Amitabh Soni’s NGO Abhedya has started an IT initiative for tribals – Willage Quest- to prevent migration to the city and to empower women by giving them an employment opportunity.
Dedicating one’s life to help others is no mean feat, but it comes naturally to Amitabh Soni. Having spent over a decade in London working for the Social Welfare Department, Amitabh came back to India in July 2014 and started Abhedya.
“The idea (of working in the UK) was to learn about democracy – how the system works, how the departments work and how the government and the people synchronise their efforts. I always wanted to come back and do something for our nation, but because I had much to learn, it took me a while to come back,” says Amitabh who has a master’s degree in International Business.
Collecting funds from friends, Amitabh began his work in Kekadiya, a tribal village 25 km from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, in February 2015. He started his NGO Abhedya the same month that took under its wing Kekadiya and three other surrounding villages. The organization has teamed up with teachers and tribal youngsters and concentrates on four areas – education, employment and livelihood, water management and improving governance.
“A fundamental mistake that organisations like ours make is that they see things from a very urban perspective. A lot of knowledge resides among these people – the crime rate is almost zero, there is a no competition, no greed – something we can learn from them. We approached them to mutually learn from each other.”
Willage Quest – a tribal IT initiative
Migration from villages to urban areas in search of better jobs was a growing trend, and an inspiration to create job opportunities at the village level. Over a year ago, team Abhedya started Willage Quest, an IT initiative owned by youngsters of the village, with a team of five directors overseeing its functioning.
The team bought second-hand computers and invested in furniture, and the office now resembles a professional IT office. “These youngsters come from a farming community and are accustomed to backbreaking work. Being seated in front of a computer screen is a cake-walk for them. Once you’ve given them a sense of purpose and explained to them the end goal, they become very focused and start working towards the goal.”
The youngsters are mostly graduates and have limited IT skills extending up to MS Office. Most have only used computers in college. These youngsters are trained in data entry by volunteers who are engineering students or graduates from Bhopal. Three are getting trained in Delhi on web technologies and coding.
With no proper marketing team in place, Abhedya approaches IT companies belonging to members’ friends and acquaintances. Willage Quest being in the village allows its team of 16 to work as and when projects arrive. The office is also open for non-tribals to use the facilities.
Data entry was a small step in the IT field. The big challenge now is power supply as power-cuts are frequent and unscheduled. To overcome this, Abhedya has started a crowdfunding campaign. The funds will be used to install solar panels so villagers can work towards their goals.
Projects under Abhedya
Abhedya has also been working with the local school in the village to provide facilities like desks and benches, toilets, mid-day meals and electricity connections. They also train youth on navigating through the panchayat for better benefits for the village. Since the organisation’s intervention, the literate youth have joined as part of the Education and Health section of the panchayat.
“Eighteen children (17 girls and 1 boy) have been sponsored by eighteen families to go to a private school. One of the students has got into National Law Institute University of Bhopal, while another is doing a paid internship at an IT company called Srijan in Delhi. Two more are getting software training in Delhi in an institute called Gurukul. These are wonderful victories that support our efforts and drive us to do more,” says Amitabh.
The IT lab in the village also serves to educate the children on computer basics such as typing, MS software and MS paint, and has around 200 people attending classes.
With the village facing a water shortage for irrigation, Abhedya is now planning to build a series of small check dams, stop dams, and lakes.
“We want to provide them with the necessary resources to help them grow while still keeping the heart of the village the same.”