Dharamshala: Wenlido training for girls, outreach clinics, community libraries, assistance for children with special needs, turning plastic waste into bricks under garbage management, special space for single women in society and many more – the Rakkar has become the smartest village of Himachal Pradesh, best among about 18000 thousand villages of hill state. It is far ahead of smart city projects in India.
Surrounded by snow covered peaks on one side and fresh flowing rivulets of melting glaciers on other, village is also proof that dedicated efforts of even a single person can accomplish what governments cannot. No government has visited this place to implement the same kind of things to protect the beauty of the villages in the country. Volunteers and interns from foreign countries do come here to educate themselves in social studies and serve people.
Dr. Barbara Nath (68), from Linz Austria in love with Indian culture and Yoga visited India in 1970. Her fascination to Indian music brought her to this village after she was introduced to one nonprofessional very beautiful singer – Baba Krishan who resided in a small ashram of Rakkar. Later, she was married to Baba Krishan and went to Vienna in 1979.
Following the wish of her husband to die in her home country she returned to India in 1984. It planted the seeds for the constructive development of this isolated village located at a hill top.
Barbara graduated as a medical doctor. After the death of her husband in 1986 she tried to learn Hindi language and establish contacts with the local people of the village. Backed by her friends, it was her small clinic aimed to assist the poorest people which initiated the transformation of society here.
Now, Barbara works with local people from various walks of lives in fields of health, environment, education and empowerment. In assistance with the local people villagers have formed a registered body named Nishtha (which means devotion).
“In 2015 I had a great honor of being awarded the Austrian Golden Cross for Social Service by the President of Austria. It was conferred upon me for my work in this area by the Austrian Ambassador to India during our 20 year Anniversary of the Clinic here in Rakkar” said Barbara who doesn’t love to interact for publicity and gives credit to her team and friends.
Village has a team working with government schools to ensure that each child gets the best start in life, thrives and develops to his or her full potential. There is a rich after school program for children at a community center offering a library full of books for children, creative activities, tuition, sports and computer training to the poorest of the local children. Focus is on environmental and health issues, encouraging the children to show their families how to segregate waste and to appreciate the natural environment.
Between September and March when the school exams take place, tuition classes for the local school children to give them a chance to do as well as their more well off neighbors who engage private tutors to get through the exams.
Smart Community library
There is a community library established in 2010. It has been completely made into a child-oriented space and stocked with over 1,000 books for children and young people in Hindi and English in easily accessible display shelves and boxes. All the books are organized into categories for easy access and a book borrowing card system is in place.
Children carry their books in special Nishtha book bags to protect them. Regular story reading and creative writing sessions take place in the library and children are assisted and encouraged to read and develop a love of reading. Adults are also very welcome in our library and find plenty of interest from history and fiction to competition success manuals and cookery books.
Rakkar village population is largely made up of Ghaddi – Shepherd tribe of this hill state. They have a rich cultural heritage of stories, music, songs dances and traditional dress. India encourages it’s diverse cultures, with the increasing impact of Bollywood movies through television, there is a grave danger that this heritage will be lost. Therefore encouragement and training for young people to learn the traditional songs and dances, to tell the traditional stories. There is a set of 6 Female and 4 male traditional dresses in which youths perform locally. In addition, training in classical Indian tabla and singing from our music master is provided to those who wish to learn in our centre.
For young girls and single women we offer Wenlido self defence training to provide them with the self confidence and strength to withstand domestic violence which is very common in the villages. Three day residential Wenlido workshops are held for groups of 9-16 women in Nishtha Community Centre, during this year. We particularly focus on women from outlying areas who we have contacted through our clinic outreach and single women’s programs.
Single women programs
Activists of Nishtha organize monthly meetings in every Panchayat (village area) and a block level meeting, either in the village or at Nishtha every six months. During these meetings they draw in single women, register them and hear their problems. Activists provide information about women rights, government schemes and explore ways they can get financial and other help. They also take effective steps to address immediate problems such as legal issues, domestic violence and health problems.
Clean Village Project
Clean village project aims to make people aware of how to manage their household waste. From last 10 years the local youth and school children conduct regular clean up days in the area, monsoon tree plantation and vermicompost workshops.
Over the years Nishtha has set up about 10 garbage collection bins in the village. An incinerator was built for the medical and dirty waste which is still in use for our clinic waste. In March 2012 mobilization for the new project started targeting 267 households in a one Km radius, initially 100 households in the upper part of the village. Maps of the village were created dividing the whole spread out village into 5 manageable areas. Hand outs were distributed and each house was visited with the aim of talking to the women and girls because they are the ones who are dealing with the household waste every day.
Organic agriculture farming methods are encouraged with vermiculture and herb cultivation. Awareness about non-conducive agriculture practices such as over use of chemical fertilizer and insecticide and the introduction of genetically modified seed. People are encouraged to grow local varieties.
Camps for stray animals
Stray dogs pose a significant threat because they mostly carry rabies. There are regular camps to vaccine the dogs and treat them. Sterilization also carried out to reduced population.
Extending the reach into more remote villages where especially women continue to have less access to medical care, twice a week clinic team packs up and drives to remote villages in the areas. Program aims to give health education with primary consultation for a limited number of needy patients.