It all started when P.V. Bharath Vineeth took a sabbatical from his IT job in Bangalore to work in a hospital in Chattisgarh. In spite of holding Engineering and MBA degrees, Bharath has always been inclined towards the social sector and was also a part of the Tata Jagriti Yatra in 2008.
While working in Chattisgarh, he got to know about the SBI Youth For India Fellowship – the opportunity which he grabbed with both hands.
Having an interest in micro-enterprise development at the village level, the fellowship looked like a perfect platform to put his skills to a better use.
“I wanted to do something which could leave a bigger impact in the lives of villagers and something that could help them get an alternative livelihood option in the long run,” Bharath says.
His passion to help those in need took him to Jeypore, Odisha where he interacted with the villagers and came up with an idea to generate an alternative source of livelihood.
The Rice Cooker
Bharath worked with bamboo weavers and women from self-help groups in the village to create a market around hay box – a rice cooker made of hay, bamboo and jute bag.
The product idea is developed by an NGO in Andhra Pradesh where Bharath was involved before. The USP of the product is its cost-effectiveness. This “easy cooker” saves fuel and the rice remains hot for six hours.
“As Jeypore uses the rain-fed agriculture system and farmers mostly grow paddy, this cooker can be of great use there,” Bharath says.
The hard work of Bharath, MSSRF, SHGs, and the bamboo weavers paid off and they have received 44 orders so far.
“The hay boxes are an alternative income generation source and not their main activity, so we can’t expect them to finish the orders as soon as they get them,” Bharath says.
Out of the 30 weavers that Bharat contacted, 10 took up the profession and this has increased their incomes almost seven-fold.
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School Vegetable Gardens
The initiative was started by Bharath to create vegetable gardens in schools so that the produce could be used for the mid-day meals and help the students get better nutrition.
“Malnutrition is severe (46%) in this district not only due to unavailability of food sometimes but also due to the food practices of the tribals,” Bharath says.
The nearest vegetable market is 15 kms from the village and the villagers do not grow their own vegetables, so it becomes difficult to get fresh vegetables everyday, affecting eating habits of the families.
“The idea is to see that at least 30kg per month is supplied from the school vegetable garden by employing good gardening practices. The types of vegetables and fruits that will be grown are papaya, drum stick, banana, brinjal, ladies finger, radish, pumpkin, chilli, carrot, tomato and spinach. This list was arrived at after discussing with students,” Bharath says.
To implement this solution, Bharath took up a barren land close to the school and helped them grow a vegetable garden on it.
The biggest challenge that Bharath faced was to earn the trust of the villagers. “You have to spend time with them, speak to them, and only then can you build trust. Why else would they trust a total stranger who claims to solve their problems?” says Bharath.
Another challenge was the language, as Bharat did not understand the dialect of the villagers. A translator helped to combat the issue.
“I have learnt that in case you really want to bring a change, you have to spend a lot of time on the ground and fraternize with the people involved, in my case the villagers,” Bharath says.
Bharath also advices to seek help from various local NGOs as they have a vast knowledge about the village and you can utilize their resources.
“I now believe that every setback is temporary and you should just keep moving,” he says.
Bharath is currently back to his regular life after having spent a year in the village. He plans to develop more skills and build networks to leave a bigger impact in the future. He also plans to take up consulting in the social sector.
“The fellowship changed me a lot, both on a personal and a professional level. I have become more confident and open to further initiatives,” Bharath says.