India: Training Indigenous leaders through Village Development Committees

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India: Training Indigenous leaders through Village Development CommitteesReligious sisters in India are working with Indigenous communities to create Village Development Committees and train people as leaders who will improve the lives of their communities.

Indigenous communities often confront numerous socio-economic challenges and marginalization.

To address these issues and foster inclusive development, the concept of Village Development Committees (VDCs) has emerged as a crucial strategy for a significant number of indigenous people residing for many years in the regions of Guntur, West Godavari, Thiruvallur districts of Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, India.

These districts are home to several indigenous communities, each with distinct cultures, traditions, and lifestyles deeply rooted in their natural surroundings.

However, they face various challenges, including landlessness, lack of access to education, healthcare, and limited economic opportunities. Historically, these communities have been marginalized and often excluded from the development process.

The Congregation of Jesus Mary Joseph (CJMJ) has been actively working in these communities for the past seven years.

As part of their development activities, Village Development Committees (VDCs) are encouraged by the community members to form, representing components of leadership, education, health, livelihood, household care, cultural and ethical values.

These committees play a crucial role in addressing the unique needs and participating in the decision-making of indigenous communities.

The primary objective of VDCs is to convene monthly meetings to plan developmental activities, covering local governance, resource allocation, education, healthcare, livelihood opportunities, and the preservation of culture and ethical values.

The VDCs contribute significantly to the well-being of indigenous people in 15 communities, reaching out to 1,050 families in the areas.

VDCs serve as a platform for leadership development, ensuring that the voices of indigenous people are heard in matters concerning villages.

They make decisions related to infrastructure development, enabling their voices to be heard and demanding basic social entitlements and rights from local, district, and state governments.

VDCs work towards increasing access to education by advocating against discrimination and promoting the importance of education within these communities. They also organize awareness campaigns to encourage the enrollment and re-enrollment of indigenous children in local schools.

VDCs play a crucial role in ensuring that indigenous people have access to healthcare through regular visits from Asha workers, health camps, and advocacy for better healthcare services.

Collaborating with government agencies and NGOs, VDCs create livelihood opportunities for indigenous communities, including skills development programs that promote traditional handicrafts and connect them to markets.

VDCs aim to preserve and promote unique cultural and ethical values among indigenous communities, including traditions, languages, and art forms passed down to future generations.

While VDCs have made significant strides in improving the lives of indigenous people, challenges persist, including resource constraints, awareness, and active participation, and landlessness.

Despite these challenges, the constant perseverance of two Village Development Committees working with local government has led to the achievement of a land and housing scheme.

In January 2022, 30 families living in huts beside the railway track for the past 20 years, in a hazardous environment, gained access to water through a borewell. Construction of houses is underway, with completion expected by January 2024, providing these families with safer living conditions.

The Congregation of Jesus Mary Joseph believes that Village Development Committees (VDCs) are vital tools for promoting the development and well-being of indigenous communities.

The religious sisters and their collaborators are actively empowering these marginalized communities through VDCs.

However, addressing ongoing challenges and ensuring the sustainability of these efforts remains a collective responsibility, involving government and non-governmental agencies, as well as the communities themselves, to create better living conditions in a sustainable way.

Sr. Denin David Chiriyankandath