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Give a man a video camera and he'll feed himself

Chris Elliot, a Concern UK Trustee, is in India visiting Concern's operations. This week, he will be sharing his experiences of the trip as a guest blogger.

The old adage that if you give a starving man a fish he is fed for the day but give him a fishing rod and he can feed himself, may soon need to be updated. Now we may have to give him a video camera.

The second day of our trip to see the work of Concern and its partners in India was spent with the hill peoples. In the past, the Bhuinya, the Munda, the Juang and the Sandul communities lived in self sufficiency in the hills above Keonjhar, a town that gives its name to a district of Orissa in the north east of India.

The cause of the major change in their lives is reflected in the deep red soil, which is rich in iron ore. The open cast mines tear deep into the hills and into traditional ways of life. Coupled with that are the contractors, who take even more land to fell the hard woods in the forests where you find Tamarind and Sal. The contractors are meant to replant but many do not.

The tender balance of a people who are marginal farmers, and rely for part of the year on collecting jackfruit and mangos from the forest to sell in the villages, has been badly hit. It is an experience all too common in Orissa, where nearly 55% of the children are malnourished.

In the village of Banspal, Concern are supporting part of a three-year project with the Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD). I will come back to that video camera later.

At the heart of the project is ensuring that the people know and get their rights. The government introduced a law guaranteeing that each of these people are entitled to 100 paid work days a year. Originally, contractors ran the system, and many names were forged onto the registration role to show they had been paid for work which they hadn’t received. The situation is not helped in an area where rates of literacy are 13% for men and seven percent for women. “The people were losing the forest to the logging contractors, the water to the mines as well as the land, they were losing everything,” said Jaydev Jayaden, who works for CYSD in Keonjhar.

In the schoolhouse, around 40 people sat before us. Aged between 18 to 30, they are volunteers who go from village to village encouraging people to claim their days work through street plays and song. The CYSD hope to ensure 70 days paid work for the villagers of Banspal in the first year, but it’s looking more like 40 days before this year’s end on 31 March. Next year will be better. The aim of the project is to ensure that all get their 100 days work.

If men and women don’t get this work in their own village then they are forced to migrate, often leaving children to be cared for by elderly relatives or the oldest child. Ravindra Majh, 33, is married with two children. “The money just wasn’t getting through last year. But since the scheme this has changed. It’s very important for us because we won’t have to migrate for three months of the year.”

Now, to that camera. In fact two cameras and a community radio station. In Purumunda, they are encouraging people to reform and rebuild their lives through claiming what is rightfully theirs, using a 21st century technique. Here Concern is working with the Women’s Organisation for Social and Cultural Advancement (WOSCA), founded by the redoubtable Dharitri Rout, who has been working with impoverished women since 1993.

The youngsters, trained by two technicians from Bhubaneswar, use the videos to make public service films, which encourage people to make their claims, showing them how to fill out the forms. A mobile film unit then takes the films from village to village.

The shows are a great hit. We saw one in Chandaposi, where we sat outside with a large crowd roaring with laughter every time they spotted a fellow villager in shot, while bats as big as cats hunted above our heads in the dusk.

The films are so successful that the volunteers also took on a different community challenge when drunkenness became a bit of a problem in Purumunda. They filmed the men as they reeled round the village, and then held a screening. The men were chastened; the problem stopped.