DR. PRAKASH TYAGI is the Executive Director of Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS), an NGO dedicated to working in impoverished rural regions of India, including the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Bundelkhand. In part 2 of this interview with KASHISH KALWANI, he speaks about how things have changed due to the pandemic and the importance of passion and love for community.
Q: Where does your passion and love for community come from? You mentioned last month that your family played a major role, but what was your personal need to get involved at a deeper level?
PT: I can’t take credit for the founding philosophy of GRAVIS, because I was very young at the time. The founders believed that people are often not taken into account when programs are developed. That may still be the case today, but the situation has changed and it must keep changing. It is a dynamic process. People need to be consulted. People need to be given the confidence that they are equal and important partners in what is being done for them.
There are always strong representatives in communities, who do not allow others to come forward, like women, the deprived, the lower caste groups, and those with disabilities. Therefore, it is important that inclusive community-based organizations are given training and capacity-building tools, so that everyone can contribute. Equality and solidarity are principles of the GRAVIS philosophy, and they are derived from Mahatma Gandhi’s approach to India’s development.
Q: How has Covid-19 affected GRAVIS’s work, and how did you stay connected with people in the areas you work?
PT: Covid-19 has been unprecedented, and it has affected almost all organizations, including GRAVIS. We had to reduce the number of programs significantly because of the lockdown and other public-health concerns. GRAVIS supplied 150,000 people with food and hygiene products between April and July 2020, and, as things started to settle down our projects started reflowing. I would say that 70% to 80% of our activities are back in action.
Every crisis comes with some learning, and we gave ourselves time to make long-term plans, think about strategies, and evaluate our partnerships. We were fortunate to receive good support from our funders, so we were never in a financial crunch. Hopefully, next year will be more stable.
Q: What are the qualities and values you feel we must imbibe if we want to create an impact in society?
PT: Be patient and take your time. It’s not a part-time job that can be done in a couple of months; it is a wholehearted effort, a 100% commitment with patience. These things take time.
Also, be very open to what comes from the communities, as every feedback is important. Some ideas might be relevant today, some in the future, so there is always scope for storing all the information that comes through.
Then, have self-belief that what you are doing is important. Believe that your vision and mission are making a change. When self-belief is there, you will make progress.
Have self-belief that what you are doing is important.
Believe that your vision and mission are making a change.
When self-belief is there, you will make progress.
Q: Thank you for sharing that. You mentioned that the younger generation is moving at such a fast pace that we lack patience for something to build. We want instant gratification the moment we invest our efforts. This increases the stress in our minds, and nowadays we see more mental health problems. What mental health challenges did you notice during the lockdown periods?
PT: It was a time of trapped communities, of people in isolation, and loneliness. I believe that mental health problems are part of life – everyone goes through them. Depression and anxiety are common, they just manifest more visibly in some people than others. The Covid-19 pandemic, with its lockdowns and restrictions, has magnified mental health disorders, especially in groups like the elderly, who have been confined to their homes. Many of them are disabled and dependent on others. A lot of domestic abuse also came to our notice.
It was important for people to get resources for their immediate survival, and organizations like ours worked on this. Food exchanges were important, because there was a serious cash crunch and lack of supplies in the local markets. Mental issues have taken a serious toll on people. They were trapped in their homes, and they didn’t have a life with regular in-person meetings and dialogue. Hence, we organized regular webinars with mental-health experts, so that people were given guidance, advice, and encouragement.
Mental health is an ongoing public health issue; during the pandemic, it became more visible. Hopefully, the worst is over, and our mindset will be more positive in the coming year.
Photography by RAJESH MENON
Dr. Tyagi is the Executive Director of Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS), an NGO dedicated to working in impoverished rural regions of India, including the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, and Bundelkhand. He is a physician and a public health professional by education, and at GRAVIS he oversees administration, coordinates various programs, develops new projects,... Read more