A pleasant Saturday evening saw a full-house with 150+ friends, our esteemed supporters like Ms Anu Agha, Mr. Babu Joseph - Executive Trustee of Axis Foundation and Mr. V Giriraj - Secretary of Maharastra’s Rural Development Ministry, as well as first-time young friends from TISS, MASTEK Foundation and other enthusiastic volunteers working in the Development sector graced the occasion.Ramesh Uncle welcomed all and introduced Madhukar Dhas, Founder Director of DILASA and his chief associate, Mansoor Bhai who had started DILASA SANSTHA way back in 1994. He spoke about Yavatmal’s drought-affected villages which were notorious for farmer suicides and with 60% of the population dependent on agriculture, the entire population was at the mercy of fickle rains. Even this year, the rains were late and so they may be able to take just one crop instead of 3. Anuji was then invited on stage and she thanked CF and very well said - "Today is the day for CF and let's focus on that". The audience really appreciated her sharp and to-the-point attitude.
Mr. Babu Joseph spoke next about their partnership with DILASA since the pastand how DILASA has reached out to 50,000 families and had improved their living conditions with their innovative irrigation ideas to bring percolated water to the fields. Dependence of farmers on moneylenders charging interest at exorbitant rates has now gone down from 80% to 17%, thanks to DILASA convincing farmers to diversify from mono-crop to multiple crops, offering them access to credit linkages and forming Self Help Groups for women. He spoke about Madhukar’s humble beginnings being born in a shepherd family, with no fancy degrees to speak of, having done all kind of odd- jobs initially but yet developing a challenging vision to improve the plight of people in this stark drought-affected region. An ordinary man doing extraordinary work and bringing about a revolution through access to water!
A video titled ‘Featuring Hopes’’ was then screened, which demonstrated how DILASA got the underground seepage water from tanks channeled through pipes and brought to the farms through a technique that needed no electricity and was simply ‘powered’ by gravity. The film also showcased SHGs that had changed the lives of women, by giving them access to a revolving fund wherein one SHG member in a month was given a loan by DILASA.
Madhukar Dhas then introduced one of the beneficiaries of the SHG Ms, Kalavatibai, who had accompanied them. It was endearing to see her dressed in a simple traditional Saree seemingly unfazed by the city-audience, confidently speaking in Marathi about her initial hardships as a daily-wage worker and how the SHG had changed her life. Using the loan through the SHG, she could buy a buffalo, sell milk and milk products and earn a profit of upto Rs 400 per day. Thus she was able to provide a better life for her family, get her 3 daughters married and settle her son. She now dreams of purchasing a vehicle to ferry the milk to town, so that her son can drive and deliver to even faraway-places and earn a higher income.
Nimeshbhai then reminisced about how Caring Friends backed Mansoor Bhai’s plans of a dam and had taken an instant decision to build the same at Akoladev. He spoke about how during those desperate times in the 4th consecutive year of droughts, the team of Madhukar, Mansoor Bhai, Dr Pol and Dr Avinash Saoji pooled their ideas and resources together and built our first check dam in the area; only to be followed by inspired villagers who themselves raised resources with their own initiatives and got some more dams built!
Mansoor Bhai then spoke of suicide cases plaguing Vidarbha region (43000 suicides in Vidarbha alone since 1995!) and how with their partnership with NABARD since 2007, several irrigation projects were started and while earlier only 5% of land owned by a farmer could get cultivated, now it was almost 100% cultivable. 50,000 households benefited because of these innovative irrigation measures as well as due to formation of the SHGs and there have been no further suicides in their area of intervention. Today there are also 4000 such SHGs formed through DILASA, with 48,000 women members.
Madhukar then enthralled the audience with his quiet wit and self-deprecating humour about how he was always first from the bottom of the class and how he decided after forming DILASA that since they wouldn’t have the means of paying huge salaries to trained civil engineers to build dams, they would only hire 10th and 12th fail-students! Mansoor Bhai then trained these youths and this enthusiastic group of ‘Makad-Senas’, as he calls it, started to build check dams and ‘Phads’ to get water to the fields. He spoke about how he recognized early on in his life that water is the most important resource which would resolve many problems plaguing the region: be it accidental deaths caused while drawing water from 25 ft deep wells, to loss of income due to droughts, poor health of the community due to scarcity of water and hence recognized the need to first resolve the water scarcity issue. Thus he started on as a self-proclaimed ‘mad man’ and several like-minded supporters like Mansoor Bhai joined him in this endeavour.
The last part of the Meet was the Q and A session where the audience eagerly asked questions on the predominance of growing BT Cotton Vs organic produce, whether water-borne diseases were being tackled, how other SHGs formed by existing NGOs were able to co-exist with DILASA’s SHGs and Madhukar answered these questions.
The Meet then ended with a sumptuous dinner and animated discussions with Madhukar, Mansoor Bhai and even Kalavatibai continued for a long time. Madhukar spoke to each and every one, extended his invitation to visit Ghatanji and the Meet ended on a wonderful note. We wish to thank Madhukar Dhas and his team in making the long trip to Mumbai and we assure them of our continued support to DILASA in reaching out to the farmers of Vidarbha and Marathwada.
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