Stimulating Change for a Better Odisha

Government schemes have existed for decades in India. All of these schemes are very well thought of but they are not able to make an impact on the ground. This is because they are not implemented in the same vein that they are conceptualized. Due to gaps in implementation, the benefits that the government provides are not able to reach the people they are intended for. With 70% of its population living in rural areas, the Odisha government is well aware of this disconnect between the administration and the people.

Right implementation of such schemes requires large manpower that is aligned with the overall vision of providing welfare. This is where the Art of Living training programs are most effective as they are able to inject enthusiasm, inner strength and a spirit of service in people.

In May 2014, the Odisha government decided to do an experiment. The Art of Living was called upon to train the army of Bharat Nirman Volunteers that the administration had enrolled. BNVs are the crucial connecting link between the administration and the population. One BNV takes care of 10 families and educates them on what welfare government schemes might be useful to them. The Art of Living proposed that in order to bring an impactful transformation at a community level, about 100 participants from the same village should do the 8 day Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) together. The program content is holistic addressing personal development as well as imparting community engagement skills. Apart from yoga, meditation and powerful breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya, it also includes field visits and interaction with experts who provide information on government initiatives.

Sh. Niten Chandra, Principal Secretary, General Administration, Govt. of Odisha, recently shared some of his observations on what the result of a series of such programs was. In a village called Singada in Suliapada block in Mayurbhanj district, one of the biggest problems was scarcity of drinking water. After the program took place there, the villagers got together, decided to pool in money and laid down a piped water supply for the whole village. The next problem they identified was a shortfall of teachers in the village school. Instead of raising this grievance with the administration, they started teaching in the school themselves.

He further shared that one person with brilliant ideas may not be able to bring a great change but when 100 people in a village do the program together, it becomes a progressive community and the impact is much more. This change in the community was highlighted again when the administration decided to run a campaign to make villages free from open defecation in Angul district in September 2014. The Collector called all the 40 Sarpanchs and posed a challenge, “Can you do it? Which villages can volunteer?” The only one to raise his hand was Durjodhan Sahu, the Sarpanch of Kumursingha Panchayat. The reason behind his confidence was that 120 people had undergone the training in his village. He knew he was not alone. He went back and shared the idea with his team, who immediately took up the challenge. They setup a committee to monitor the overall progress, divided tasks among teams to manage construction and quickly visited every house to make them aware of the project. Due to this methodical approach and participation of the whole community, this was the village that made the most use of government assistance made available. Within two months, they constructed 1519 toilets and were awarded as the 1st open defecation free village in Odisha. Word about this project travelled far and the Collector was invited to share this achievement at a conference hosted by the Vietnam government, apart from several seminars nationally.

In a village in Hinjilicut block, Ganjam district, the BNVs invoked so much faith with their activities that some villagers agreed to donate their pieces of land to build a road for everyone. This collective phenomenon is powered by individuals who themselves have inspiring personal stories to share. Beena Dhal lived in Singada village in Suliapada block. The availability of basic facilities was so scarce that when her husband fell ill, he could not get access to proper medical care. Beena lost her husband and her world fell apart. She had two children to take care of and no means of livelihood. She enrolled as a BNV and underwent the 8-day YLTP. The program turned her life around. This lady, who had thought of committing suicide at one point, found the courage to raise her own family independently and take care of 10 more.

This partnership between the Art of Living and Odisha government has created a wave of transformation that is spreading through the state. These training programs have touched the lives of 2500 community leaders across 7 districts (Angul, Cuttack, Mayurbhanj, Kandhamal, Kalahandi, Ganjam and Khurda) so far. Looking at the impact of these YLTPs, the Principal Secretary has issued a letter asking all the 30 districts in the state to hold a program each in the month of March 2015.

We know that inspired individuals can do great things, but when entire communities are inspired, the scale of change is revolutionary. These and many such examples show that our population is a vast reservoir of human potential and the way to tap into this reservoir is through right education.