Community Partners in India Mobilize to Avoid Getting Lost in the Shuffle
Outreach’s work around the world to eliminate chronic poverty takes many forms: improving access to clean water, training farmers to increase crop yield, facilitating education and healthcare initiatives to give our partners the tools and well-being to reach their full potential, among countless other examples.
For the people of the Kunjabadi community in rural India, one of the most pressing issues facing them was the need for government-issued ID cards, so that they could qualify for employment and access other resources to support their families. The cards are required for everything from opening a bank account, to school admission from early childhood to graduate studies, as well as at job interviews, and even during train travel. Most importantly for Kunjabadi residents, the cards grant eligibility for ongoing employment through jobs furnished by the government, as an opportunity designed to provide economic stability in families and villages.
For Kunjabadi resident Nariya, a 60-year-old father of three adult children, life without the ID cards was an exercise in dispiriting frustration:
“We have no farming land [in Kunjabadi], so we are dependent on work as laborers. [There is] a government program that provides rural communities with labor work for 100 days a year, [alongside a stipend of] up to 150 rupees per day, roughly $2.30 USD. To get these jobs, we needed job cards, but we had no cards, so we could not get the government labor work, and without the wages, it is difficult for us to maintain our families.”
There are many steps on the path out of deep poverty, some on solid ground, others on shakier footing. In order to have the confidence to attempt the latter, it’s best to build confidence with a slow ascent, unimpeded by obstacles. Luckily, in Kunjabadi, all they had to do was ask.
Two of a Kind
Put simply, in order for those in rural India to gain eligibility for government-run social welfare programs and ongoing employment in the public sector, residents need to have an Aadhar card and a Job card, respectively. Both cards are similar to the United States’ Social Security program, in that they function as government-issued identification that also give cardholders access to established means of government assistance. India has long offered myriad programs and projects to its people to combat poverty, so the cards are merely a means of keeping records and minimizing wasted resources. If you are a resident and would like a card, you’re fully entitled and encouraged to turn in an application.
It’s all very straightforward on paper, figuratively and literally. But for many in the lower castes within Kunjabadi who have been oppressed for generations, government offices are mysterious and intimidating, and visiting one feels risky, if not dangerous.
Luckily for residents, times have changed. Getting them access to the cards was a great first project for facilitators from the Outreach-affiliated nonprofit Ministry of Good Samaritans (MGS) to take their first step out of poverty alongside community partners, and to equip them with the confidence and experience that comes with shared success for all the steps yet to come.
Through role-play exercises, community partners calmed their concerns and tempered their expectations of their upcoming task; gaining familiarity with proper government office procedures, as well as the forms and questions they would be asked to address as part of their applications. After enough practice, it was time to mobilize and actually visit the offices to turn in application. Finally, the community was persistent in their follow-ups with the government agencies, to ensure their hard work paid off.
“If we unite and are active, we can solve all our problems, just as we resolved our issue on Aadhar and Job cards. [Outreach] will not be in our village forever, so we need to unite and be active.”
Good news: 394 community members received their Aadhar cards, and 258 accessed their Job cards. Great news: The community achieved their goals through mindful, intentional collaboration with one another regardless of social standing, age, or gender and learned firsthand that working together means everyone benefits from the experience, to say nothing of their shared stake in the positive outcome. That the work undertaken to achieve their goal was accomplished entirely among themselves, without outside assistance beyond MGS facilitators’ encouragement, is a powerful, meaningful symbol of empowerment and agency. Giving a community reason to shift their mindset from “It can’t be done” to “We can do it together” is the point where substantive, positive, permanent change begins to truly take root.
The village’s chief concluded his opening remarks at the victory celebration held by the community to give thanks for the successful application and acquisition of the cards by saying, “If we unite and are active, we can solve all our problems, just as we resolved our issue on Aadhar and Job cards. [Outreach] will not be in our village forever, so we need to unite and be active.”
It’s a good thing everyone has their paperwork in order, then.
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