Padam Raj Awasthi
With the mission of harnessing leadership to achieve Sustainable Development guided by the Sustainable Development Goals, challenging and supporting a cohort of Young people to collaborate across countries to find innovative and sustainable solutions that improve people’s lives, SOJAG, Bangladesh in partnership with other like-minded organizations launched an International Fellowship Program - Leadership for Life Worldwide (LFLW) in 2018.
As a Teach For Nepal Alumni, I was selected to participate in the program as a LFLW Fellow from 25th of August to 23rd of September, 2019. My fellowship was a month long exchange program at SOJAG, Bangladesh. SOJAG is a NGO working in the field of consciousness building and awareness raising in Dhamarai Upazilla Bangladesh. Currently I am working as a Co-Founder and CEO of TAJA Agro Farms, an agro startup working in rural community with aim to transform socio-economic status of rural lives through agro entrepreneurship. Being the Co-Founder and executive of the Farm, so far I am involved in the overall management and execution of the farm. At this stage we are striving to setup model organic farm to make community self-reliant in agro products especially regular fruits and vegetables. Along with it we aspire to work as a teaching and learning center for local stakeholders especially farmers to equip and motivate them to grow organic vegetables. Our long run goal is to support local people in agro entrepreneurial activities to transform the socio-economic status of entire community.
As an Alumni closely working with community I was placed in Baliya branch of SOJAG under the supervision of Md. Ashraful Islam Sumon. Baliya branch is one of the SOJAG branches that work as a center to support community people especially SOJAG members (stakeholders) in improving their economic status through micro-credit and agricultural support including technology transfer and trainings
The month long of a learning exchange was an opportunity to observe and learn about the Sarvodaya Movement - its history, organizational culture and systems. I also saw how different units at Sarvodaya functions and how they work independently to achieve Sarvodaya’s vision. I was particularly impressed by Sarvodaya’s focus on self-sustainability through various initiatives and this has been one of my takeaways to Teach For Nepal, to invest early on generating resources required for sustainability and growth.
I currently work as a Program Manager at Anuvuti International, a sister organization of Teach for Nepal. Anuvuti International designs service learning programs for international volunteers and provides learning opportunity and study abroad programs. Because of my current role I was placed at Sarvodaya International Unit (SIU) during my fellowship program and I went through record files in Sarvodaya Institute of Higher Learning (SIHL) and SIU to research on international volunteer’s interest in visiting Sarvodaya / Sri Lanka. SIU programs involve exploration tours, Shramadana activities, and the opportunity to experience the realities of life and culture in Sri Lanka. It led me to learning the basic email communications protocols on volunteer management and studying the budget preparation sheets and learnt how SIU makes budgets for its programs in Sri Lanka. Going through SIHL and SIU files helped me understand program structures and agendas of past programs. It will help me in planning of the program to meet its objectives and also learning proper documentation of feedback. I have also brought feedback forms to Nepal as samples.
One of my important insights was research and contextual understanding of community for effective program design, this came through strongly both on Kurunegala sight visit and in visiting Kandy with Bandula Aiya in preparation for study tours. I went to Kurunegala to try out a community tourism program with 3 international participants to study and check the feasibility of the program. I observed that the visit was to show the culture and livelihood of most Sri Lankans in the villages. I also found out that Most of the small local businesses were run by women and larger fractions of workers were also female. As a Teach for Nepal Alumna, who served in a rural community teaching for two years in Nepal, being the highlight of my trip to visit a preschool in Kandy run by Ms Aylaneea and Ms Rebecca who believed that “poverty cycles breaks through quality of education” and they decided to live with the community and start the school by convincing the community on “the importance of education”. This school has been following the British curriculum and has 13 students studying with Ms. Rebecca (ECD Trainee, teacher). The next year’s goal is to admit 12 more children of all ethnicity to practice compassion and mutual respect among the diverse ethnicities and create a harmonious environment in the community. They believe that no one should be deprived by the “Right to Education” because of their status or ethnicity. While it may not be a part of my learning objectives, an important opportunity to grow came in the form of my first major public speech at Sarvodaya Institute of Higher learning at Bandaragama. I had the privilege to take part in a Sarvodaya Women’s Development boot camp at the SIHL Institute, where I first publicly gave out a speech of my experiences and stories to a group of amazing women. This I never thought I would do, I loved the process of learning. From drafting a story to presenting, I learnt, unlearnt and re-learnt.
To end this with an amazing journey I took to the east coast over a weekend during my stay where I travelled by myself in public transport to feel and see the history and cultures of Trincomalee. In Trincomalee I visited a few places to experience the diversity. I visited Koneswaram temple, Fort Frederick, Pathirakali Amman temple, Maritime and naval history museum, Trincomalee British war cemetery, Trincomalee harbour, Kanniya hot springs, Sri Lakshmi Narayana Perumal temple and Nilaveli beach. I was accompanied by one of the staff of Trincomalee District Centre. I also took local bus back to Colombo where I experienced the local transportation services of Sri Lanka, I loved the experience.
In terms of observation, the way SOJAG connected income generating programs which linked the informal sector with private institutions which ultimately led to social enterprises within the communities was quite fascinating. Ever since I got back, I have contacted a private institution called the Green Agro Company. They agreed to collaborate with Sarvodaya in taking part in field visits, soil testing and obtaining organic certifications for the farmers. This partnership program will fill in the supply chain which will then create a network that leads to community building. The idea of not having a middle man will also be beneficial for the farmers and in return would not be exploited for their hard work. Sarvodaya will provide micro credited loans through Sarvodaya Development Finance Limited for the farmers with necessary planning structures. Seasonal loans for crops that only grow during a specific time, which allows the farmer to take the weight off his shoulders and improve growing methods. All of these methods are going to have a participatory guaranteed system (PGS) and also gives the farmer credibility to sell his/her produce in the right markets. Introducing methods on increasing the efficiency of water such as the drip irrigation system or water sprinklers in terms of what our country is going through with climate change. Modern inventions are being produced in a localized sense for farmers to use, but the inventors don’t have the right marketing tools and the demand for it. Being as useful as it is; these inventors will be given micro loans, the space to practice and the workshops set to introduce it to farmers.
My Month Long Fellowship Experience with Sarvodaya
Md. Ashraful Islam - SOJAG BANGLADESH
Fellowship Period|: 12thJuly, 2018 to 10thAugust, 2018
“The goal of Leadership for Life Worldwide fellowship program is to sharing knowledge, experience, and learned from practical working procedure of Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement activities. Sarvodaya has taken larger perspectives in transforming the attitudes and the role of the youth to suit the present context. Sarvodaya Shramadana movement help to create an active youth leadership enriched with spiritual, moral, social, economic and political consciousness to work towards the eradication of violence in a non-violent way. Youth leadership opportunities allow youth to grow in a positive environment that promotes personal growth. Increasing opportunities given to youth allows them to become more active in the community and in extracurricular activities and while creating lifelong skills. Leadership is also part of experiential learning. Leadership is also part of experiential learning. Experiential learning takes place when a person is involved in an activity, looks back at it critically, determines what was useful or important to remember, and uses that information to perform another activity. Providing an experience alone does not create "experiential learning." The learning comes from the thoughts and ideas created as a result of the experience. This is a "learn by doing" or experiential process. The learning comes from knowledge sharing, practical work and analysis. I have learned many things from different units/divisions of Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.”
Md. Ali Akbar - SOJAG BANGLADESH
Fellowship Period: 12thJuly, 2018 to 10thAugust, 2018
I saw similarities between SOJAG and Sarvodaya Sharamadana Movement. Sarvodaya is working to transform the attitudes and behavioural changes among people, according to the present context and also for a better future. Specially working with youth and trying to lift up their spirituality, moral aspects, social and economic status, political awareness, education, leadership skills etc. will help to create better future and with that Sarvodaya can achieve their organizational goals , vision as well. Here, youth leadership programs are helping to youth groups to enhance their skills, perspectives and to build a youth network from different areas.
I had deeper exposure to Sarvodaya’s organizational structure and their operations. This exposure helped me to realise how we could improve operations at SOJAG. I spent much time at the Field Operation Department. The Field Operations Department coordinates the twenty Sarvodaya District centres. As a field operations worker at SOJAG this knowledge and learning experience was so important to me and I’m very much willing to implement these techniques and programs in my own community. I had much to learn on the implementation aspects and I would like to give my gratitude to Sarvodaya for their kind support, sharing their knowledge with us and for their hospitality. I hope to keep in touch with Sarvodaya through SOJAG to collaborate on different aspects, especially to create partnerships.