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The Action Northeast Trust of India Shaping the Wellbeing of Communities at grass root level

By Srimal Fernando Global Editor, The Diplomatic Society

For more than 17 years, the Action Northeast Trust (the Ant) has been doing wonderful work at grass root level in 250 remote village hamlets in Chirang District of Lower Assam in India to improve the wellbeing of the most vulnerable and marginalized sections of the society.

Photo: Dr Sunil Kaul, the Managing Trustee and co-founder of the Action Northeast Trust

 

Established in October 2000 the Action Northeast Trust was originally founded by Dr. Sunil Kaul , Ms  Jennifer Liang and (late) Sh. Ravindranath Upadhyay, a recipient of one of India’s highest civilian awards  “Padma Shri “. They spent a considerable amount of time steering the direction of the charity and doing their bit towards this noble cause of uplifting the socio-economic status of people living in remote areas. This month The Diplomatic Society Global Editor, Srimal Fernando had a chance to talk with Dr Sunil Kaul, the Managing Trustee and co-founder of the non-profit organization the Action Northeast Trust at the Rawmari campus.  

After a brief introduction of the Action Northeast Trust’s long journey which started out 17 years ago Dr Kaul in response to an interview question what is Ant and how does it work said, “the Action Northeast Trust known as Ant was a volunteer organization, and developmental Non-Governmental Organization (NG ) working for the people .We go by the Gandhian concept of  social  work . “Since there are few NGOs in the area we are doing many things .We are into education, health and women’s development .“
 

(Photo: Aagor women weavers - Photograph source:  The Ant)

Over the past seventeen years, a lot has been accomplished,  Aagor Daagra Afad, a women weaver’s  organisation set up by the Action North East Trust (the Ant ) in 2005  in Chirag,  played  a significant role in empowerment of women and  for the welfare  development of traditional  women weaver’s in the area . ‘Aagor’ women  weavers  represents an incredible spirit of entrepreneurship and the  organization provides a home based opportunity to over 150 handloom weavers, to earn using their traditional skills.

For these women weaving is not easy. These highly skilled women weavers at Aagor require a significant amount of commitment, concentration and mental effort to weave in order to earn an income to survive and feed their families.  The in-house weaving Centre gives young women a chance to earn a living and break free from the trap of poverty through weaving handloom fabrics and products. 

The Aagor weaver’s   center is one of the largest income generating cottage industries and the second largest source of employment in the area.  Adding to this Dr Kaul said, “Women weavers themselves are in the executive committee and continues to distribute Rs 35 to 40 lakhs in wages every year”.  Aagor runs Ant Craft Trust (TACT) a local store in the Chirang district and in Bangaluru selling high quality handloom products.  

Over the last decade, apart from Aagor women’s weavers organization, the Ant  has been instrumental in providing  246 women self-help groups (SHGs ) linking  more than 2600  women participants with services, ranging from entrepreneurial training of general accounting practices, maintaining of books of accounts and loan utilization systems across 80  villages in Chirang districts. For example,  Jagruti Women's Cycle Bank project successfully lent cycle loans to women to increase mobility and confidence.  In addition in the Ant cycle camps, women in these rural areas learnt new skills in cycling gaining more confidence on the bike.

Violence against women and girls is a major problem in the area. Since 2016, the Ant has been working hard to bring an end to domestic violence by taking awareness and trying to educate the public in 250 villages in the next three years on this important issue.  At the same time, since its inception in 2007, the Institute of Development Action (IDeA), a wing of the Ant Rawmari campus works to strengthen the capacities of nonpartisan non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, as a fundamental pillar of democracy in the North eastern region.
 
Photograph: Twenty students led  by  Dr Samrat  Sinha from the Jindal  Global  University  (JGU) on  a field based engagement  (Winter Institute  in Development  Planning  for Bhutan-India Borland  Regions) jointly facilitated  by the Action Northeast Trust (the Ant)

Furthermore, the  Ant  works on a project called “ Sahayak  Manch”   that  broadens  consensus and cultivates  mutual trust among Bodos, Bengali Muslims and  Rajbonghis  living in the  area. Sporting activities like Community Youth Leaders (CYL) tournament organized by the Ant at the Rawmari campus to build bridges between divided communities has been used effectively. The involvement of the Sahayak Manch peace building project at village level has seen a growing improvement in relationship between Bengali Muslim and Bodo communities.

It is observed that there is a gradual building up of trust between the two communities, especially among youth through activities like mixed football tournaments. Using participatory techniques, the Ant had reached out to 3000 children to facilitate a bottom-up approach for community based transformation through sports and games based curriculum. In addition to Ants  promoting  peace  and diversity  through sports efforts and “ Sahayak  Manch” project,  the  project  Shikha  builds  positive atmosphere for  studies to over 1300 students from  sixths to eighth standard  in hard to reach villages in Deosiri and Kuklung areas.  In fact ‘Bigyan’ an innovative project to enhance scientific knowledge and new experimental practices among government middle school students with a Lab in a box with experimental martial had reached out to over 2700 children in 23 government schools in the area.

Over the past eight years, the Ant, with a long track record, play a vital role in providing professional mental health care services to the communities living lower Assam. In recent years, the wellbeing of mental health related issues and psychosocial disability has been rising. The Ant had reached out to over 4800 patients with various mental health problems.

“For the last four years visiting eight hospitas in the area, I treat around 150 patients per week.   We charge only less than ten  Indian rupees  from a patient  for our  services by providing  medicines  under the  Ants  community mental health programme,” said Dr Mintu Moni  Sarma,  Consultant Doctor of Ant.

In recent years the Ant campus in Rawmari, has developed partnerships with well renowned institutions around India.  In  December  2017 twenty students from the Jindal  Global  University  (JGU)   led by Dr  Samrat  Sinha visited the  Ant  for a two week  field based  engagement  in a collaborative  program between the  Jindal  School of International  Affairs (JSIA ) of JGU  Sonipat, the  North  East  Research  and Social Working Networking  (NERSWIN) and Bodoland University and the  Ant.

In fact, important sources  of funding from  Jamseti  Tata Trust of Mumbai,  Arpan  Foundation  of USA, National  Foundation for India ,  the British High Commission, UNICEF Guwahati , Bongaigaon Refinery    in Chirang,  Caring Friends , German Terresdes Hommes and various  contributions from  philanthropies  to Ant projects  to tackle critical issues of concern  ensures better  socio-economic   well-being for the people  living in these  remote villages  in Bodoland in lower Assam.  

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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May 2018

 
 
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