Making a Difference Beyond Call of Duty
WCS India staff hand-hold tribals who have moved to relocation centres and help them with livelihood, education and medical support.
The 30-odd women gathered protest in one voice to the news that Govindappa will soon be leaving them. Lokesh from WCS India has just announced to the gathering that his colleague’s services will be needed at the new tribal relocation centre in Masthigudi. He placates them saying that Govindappa will be with them for two days in a week. They are not so assured by that.
It was during 2007-08 that 60 families moved in from the Nagarahole tiger reserve to the centre. The small community hall at Sollepura speaks for the many activities initiated by Govindappa H L, the WCS India staff who has been hand-holding the tribals for five years now. He has been there to address their problems and help them with livelihood support. Assisting him is Prakash, a tribal youth who is paid for his services.
“From the time a child is born, the work begins, to get all the relevant certificates it requires, from birth and caste certificates,” says the calm and patient Govindappa. For any requirement, he identifies the concerned department or charity organizations and approaches them and manages to get the job done, usually.
On the shelves in the community hall are colourfully painted mud pots put up as seed banks. Alongside a wall are six gleaming sewing machines that have been contributed by Rotary Club, H D Kote and Selco Foundation. Sewing classes are soon to be started at the centre. Anticipating the desire of the women to own a set, Govindappa has approached the Zilla Panchayat and submitted a request for sanction of ten machines free of cost for those who have expressed interest in owning one.
Gowramma expresses gratitude for all that the organization has provided through the offices of Govindappa. “We got drums, pots, plants, books for the children, uniform, etc.”
He has helped secure admissions for 23 children in the nearby Eklavya school run by the central government. Govindappa accompanies the students to Mysore for the counseling and is there to help them fill the admission forms. He has played a major role in involving the Gandhi Krishi Vigyana Kendra and Suttur Krishi Vigyana Kendra in providing agricultural support to the families.
When parents seek admission into the private school, he cajoles the management to reduce the fees. For the needs of the local school, he makes trips to charitable organizations like the Rotary Club and Ramakrishna Ashram. He also makes weekly visits to the school to check on the performance of the students.
Another woman in the gathering proudly exhibits the mushroom she has started cultivating with his help.
It was through his intervention the settlement was able to get solar power for the homes. It was also with his guidance that three of the tribal families started growing the ‘super crop’ Chia. Today they are a beaming trio, having made more than half a lakh, growing the crop in one season.
WCS India provides educational support for higher education, agricultural support as well as medical reimbursement for the tribals. This includes financial support for fertilizers, seeds, books, school bags, and all the medicines needed by the tribal families. Livelihood support has also seen around 50 people in Hebbala settlement trained in driving. But often, help goes beyond the listed areas.
Assistant Director – Conservation, P M Muthanna recalls being woken up in the middle of the night by a tribal family seeking transport for a pregnant woman to a hospital. The family wouldn’t settle for a government hospital, he smiles and tells how they insisted on a private one.
Similarly, he remembers being woken up with a call from a police station at night, citing two children in the safe-keep of the station. They had run away from the residential school 200 km away where the organization had placed them in. He had to bring them back.
At the Shettahalli settlement, the organization vehicles used to ferry children to schools till the ashram school came up at the centre. “We did not want them to miss school due to the distance,” says Lokesh, Associate Conservationist, WCS India.
When Lokesh goes visiting the Ashram school in Shettahalli, he is besieged with requests from teachers. One notes how he has been on the temporary rolls for a long time drawing a meagre Rs 6000 as salary. Please, can you talk to the authorities and help, comes the plea. Another points to the need for benches for children. The floor, he says, can get very cold.
It is the government social welfare department that runs the Girijana Ashram school but that does not deter Lokesh. He is quick to make a call to one of the authorities he knows and pass on the requests.
Sometimes WCS India staff have had to pitch in right from the word ‘go’. Once a family is allotted a house and land, they are required to dismantle their homes in the forest and move out. Instances of heavy rain following this have seen the WCS staff rush in with transport to help the families.
The organization has also helped some of the families get an extra house allotted to them by the government under popular schemes like Ashara and Indira Awaaz. Many families in Sollepura have grown up children and the small houses are no more adequate.
While a lot of benefits are available for the tribals from the social welfare department, much of this needs to be followed up. That is where WCS staff like Govindappa, Vinod Kumar, Prakash, and Lokesh play a crucial role, whether it be to procure cattle heads for each family, bee-keeping boxes or chicken from GKVK, or the gas stove from the social welfare department. Govindappa has persuaded the Sollepura families to go for the environment-friendly stoves that use less firewood as an alternative when the gas is over.
WCS staff regularly visit the many relocation centres to check on the needs of the families. It could be advice on agricultural practice, or grievances of the community to be passed on to authorities. At Sollepura, the women clamour for a solar fence to save their crops from neighbours’ cattle. Yes, the trench is in place but that does not quite help as the cows are helped to cross over. Get us the funds to build a fence, they ask Govindappa and Lokesh. Govindappa has helped them submit applications for bore well and solar fence.
The field staff at WCS have a tough job walking the line between never-ending demands and genuine requests. Sometimes, it calls for a lecture from Lokesh reminding the women at Sollepura that they must learn to be happy with what they have, while others in worse conditions need help. “They are your family members itself and they are facing elephant problems. They need help to move out and that’s why Govindappa has to leave,” he explains while assuring them that their needs will be addressed.
It is often tough but at the end of the day there is the satisfaction that one makes a difference in their lives, says Govindappa.
Written by Jayalakshmi K