This organisation works tirelessly to bring clean energy in hilly terrains of Ladakh
The NGO, Vishwadeep Trust has a vision for empowering women farmers and tribal communities to fully take ownership of everything that has been given to them especially in the time of pandemic
With my experience having worked in hilly regions of Ladakh, I have often witnessed that last mile distribution of any kind of technology or even field testing and training when it is done free of cost, is seldom utilized fully by the communities because they start perceiving it as a token or a charitable initiative.
A non governmental organisation- Vishwadeep Trust has a vision of empowering women farmers and tribal communities to fully take ownership of everything that has been given to them especially in the time of pandemic. Time and again, Ladakh faces flash floods and several other crises that are often not talked about in the media. It is important that these aspects, specially regarding community engagement via contribution, via learning, via development of self help groups are also highlighted.
In 2017, The Vishwadeep Trust initiative received a global environment facility small grant programme under UNDP OP5 cycle. Although it was a small a grant of USD 50,000, the Trust impacted each and every household in Takmachik.
There were two major technologies to be given to women farmers- Portable low cost indigenous solar cookers and solar dryers because that would greatly reduce indoor air pollution and reduce drudgery of women farmers in mountain region. The solar cooker boxes were distributed among women completely free of cost to reduce their drudgery and economic load.
Upon monitoring in 2018, it was found that only 30 to 40% of population was making the judicial use of solar cookers. And that made us think twice. It was not an easy task to distribute 70 solar cook boxes in remote region of Sham valley that is Takmachik and then to collect family members of all the houses and train them about the uses and benefits of the solar cookers in both Ladakhi language and Hindi.
The trust made a constant and consistent effort to instill a sense of ownership without charging them any money. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that out of the 40% of the people who were using solar cooker, 22% turned it into a mini local enterprise and started providing solar cooked organic bread and biscuits to nearby cafes and resorts. However, in some households it was found that the solar cookers were used like a little suitcase or they started putting different items in the cook boxes.
It was then decided that there will be a small fee or a community contribution attached to any purchase that crosses above 1000 rupees to any household.
This made a huge change in the outlook of the people.
Not only the solar dryers were a big hit in the region but there were repeat orders of solar dryers in the coming years not only from the same village but also from the adjacent villages.
Global Environment Facility (GEF) always stresses on projects sustainability and ownership amongst community hence they really instill and focus on co-financing. And the experience with Vishwadeep Trust also reaffirms that community contribution is definitely a boon.
There is always some negative stereotyping that NGOs make money or That the woman who runs this organisation is an outsider, but the local community always showed trust in the organisation and therefore they repeatedly order dryers, cookers and other things.
The community contribution towards technology specially for post harvest management guarantees project sustenance and guarantees a sense of ownership within the community and overall upliftment of women farmers and tribals. But there should be no added pressure on the organisation or community. Vishwadeep Turst had conducted a small pilot for the dryers and they were a success in the region, with repeat orders, the Trust also reiterated that contribution is a must.
The community was happy to contribute as the innovation has positively impacted their agriculture related practices.
Recently, the Trust noticed how women in Ladakh were burdened with physical drudgery due to the extra burden after COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. They were relieved when they received the relief kits in the month of June for COVID-19.
Civil society actually faces many unspoken struggles even while implementing government projects. The NGOs continued to look for alternatives like conducting virtual trainings during the Covid pandemic but they are not as impactful as physical trainings. Nevertheless, the trust which local communities put in the NGOs and the way they gradually are moving towards environmentally sustainable and healthy means of living make the hard-work and all the efforts worthwhile.
The author works with the Vishwadeep Trust