After the rural BPO B2R, Chirag was our next stop. Chirag is a rural development organization based in the Kumaun region of Uttarakhand in India. In Chirag we were met by Madhavan, the young and dynamic CEO of Chirag.
Chirag is an inspiration – set up in 1987 by Kanai Lall jee who left a comfortable life in the USA to set up Chirag for overall development of the hills. A lot of passionate and young people from IRMA, DSSW and other places joined him. There were lots of couples who eventually got married. According to Madhavan it was a classic Pressure cooker enivronment- these couples would work together side by side in the day and would carry on the same discussions in their homes. And because the atmosphere was so intense that idealogical issues would erupt . As it was expected some people moved on to start their own NGOs. This is how for e.g Pan Himalyan Grassroots ( Kalyan and Anita), Aarohi ( Sushil and Oona) were born. Madhavan shared that quite a few NGOs in the hills will have their roots in Chirag.
Chirag has an integrated approach to development and that is why they do so many acitivities. Their activities include community forestry, soil and water conservation, the development of watersheds, increasing the availability of fodder, animal husbandry, agriculture and horticulture, drinking water, primary health care, primary education and the development of knowledge and skills amongst young people.
Madhavan explained to us the specifics of work that Chirag does in the hills. It was interesting to hear the spring water regeneration work that Chirag is doing or the Life Skills program that focusses on Adolescent youth to name a few. Madhavan also explained that due to new changes in the income tax code , Chirag has faciliated set up of a section 25 company called KGU ( Kumaun Grameen Udyog) to take care of any business/Trading related activities.
One thing that is really interesting and commendable about Chirag is that it is probably one the few NGOs in India ( and definitely the only one in the hills) to have a professional CEO, that reports to an independent board. In this way Governance is different from Management Structure. This is quite a feat in India where most of the NGOs are still headed and driven by their founders.
Next on the agenda was lunch followed by visit to Chirag’ s school, Chirag’s Demonstration farm and a weaving unit of KGU. We learned about vermicomposting and Non- Pesticide Management ( NPM) way of growing crops. Then we visited the Chirag school which follows the alternative education methods and is run by a teacher from Rishi valley school. What was really refreshing was to see that that Madhavan also sends her own daughter to the same school.
After the school we went to see the KGU location where weaving was done and then finally to one of KGU shops. Aluka, who heads KGU explained that weaving is not a traditional skills in the hills. Chirag has trained the local people in weaving so that this can become another avenue for their livelihoods.
So overall a nice exposure to integerated approach to rural development in the hills. While we were going out I saw this interesting poster in the walls of one of the training rooms were were sitting in. This very nicely sums up Chirag’s Philosophy.
Go to the people,
Live among them,
Learn from them,
Start with what they know.
Build on what they have.
But of the best leaders,
When their task is accomplished,
Their work is done,
The people all remark,
“We have done it ourselves”. – Chinese Proverb