After quitting his job as an engineer, Shashank Singh decided to take up a development project in rural Rajasthan. Today, he is living in a village, helping rejuvenate a pond that will help generations to come.
When 25-year-old Shashank Singh entered a village in Rajasthan with a solid plan for a rural development project, he never knew that he would end up working on something completely different.
“During a survey to find out what problems people were facing, I went to a village near the place where I was supposed to start my project. It had a very nice pond that the villagers had been using for years. Speaking to a teacher there, I came to know about the time around 40 years ago when they had mobilised the community and constructed the pond together. It was then that I decided to replicate the project no matter what,” says 25-year-old Shashank Singh Kachwaha, who then went on to start a project on rejuvenation of an old pond and construction of a cattle park in Chota Naraina village located in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan.
He began this in partnership with the NGO named Barefoot College. A mechanical engineer by education, Shashank was working with Hero Cycles as a Quality Engineer prior to the fellowship.
“I decided to resign in July last year when I came across the SBI Youth for India fellowship. I had worked in the corporate sector for a few years by then, but nothing was interesting me much. I wanted to do something else that would help create change. And hailing from Bihar, I wanted to gain experience from this fellowship to go back and change the current scenario of poverty in many regions of my state,” he says.
SBI Youth for India fellowship is a 13-month-long programme that enables young people to work on rural development projects with different NGOs.
Shashank entered Chota Naraina with a concrete plan to set up something that would help villagers utilise electricity obtained from solar energy. But he changed his plan completely after speaking with the villagers during his survey.
“When I asked one of the village women about the kind of problems she was facing, electricity seemed to be the last thing on her mind. She was complaining more about how they had to struggle to collect drinking water every day and also to provide water to their cattle. Being a dry region, rearing cattle is the main source of income in this village. That is when I decided that solar electricity will be of no use for these villagers if they don’t have access to water,” says Shashank.
It has been eight months since the beginning of the 13 month long fellowship, and Shashank has been living in the Field Centre itself. He began work by talking to the residents, asking them what they needed – and found that there were four ponds in the village that were not being utilised because they were broken or did not have water anymore. There was no planned construction for conservation, which was causing the rainwater to flow away instead of collecting at one place.
One existing pond had dried up and Shashank started to consider rejuvenating it.
“I chose to work on this particular pond because the catchment area is very big – approximately 700 bigha. And once it is ready, 5,000 animals from five nearby villages will be able to drink water from the pond every day,” he says. The catchment area is basically the area from where rain water flows into a river, lake or reservoir. The surface on which the 480 x 150 feet pond is being constructed is non porous, so the water holding capacity of the soil is very good. After every monsoon, it can hold water for 12 months. A cemented wall is also being constructed around the pond.
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Right at the beginning, Shashank decided that he would not make use of any machines and equipment, but would employ the people of the village to make it a community-owned project that would help them earn a living.
“One of the biggest challenges I faced was that the villagers were not ready to believe in me. They kept thinking that I was someone who had come from the city without any knowledge about their problems, and would leave soon without doing anything concrete. So I started by talking to them, winning their trust, motivating them to participate, and trying to make them understand the importance of this project. Finally, after several meetings, we made a committee of 25 villagers who will be responsible for looking after the pond once it is ready. Currently, it is the villagers who are working on the construction of the pond, while I am guiding them and helping with the funds. They are at the digging stage right now,” says Shashank.
Barefoot College is helping him with a sum of Rs. 20 lakh, which includes the daily wages of the villagers who are being paid in accordance with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
Shashank hopes that they will be able to finish the construction before the monsoon this year.
“Before coming to this village, I never realised the value of a Rs. 100 note. But living here and seeing how people live, I learnt the value of every hundred rupee note I earn. Initially, I was a bit overwhelmed, but later I started enjoying my stay and work. I cannot put it in words, but I am really happy with what I am doing, just because the people around me are so happy. They say that I am doing something of great virtue,” says Shashank, talking about his experience of living in the village.
Currently, 120 villagers are employed in this project, because of which they do not have to move out of the village to look for jobs. Shashank hopes that this will help him motivate other people in the nearby villages to take up similar projects.
“I had promised at the village level that I will make it happen. So in the beginning, when I was working with the NGO to get permissions and funds, the villagers would ask me – ‘What happened? When will we start?’ I did not want them to believe that I am just someone who made an empty promise without doing anything about it. And that is what kept me going,” concludes Shashank. After completion of this project in five months, he plans to go back to his hometown in Bihar and learn agricultural skills so he can take up farming.