Rabindra, a sparrow conservator, demonstrates the different ways to conserve the bird.
Even after six decades of independence, 25-year-old Pradeep Jayapuria’s village in the Maoist-stronghold of Koraput district doesn’t have basic facilities like schools, healthcare centres and employment opportunities. A student of JMV College in Potangi block and also the Naib Sarpanch of his village, Pradeep has been eagerly waiting for a chance to transform his village.
Pallabi Das, also in her 20s and a student of Sambalpur University, was in a dilemma about her career. She always wanted to help the underprivileged but feared that working for charity wouldn’t boost her bank balance. Raising funds for voluntary work is also a difficult proposition for a young student like her.
Like Pradeep and Pallabi, around 100 youngsters — mostly students — embarked on a seven-day bus journey to give root to their ideas. The Odisha Yuva Jagaran Yatra took them around eight districts of Odisha and introduced them to some unsung heroes of the state.
The trip, from June 3-9, focused on exposing these youngsters to individuals and institutions that are developing unique solutions to the state’s challenges. The participants travelled to places where daily battles are fought and won, met people who’ve made a difference to many lives. When they returned from their long and rigorous journey, each of the participants had a goal to pursue.
The Odisha Yuva Jagaran Yatra initiative aimed at awakening the spirit of entrepreneurship — both social and economic — in youth by exposing them to success stories and inspiring them to develop institutions, both at the state-level and within their communities. “The Jagaran Yatra was about empowering individuals. We wanted to inculcate a spirit of learning among the young and talented minds of our state. Our endeavour is to develop individuals who are not just seekers of employment, but also generators of employment,” says Gobinda Ballav Dalai, founder of Bhubaneswar-based Youth Development Foundation (YDF), organising body of this unique journey. The yatra was sponsored by the Odisha Department of Sports and Youth Services. “We believe that enterprise-led development is the solution to many problems, so what better way to change the future than by guiding the youth in this direction,” he reasons.
Each day involved a visit to a particular person or an institution, watch them at work and study the problems of progress. During the journey, the youngsters were introduced to role models like Joe Maddiath of Gram Vikas, Anshu Gupta of Goonj, Trilochan Maharana of New Life, Mangaraj Panda of United Artists’ Association and S Chitta Amma of Samudram, Sabarmati of Sambhav. The participants choose random places to retire for the night and even helped in cooking and serving food.
The journey began with a visit to New Life, a 10-year-old drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centre at Khurda. The 50-bedded de-addiction centre caters to 41 addicts including people who have served sentences for murder, drug addicts living with HIV/AIDS and alcoholics. “The work they are doing for the addicts is astonishing. The visit set the mood for the entire yatra,” says Bibhuranjan Panigrahy, a yatri and a Plus III final-year student of Rayagada Autonomous College. They also visited Gram Tarang initiative of Centurian University that provides skill training and employment opportunities to unemployed youths and school dropouts.
On World Environment Day (June 5), the youths visited villages near Rushikulya rookery in Ganjam district for first-hand knowledge on environment conservation efforts and organic farming. They also visited United Artists’ Association (UAA) to assess eco-tourism prospects near Rushikulya rookery. The participants then met members of Samudram, a fisherwomen organisation, led by S Chitta Amma.
The next stop for the yatris was at a sparrow conservation project being successfully undertaken by the residents of Prunabandha village. This successful project is being replicated in other parts of Odisha. The youngsters also interacted with members of Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee (RSTPC), a local organisation created to protect the endangered Olive Ridley turtles during their mating and nesting season. “We met sparrow conservationist Lingaraj Panda, Rabindranath Sahu of RSTPC, Simanchal Nahak of Rushikulya Rayat Mahasabha and some organic farmers who have been able to bring about a substantial change in various fields in Ganjam,” says Krishna Chandra Das, an engineering student of Majhighariyani Institute of Technology and Science (MITS), Rayagada. Recalls the 22-year-old, “It was a life-changing experience, especially the visit to Samudram. The organisations have totally changed my idea of how voluntary organisations function.” Motivated by this kind of work, Krishna too has decided to do something on his own.
For youths like Pradeep and Jyotsnamayee Pasayat (another participant from Balangir), who come from areas that face drinking water, health and sanitation issues, a visit to Gram Vikas was an enriching experience. Gram Vikas, led by Joe Maddiath, a pioneer in sustainable development for rural dwellers, currently serves more than 3.5 lakh people in 1,090 habitations of Odisha’s 24 districts.
The participants learned the nuances of organic farming from Sambhav in Nayagarh. The organisation, which was founded by former state information commissioner, Prof Radhamohan, is engaged in practising, demonstrating and training in organic and natural farming. His daughter, Sabarmati, has developed a dry land into an 85-acre farm by purely using on eco-friendly principles (Her workers used tonnes of organic manure including earthworms to improve the fertility of the dry land. In place of pesticides, they are using vermi compost and neem mixtures to keep pests at bay).
The journey has transformed the lives of the yatris. Pallabi now wants to educate people. She isn’t interested in waiting for state assistance. “While I don’t have the money, I plan to use the contacts I gained through this journey to generate resources,” she says.
Bibhuranjan says there always was a strong desire in him to give something back to the country. “I believe very strongly in entrepreneurship’s potential as a tool to solve problems,” adds Bibhuranjan, who now wants to start a social entrepreneurship model in Rayagada. “The yatra has made me more aware of the kind of social worker I hope to become some day. I always knew social responsibility counts, but never understood how much it’s really needed until now,” says Priyanka Priya Darshini from the Centre for Social Science and Research, Bhubaneswar.
By the side
Apart from travelling with hundreds of young people and meeting inspirational entrepreneurs, the journey was also about enjoying the smaller things of life — be it the fun of picking up new words and languages, splashing around on a beach in Gopalpur, having a bath under water pipes meant for washing vehicles or sleeping in tents.
Besides life-changing experiences, they took back home not just friends for life, but a wealth of stories that they remember cheerfully. “One morning, we were all waiting for the bus. Exhausted and weary, we began singing! We would dance practically all day long in the bus,” recounts Vivek Nayak. Dalai cautions that the physical strain on such a long journey can be a tremendous challenge. “So we had to learn to prioritise, take short breaks and rest when we could.”
Three more similar yatras will be undertaken in Rourkela, Balasore and Cuttack on August 15 to 23, November 12 to 20 and January 12 to 20, 2013, respectively. Every phase would involve 100 yatris along with the support team. “The yatra will empower youth to aspire towards being more like the entrepreneurial trailblazers they meet and show them a path to scale up their own concepts so that they will be successful entrepreneurs in the future,” says Sujit Kumar Nag, a student of Malkangiri College ■