SEDS, the Social Education and Development Society, was founded in 1980 by Rajen Joshua and Manil Jayasena as a grassroots development NGO, motivated by the desire to help the poorest of the poor in the drought-prone area of Anantapur District in Andhra Pradesh. In the early days, the main focus of the work was on community development by way of non-formal education and small loans to skilled target communities like cobblers, basket weavers, blanket weavers and others.

As Anantapur is the second most drought prone area in India and much of its natural resources are depleted, it soon became clear that environmental problems would have to be tackled first, if peoples’ livelihoods were to be made sustainable. Starting in 10 villages near the small town of Penukonda a scheme of pioneering work was developed which aimed to empower local communities and improve their environment. Initially small nurseries were started for homestead plantations and planting of avenue trees along village roads. Re-a-forestation and more sustainable agricultural practices were introduced. From 1990, SEDS started using a more participatory approach, through the formation of Community Based Organizations. Involving the communities more in the effort made them actual stakeholders in the development process of the region. Throughout the years the scope and area of the work increased and the fruits of the sustained efforts became visible in the greener environment and the enthusiasm of the communities.

Today, SEDS is working through an integrated rural development approach with an emphasis on women’s empowerment, watersheds, re-a-forestation and natural resource management. This is within five Mandals in the southern part of Anantapur District, in south western Andhra Pradesh namely, Penukonda, Roddam, Gorantla, Somandepalli and Chilamathur. In these 5 mandals SEDS currently supports 125 villages, being some 12000 women and their families, 980 Self Help Groups (SHGs), 120 Village Organisations (VOs) & 5 Mandal Samakyas (MMSs) .

Through its sustained efforts SEDS has made a significant impact on the lives of the people in the area and the local environment. The SEDS slogan “Towards a greener tomorrow” has become a reality.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mandal Facilitation Centre

In the last 3 months the Mandal Facilitation Centre (MFC) took off. Lying dormant for such a long time people might have wondered why it took so long to start this project. Of course this project was never inactive. Most effort was invested in the communities in the form of training and awareness building. There is no rationale to start up a centre if the women did not have an idea of the possibilities that are available to them. The last decennium India has undergone some enormous economical changes. Between 2005 and 2008 the GDP grew with 9.4%, 9.7%, 9.1% and 6.1% respectively. This gave the government the chance to invest in development. In Andhra Pradesh many schemes have been set up in order to help people such as the Indiramma housing project which gives free houses for people below the poverty line. Ration(food) shops have been set up in villages for ration card holders who now get rice, sugar, oil and other basic commodities at lower prices. Different pension schemes have been created for the elder and health services have been tremendously upgraded to accommodate the villagers. Many scholarship funds and insurance programs have been set up. Farmers get subsidised seeds to plant in their fields. Then there is the NREGA that brings employment to the rural unemployed during the months when there is no work on the fields. For these plans the government tries to ensure full transparency with the Right to Information Act (RTI).
Spreading of awareness in the villages

All these programs can bring great benefits to the people but in a lot of cases it fails to deliver. People can be unaware of their rights, there can be lack of interest from the authorities to accommodate the people, corrupt officials divert capital streams into their own pockets, instalments are not being paid and sometimes honest mistakes are made but nobody cares to follow them up. In a sense people lack the acquaintance, knowledge and confidence to take up these problems. Many things can be blamed here. A shortage of awareness, a society that is solidified in hierarchy and an unwillingness to perceive one’s own problems all contribute to a certain apathy that needs to be curbed. As for now there are no institutes that take on awareness and empowerment building in an overarching way, one that brings the Community Based Organisations (CBOs) together and looks at the different problems the community faces. For all these problems solutions can be worked out by connecting them to the answers offered by governments and NGOs. It is important to understand that a community is just as strong as the level of participation of its members. For this the MFC must provide the answer.
For many years SEDS has been delivering facilities and trainings to the CBOs. Now SEDS is trying to phase itself out in the field of delivering these direct services to the community and it wants her members to pick up where it has left off. However, in the process of building up the MFC it became clear that the CBOs, mainly the Self Help Groups (SHGs) and Village Organisations (VOs) are a bit stuck at the village level and have a great difficulty transcending this. Yes, there are the Mandal Samakyas who bring the VO leaders of the Mandal together but these government institutions do not take up empowerment roles for the larger community. They just train their own members and divert government funds in different projects.
So SEDS came up with the plan to facilitate the SHGs and VOs to set up a body that would rise above the village level and tackle the issues collectively. In a first stage, as mentioned before, it was necessary to inform the CBOs about all the options and prospects that are out there. Now we have arrived at a point that we know that the community is ready to take it to the next stage, the actual start up of the MFC.
During VO meetings the concept of the MFC was explained to the women. We wanted them to understand that the MFC will be an independent institute run by them and will provide information, services and advocacy for their benefit.

Mandal level meetings to explain the MFC
Concept to the General Body Members

Three main functions are identified.
- Information
o On development programs of government and private institutions
o Possibilities of training
o Education / health / environment
o All other matters that are deemed important for community development
- Services
o Delivering trainings to the SHGs
o Follow up on micro credit scheme
o Facilitate all kinds of services towards government schemes and private institutions, eg. Bank linkages, insurance applications, infrastructure requests etc.
- Lobbying and Advocacy
o Use of free legal services
o Legal advice
o Issues with implementations of schemes
o Issues with the government
A General Body Member explaining the
structure and functions of the MFC

The MFC itself will be governed by the women of the VOs. To get all the women of the five Mandals involved each of the 125 VOs elected a member to be a representative in the MFC. They will be called the General Body Members. From all these women an Executive Committee of 19 members (representing the 19 clusters in our area) was selected. These women will be the main working body. Monthly they will conduct a meeting at Mandal level to gather all the issues and requests from the villages, brought to them by the General Body Members. Then all the Executive Committee Members will come together to discuss these points and work out trainings, help out in legal issues, contact the government, set up rallies, etc…. Also there will be a permanent office in Penukonda where the women of the SHGs can come to receive help for requesting loans or insurance applications, urgent appeals for legal help or other assistance.

Selection of the Executive Committee Members

On the 6th of August the Executive Committee members came together for the first time in Penukonda. In their first meeting SEDS discussed the features of an institution and the roles and responsibilities of the office bearers. In the afternoon the women selected a president, a vice president, a secretary, a joint secretary and a treasurer.

The Executive Committee Meeting

SEDS will be providing the starting capital for the MFC and give a full year of financial backing. Also In the following three years SEDS will be standing next to these women and guiding them in all aspects of the three main functions of the MFC. The hand over of the MFC as a people’s function will then start taking place facilitated by SEDS.

The Executive Committee

The Five Office Bearers of the MFC

Monday, August 9, 2010

Waste Policy Advocacy

On Thursday 29th of July SEDS and the community conducted a plastic awareness rally in Penukonda. During the monthly meetings with the Village Health Workers (VHWs) women were voicing their frustrations on the ongoing pollution caused by plastic. Although people recognize that plastic waste is a problem, only a few will take up any action to do something about the problem. So in cooperation with the women SEDS decided to bring the issue forward and raise awareness in the community.

The complaint is that everywhere there is plastic waste. Plastic bags, cups, slippers, bottles and covers are carelessly thrown away by people and cause many grievances. Animals are eating the waste and dying. Water stagnates in the plastic making it the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Drainage systems get clogged because of the plastic and waste water will be flowing in the streets during rains. Then there is of course the visual pollution caused by the waste. Then there is the rather ominous solution of burning the waste causing air pollution.

The demands of the women are simple. Awareness must spread among the people. In the villages the Panchayat must organise rallies to educate the people to stop using unnecessary plastic. Also they are looking to make policy changes. Panchayats should be able to penalise people who just throw their waste on the street and proper disposal grounds for this waste should be provided. Another suggestion is that linkages must be sought and built for generating an income from this household waste. People can earn a living by segregating waste which can be sold off to recycling centres.

Marching through Penukonda

For the rally nearly 200 women came to Penukonda, VHWS and VO leaders. Together with our staff they marched to the offices of the Revenue Divisional Officer, the Mandal Revenue Officer, the District Panchayat Officer and Secretary and the Circle Inspector. Also letters were written to the Agricultural Minister, the District Collector, the District Medical Officer of Anantapur, the Project Director of DRDA and the Sanitary Inspector of Penukonda.

The Revenue Divisional Officer

The Divisional Panchayat Officer

The Circle Inspector

All the government officials showed great interest in the initiatives and proposals and promised to follow it up with the people.

The Revenue Divisional Officer agreed to a meeting after the tenth of next month with the women.