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Trócaire 2013 Lenten campaign focuses on Odisha in eastern India

By editor - 12 February, 2013

This Lent, Trócaire invites you on a journey of discovery to a small community in Odisha in eastern India.

Lent 2013

for more info – www.trocaire.org/lent

This Lent, Trócaire invites you on a journey of discovery to a small community in Odisha in eastern India. This journey will tell the story of Trócaire’s work in tackling poverty and marginalisation among some of the poorest and most excluded communities in India. There you will find how, with your support, Trócaire can continue to:

1. Help communities to work their way out of poverty
2. Tackle the root causes of poverty and challenge the injustices that keep people trapped in the poverty cycle.

India is home to over a billion people and is one of the fastest growing democratic economies in the world. However, parallel to this, India is also home to over one third of the world’s poorest people. Huge inequalities exist between rich and poor and India’s poorest people are being left behind. Some issues being faced by communities include:
  • Lack of crop production leading to food shortage, due to poor land and farming techniques.
  • Lack of education for children.
  • Low literacy rates.
  • Little or no awareness of the government supports available to poor people.
  • Low levels of land ownership or access to land.
  • Land damage due to flash flooding.
  • Poor roads and infrastructure in communities.
  • Lack of healthcare support and knowledge.
India facts
  • India is the biggest democracy in the world, with more than 655 million voters.
  • It is a federal republic made up of 29 states with their own assemblies and six territories governed by the Central Government.
  • India is home to one third of the world’s poor.
  • It is home to 400 million people living below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day.
  • A child born in India is twice as likely to be malnourished as a child born in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In six states in India, at least one in two children are underweight, including Odisha.
  • Adult literacy rate in these states is 61% which is only marginally better than Sudan.
  • India has the largest number of child labourers under the age of 14 in the world.
Odisha is home to 41 million people, with a land mass the size of France. It is located on the Bay of Bengal in the eastern part of India. Trócaire first started working in the state of Odisha in 1999 after a devastating super cyclone killed close to 10,000 people and caused widespread damage in the state. The key focus of the work in Odisha since then has been on working with Dalit and tribal communities, two of the most marginalised groups in Odisha.
  • 47% of people in Odisha live below the rural state poverty line of 28 euro cents per day.
  • Odisha has the second highest rate of infant mortality among states in India: 77 per live 1,000 births compared to the national average infant mortality rate of 57 per 1000 births.
  • The drop out ratio from primary school stands at 60%.
  • The most recent census in 2011 shows literacy rates in Odisha as a whole to be 74%.
  • The female literacy rate in Odisha is 61%, compared to 80% for males 57% of Odisha’s population suffer from chronic energy deficiency due to poor nutrition.
The Indian government has put support schemes in place to help the poorest sections of society, but getting the schemes to the poorest, most isolated villages has not been easy. India is a vast country with many levels and layers of government from state to village level. If any link in the chain is broken, due to corruption or inefficiency, vital help does not reach the people who need it most. It is up to the poorest people themselves to ask for and demand government support. Trócaire and our local partners in Odisha organise, educate and empower poor, rural communities to seek the help they need to live fulfilling and dignified lives.
The Community: Jhilligoan, Koraput
Jhilligoan is a tribal village of 50 families in the Koraput district of Odisha. The villagers belong to a tribal clan called Paraja, which has a rich cultural heritage and is part of a bigger tribe, the Kondha. Villagers take their surname, ‘Paraja’, from their clan. The village is located in a rural area and its families make their living by farming crops such as rice, millet, and vegetables. Trócaire has been supporting the community of Jhilligoan since 2006. For two generations or more the people of Jhilligoan have lived in harmony but also in extreme poverty, surviving from day to day by working the land available to them. As wider society developed and India became a more industrialised country, Jhilligoan’s people, like so many other tribal communities in this part of Odisha came under increasing strain. Over time the community realised their only hope was to come together in their struggle for a better life for themselves and for their families. Today the village works with one voice to seek a more just and dignified life.
“In my village we stay together. We are united. Since we formed our committee, we meet every month and if there are any problems in any households a few people will go to the household and find out about it. If someone is very sick, if they need any help or hospital support, we will take them to the hospital. If I am sick or any of my children are sick, our neighbours will come to us and ask how they can help us, or bring us to hospital. In the village I feel that we are all one family. We are united and we help each other.” – Hari Paraja
Jhilligoan’s monthly meetings are colourful, energetic events. The labyrinthine village opens up around a large tree. Village members emerge from their homes and stoop in a circle on their hunkers. Women wrapped in multicoloured fabrics mix with men wearing traditional orange headscarves and loin cloths. They gesture, nod and interrupt each other; they’re passionate about their community, their rights and their future.
Their struggle
Before help had arrived to the families of Jhilligoan its people were not always aware that they had a right to a better quality of life, to more nutritious food, clean water, healthcare and education. This lack of awareness of their basic human rights left them trapped in a very poor and isolated state.Life is now changing for the better. Without Trócaire’s help, Jhilligoan’s people would still be struggling silently, abandoned and lacking the knowledge to do anything about it. Today, the community benefits from the following…
  • A village development committee made up of members of the local community.
  • Two groups for women – Supporting women in agriculture, promoting mother and baby healthcare and providing a village healthcare worker.
  • Agricultural training and land development: villagers farm on infertile, hilly land that is affected by flash floods and soil erosion during the rainy season.
  • Providing seeds to the community.
  • Better infrastructure (rain drainage, irrigation, improved roads and access and sewage systems).
  • Goats, bullocks and sturdy Gifts of Change houses to protect against monsoon weather.
The Paraja Family
Hari and Dharama Paraja, and their children Ambika (9), Samala (5), Parsuram (12) and grandfather Madhu (60).
The Paraja family is one of the fifty families that live in Jhilligoan. Their story serves to highlight not only the difficulties that the whole community faces, but also the many successes and improvements that have taken effect since Trócaire began working alongside this community. Hari, the father sits on the local village committee where he can now voice any concerns he may have for his family and Dharama was elected by the women’s group to be the village health worker. She had three weeks training and links in regularly with a district nurse who visits Jhilligoan and other tribal communities. Dharama gets a small wage and an extra payment when she encourages pregnant women to have their babies delivered safely in hospital. Because the community is so isolated, she keeps in her home an additional supply of medications provided by the government to help treat sick people quickly. Support for this village role was sought by the community through the women’s group which was facilitated in their set up by Trócaire.
Their struggle
The struggle faced by the Paraja family and many other families within the Jhilligoan community is neatly summarised by Hari who says…
“I don’t have sufficient land. It is sloped land on the hilltops. It’s hard to grow enough to feed my family. I feel that my family should have good food and that I should be able to buy dresses for my daughter and school things, so I go out of the village to get wage labour to earn extra, and to bring in the money so that I can feed and take care of my family.
I haven’t been able to do everything I’d like to, but I’ve been able to do some things. I grow vegetables behind the house to eat and I have two acres of land. I grow ragi (Millet), and vegetables such as tomatoes and beans. I farm all of my land but I have to rent a bullock from the village to plough it as I only have one myself.”
When Hari gets day labour outside the village he and his co-workers will stop working if their employer tries to withhold pay. Hari now knows his basic rights and entitlements, what is fair and just: “Now I bargain. I know what the minimum wage is.”
Ambika Paraja (9 years old)
Ambika’s mother Dharama says… “Ambika is very obedient and listens to me. If I say to go to school she will. She is very disciplined. She does all her own work, cleaning her clothes and keeping her books in place and she also helps me with the housework. She collects water and sweeps the floor. If there is something to be brought from the shop she will go and get the rice or potatoes. She also cleans the house and sweeps the outside. She is very good, she listens to me; she helps me. She is very interested in studying so she always asks me to cook on time so she won’t be late for school.”
Her struggle
Ambika faces a unique struggle, not just as a member of a marginalised tribal community, but also as a girl. In India, 19% of young girls leave school during their primary education years (5% higher than boys). Often as pressures arise in the home or a need for extra labour emerges, the girl has traditionally often been the first in a family to leave school.
Luckily for Ambika, her parents and grandfather seem intent on supporting her in her pursuit of a full education.
“I don’t know if I will be alive or not, but I would like to see Ambika well educated and be able to speak with people and become a good person.” Madhu 60, Ambika’s grandfather.