Learning by doing: Living in a community
I had limited understanding of social-sector and had little interaction with the communities living in far off areas of Kashmir. However, while staying back for a night in an area in district Bandipora in the vicinity of Wular lake and to tell you the truth that overnight stay changed the whole perspective and my understanding towards communities. That very night I stayed with a community leader and he apprised me about the level of the problem they are facing and the grave mismatch between the projects actually implemented and the real need on the ground. It is then and there only I stayed back and tried my best to first interact with the community and its leaders; subsequently developed a trust level which helped a lot while addressing the problems. And since then I often travel and interact with lots of communities and try my best to understand their needs and in whatever form I could by involving all stakeholders and came up with solutions. At times it would mean financial help as well but it is worth it as I learn in tons: the deeper level of understanding I received about the communities is beyond worldly monetarily values.
I was able to build rapport with the bureaucratic and bank officials and was able to secure some services for the local community like access to credit, drainage facility to name a few. I also undertook institutional analysis of few community based organizations and restructured their whole setup, guided and motivated organizations to go for formal registration. I made recommendations based on readings: New institutional economics (NIE), and Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework.
Though I had acquired as much knowledge I could have on the change management however, easier said than done. When I tried to apply them in practise I faced lots of resistance, inconvenience and hurdles, at time I thought it is not possible. However, slowly and through consistency I was able to incorporate some changes in some organizations e.g in their operations viz. HR policies. The local population has borne the brunt of conflict and this cost, not only in terms of the deaths and casualties and the economic costs, but also the social, developmental, environmental and strategic costs as well, this was always in my mind while I was dealing them.
I also tried to ensure that individuals/groups who are likely to be impacted or interested in activities have adequate opportunity to provide input into decisions affecting them. Also tried that all relevant information and a diversity of views are considered in the decision-making process.
Acceptance was the biggest challenge while dealing with local leaders and during my stint with the community what I found was without nod from community leaders getting things done is real difficult thing. Once I was able to convince local leadership then things fall in place automatically.
During my several meetings with the policy makers to my surprise I found that they were ill informed about the communities, which finally culminates into wrong policy formulation. I took along community leaders along with me while I met policy makers and made them habitual of the same.
To work in the community without getting anything in return is rewarding and brings on blessings from on high, it also makes you feel ten feet tall when you see someone smile after you have helped them, do something they could not have done themselves. There is no amount of money that you could get paid that would equal that feeling. It is pure joy.
Analyzing community problems is hard work. Real community problems are complex. Several different reasons influence the problem, in different amounts, all at the same time. It is not an easy task to untangle all the reasons and their relative strengths, but it is necessary in order to reach a solution. At times while living with the community I found that the problem may not only have more than one reason; it may have more than one solution too. Problems often call for multi-pronged solutions. What I learnt was that with good analysis, some resources, and enough determination, even the most troublesome problems can be addressed, and ultimately, solved.
[Author has secured the Young leadership Joke Waller-Hunter (JWH) Initiative fellowship recently].
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