founded by Padmabhushan Pujya Karamshibhai Jethabhai Somaiya in 1991. The Trust, which runs the Nareshwadi Learning Centre (NLC) located on a 12 acre campus in the lush green environs of the Experimental Farm of Girivanvasi Pragati Mandal (GVPM) which was founded by Karamshibhai in 1974 with the objective of providing education, skill training, health care and livelihood opportunities for the development of tribal and forest-based communities.
Karamshibhi started a school in 1983 with a handful of students from the Warli community, with a dream to provide quality education to the tribal community whose literacy level was low with women’s literacy being the lowest.
The struggle for survival did not afford time for schooling, nor was school accessible to them. Almost the entire community was engaged in subsistence farming, producing just enough to last a few months in the year. So they migrated in large numbers to nearby towns to work on construction sites, brick kilns or fishing trawlers. Karamshibhai developed residential facilities for girls and boys to encourage parents to admit their children to school. All education, boarding and lodging are provided free of cost.
Today, the campus, known as the Nareshwadi Learning Centre (NLC), comprises a primary and secondary school from 1st to 10th grade, the General Hostels for girls and boys, the Balgruh (Children’s Home), the School Farm, the School Health Centre and the Vocational Education and Training Centre (VETC). The centre is also home to 450 children who reside on campus and attend the schools along with about 300 day scholars 98 % of the children belong to tribal communities.
NLC also runs a vocational education and training Centre for developing employable skills for the children and unemployed youth in the local tribal community.
From February 2016 The Vocational Education and Training Centre (VETC) provides vocational training has been expanded to include beautician, carpentry, and computer hardware and electrician courses in collaboration with the K J Somaiya Polytechnic. Children from 5th to 9th grade interested in learning Warli painting are enrolled for the course. All children from 5th to 9th learn agriculture in batches, to cultivate a love for the land. They learn vegetable cultivation, dairy and vermiculture in the School Farm.
Besides, the success in education, Nareshwadi Learning Centre, focuses on the holistic growth of the children. The school has a library with nearly 5000 books in Marathi, Hindi and English.
NLC has a dedicated sports coach where the children have shown a keen interest in athletics and team sports like Kabaddi and khokho. They participate every year in competitions, and some have reached national level. NLC has set up a multi-sports facility so more girls and boys can participate in games like football, throwball, volleyball and cricket.
In 2014, training in music was introduced to all children from the 5th to the 9th grade. Children who have shown greater potential are selected for individual training.
The dependence on rain fed agriculture meant that for nearly six months, women and men from the area had to migrate to the city for livelihood. They would often have to leave their children in the village, or if they did take them to the cities, on construction sites, etc. where the parents worked, the fear of the women and children being abused was a very real threat.
In 2010 NLC, along with the students of the K J Somaiya Institute of Management Studies, organised a 2-day workshop on Mogra farming and provided free Mogra saplings to the women as a pilot, which gave to rise to NLC’s Village Improvement Program.
Nareshwadi’s Village Improvement Program is a two-year intervention of farm-based activities that focuses on short, medium and long-term income generation for tribal women from villages in the vicinity of NLC.
Over the two-year period, NLC’s project staff conducts training in improved agricultural practices, waste management, marketing and financial literacy. Besides this training, health information sessions are held regularly in the selected villages and life skills training given to youth. NLC’s health outreach workers hold health information sessions in the villages and counsel the women and their families on antenatal and postnatal health and improved child rearing practices integrating maternal and child health components in the Village Improvement Programme.
When the project phases out of the village at the end of two years, NLC continues to mentor the women and facilitates the SHGs and the community to source government schemes.
The ultimate goal of the VIP is to improve the quality of life of tribal communities around NLC by curbing migration. NLC works towards developing sustainable, environmental friendly farm-based livelihood opportunities for women leading to more children attending school and an overall improvement in their health,
says Samir Somaiya, Chairman GVET.