Tribal communities constitute 9% of India’s billion plus population. They continue to live in their own traditional way –embracing age-old myths, faiths, rituals and cultural practices- remain cut off from the national mainstream.

The tribal population in general, continues to remain on the wrong side of development process and policy implementation. Consequently, they are the most deprived and vulnerable community that face severe exclusions on all fronts- social, economic, political, cultural and civil.

This is despite the Government of India establishing a designated Ministry for Tribal Development, backed up with policy decisions including reservations, required administrative and financial support and scores of welfare and promotional schemes- there have been hardly any significant changes in status of tribals unlike as in case of Scheduled Castes and other Backward Castes who witnessed certain degrees of progress because of similar protective policies of the government.

The Scheduled Tribes remain abysmally backward and socially excluded, still living in harsh environs. Politically, this community is the most voiceless in the state. Their unsecured livelihood position in terms of lack of legal entitlements of the resources they use, both land and non-timber forest produce, pushes them into deep economic vulnerability.

People live in scattered locations (hamlets) in groups, hygienic conditions remain wanting and people are usually inadequately clothed. There is widespread malnutrition since a majority are hardly able to afford two square meals. The average monthly income is unbelievably low at INR 2,000 (approx. $30.3USD). Alcoholism is rampant among men folks.

Some of the major challenges in achieving universal primary education in tribal areas are lack of physical infrastructure, functional deficiency, poor-socio economic conditions and gender discrimination. Lack of resources, shortages of teachers and schools further aggravates the situation. Some remote areas either have no schools at all or if the schools do exist then poor roads and lack of transportation make them inaccessible. Schools are being run in inadequate infrastructural facilities. Either they are being run from dilapidated structures or at some places there is no structure for children and they even lack basic amenities such as blackboard, chalk, chairs, desks, clean drinking water and toilets.

Ignorance and lackadaisical attitude towards education of parents is another important challenge. Poor socio-economic conditions is a major constraint to educational access, impossible for marginalized households to make investment in education in the form of school fees, costs of books, uniforms, meals and transportation. Children from poor families contribute to family income either directly by working as labour or indirectly by contributing in doing household chores.

Women are one of the most marginalized even amongst the tribal communities. One consistent issue plaguing the tribal women is their abysmal menstrual hygiene – as a result of lack of understanding and awareness of remedial measures. This leads to multiple health issues which not only affect the women but also their families. Women lack awareness about healthy and safe practices for their children and themselves.

Tribal communities have lived in their secluded pockets for centuries and were protected from the outside world for many years. With forests slowly disappearing and towns and villages encroaching on their habitat, many of them are now forced to deal with the outside people. This has resulted in the many anti-social elements exploiting them – trafficking of young children and vulnerable women is a common theme across the tribal belt.

Aarohan’s Focus

Aarohan operates with a firm belief that tribal communities are the nation’s heritage and wealth. They are an essential part of the ecological ecosystem of our country and their role is especially important in the growing crisis of climate change and environmental degradation. It is therefore focusing on education, health & hygiene and livelihood skilling for the tribal communities – which would enable them to live well and thrive in their natural habitat to the extent possible.

As a part of Aarohan’s mission statement – “To provide comprehensive and holistic support through education, health care, skill training and required programs for the upliftment of underprivileged members of society especially children”, it extends it area of operation to the poorest of tribal communities across three states of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand.

Aarohan’s Remedial Education Centre, Laxmiposi Village, Baripada, Mayurbhanj District, Odisha

Orissa is a tribal dominated State with the largest number of tribal communities (62), representing major linguistic groups like Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Indo-Aryan. The tribal population of the State is 8.15 million, who constitute 22.13 per cent of Orissa’s population.

District Mayurbhanj, with district headquarters at Baripada, is one of the tribal dominated districts of Orissa, declared as the fully Scheduled Tribe district, which consists of 26 Blocks. Even though the population of Mayurbhanj is only 6% of the state, the tribes constitute 56.6% of the district’s population.

The main occupation is agriculture and agricultural labour. The literacy rate is 63.98% and 9% of the population is under six years of age. Baripada is home to many forest-based products such as timber which remains one of the major sources of income for the local populace.

In 2014, Aarohan started working in Laxmiposi - one of the villages under Baripada Block with a population of 2,000. Laxmiposi is name of the village given by Subarnarekha Project in Baripada. There are 3 Primary Schools & 1 high schools in the village. The village is about 5-6 kilometers from Baripada with accessibility being a problem round the year, becoming extremely difficult-at times unreachable- particularly during the rainy season. There is no school in Maharajpur (population 500) – another nearby village, located about 1 kilometre from Laxmiposi.

The population is almost entirely tribal in a poor socio-economic condition.

Understandably, given the living conditions and a daily struggle for survival, education assumes least priority. Nevertheless, there is a Primary School in the village and there are 120 children enrolled in the school with irregular attendance.

The community is backward, cut off from the main stream - is reflected by the fact that the only language known to the children is their own traditional (Lodha) tribal language. They do not even know Oriya- local language of the State. There is Tribal Teacher, in Primary School. However, the quality of teaching, remains much to be desired; besides regularity and punctuality, basic hygiene of children, nutritional standards etc.

Aarohan has started a remedial education centre at Laxmiposi village for the 120 school children aged (5-13) of which 100 children are studying in one of the Primary schools (classes 1- 5) and 20 children come from Maharajpur village. Out of these children 52 are girls. All children belong to the Lodha tribes. The classes are conducted at open verandah (courtyard) in the school premises. Three teachers have been recruited for teaching the children and every fortnight tests are held to evaluate their performance.

In order to ensure that children enjoy learning, continue with education; the on-going project focuses on providing quality remedial education to the Primary school children so that children could successfully cope with academic standard. In addition, the project also includes teaching of local Oriya language.

Nutrition supplementation is also provided under the project - mid-day meal-for five days in a week. They are also given stationary, school uniforms and books. Health check-up camps are organized periodically for the children. Events like Independence Day, Republic day and festivals etc. are celebrated with full participation of children.

The handicrafts are acknowledged as an important part of rich cultural heritage of this region. Aarohan is actively helping the Laxmiposi tribals to find a revenue stream for their handicrafts made out of the local Sabai grass ropes, utensils made of Sal tree leaves and bamboo products.

There is a lot which still needs to be done in terms of raising awareness and standards of health and hygiene amongst the local communities, a proper immunization program for the children, skilling of women for their livelihood are just some of the areas.

Aarohan’s Project Dharohar at Goppulapalem, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh

Armed with its experience with working with tribal communities in Odisha, Aarohan expanded its geographic reach and initiated working in village Goppulapalem, Visakhapatnam since the November 2015. The action area of Project Dharohar identifies the tribal communities pertaining to Vizianagram District. Historically, these Tribal communities remained virtually isolated through the early 20th century. The main tribes in the region are:

->Jatapu represent the largest tribal community in the district (~44%). Shifting cultivation (PODU) is their main occupation and they grow Red Gram, Ragi, Jowar, Bajra and other millets. They do not have nutritious food -people feed on Ragi malt, Mango seed malt and other vegetables. They procure minor forest products viz. Tamarind, Gum, Hill brooms, Fire wood etc., and sell those products in weekly shanties and purchase essential commodities for daily consumption. Their living conditions are very pathetic.
->Savara community is found inhabiting mainly on hill slopes and near hill streams particularly in the mandals of G L Puram and Kurupam in Vizianagaram District. Their population is 31983(13% of total ST population in the district). They speak their own Savara dialect besides Telugu. The main occupation of the community is agriculture, horticulture and collection of minor forest produce. Literacy rate is very low in this community.
->Konda Dora, majority of them reside in plain areas- living in thatched houses. Population of Konda Doras is 24%, out of the total tribal population in the district. Their main occupation is agriculture and fishing to eke out their livelihood. The women perform “DIMSA DANCE” during the festival.
The tribal are subjected to abject poverty and deplorable living conditions on both community and personal level. The indicators on Water, Health & Sanitation are particularly grim.
Though the area is a big producer of highly priced crops like Cashew and Coffee, the local tribals are exploited by intermediaries who given them a pittance for their produce but sell it at exorbitant rates in the market. Chronic poverty has also pushed many of them into debt traps of local moneylenders and traders.
Aarohan has formed a consortium of 10 NGOs, across 3 districts of the State including Vizianagram. The consortium gives Aarohan the necessary know-how of the local conditions and would provide the necessary base for future mobilization of the community to break the existing conventions of livelihoods. This is an important and necessary head start that Aarohan has for this program, considering the historically isolated nature of the tribal community. These implementing NGOs include ->Giri Chaitanya Welfare Society, Visakhapatnam
->Green & Health Tribal Development Society, Visakhapatnam
->Mahila Jyothi Welfare Society, Visakhapatnam
->Surya Kanthi Yuvajana Seva Sangam, Vizianagaram
->Manyam Girijana Swatchanda Seva Sangam, Visakhapatnam
->Nestham Seva Sangam, Srikakulum
->Adhivasi Jeevana Sangham, Srikakulum
->Kurupam Mandalam, Vizianagaram
->Akshara Brahma Welfare Society, Visakhapatnam
->DEES Girijana Welfare Society, Vizianagaram
In Vizianagram district alone, there exist 171 Primary Schools and 12 High Schools, facilitating secondary education. However, the enrolment into these Education Institutions from the Tribal Community remains sub 10% of the total population. The school enrolments remain largely poor due to both, the accessibility of primary schools as well as the general lack of sensitization of the community towards basic education. The activities include a basic area survey, community mobilization, health and hygiene education, distribution of stationery and reading materials and distribution of clothes and blankets

Project Prakash at Gamharia, District Seraikella-Kharsawan, Jharkhand
The State of Jharkhand was formed on 15th November 2000. Despite the fact that it has some of the richest mineral deposits in world, Jharkhand remains a poorly developed state, Indeed, 19 of Jharkhand 24 districts are included in NITI Aayog’s aspirational districts, namely, those lagging in the areas of health, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion, skill development and basic infrastructure (NITI Aayog 2018). According to the 2011 census, the population of the state was 3.29 crores and the literacy rate was 67.63%.

The survey conducted by different agencies and compiled by the Jharkhand Education Project Council (JEPC), carried out among 25,703 school drop-outs in the age group of 6 to 14 years, reports that compulsion to earn a livelihood forces hundreds of students to leave schools.

Tribal children in Jharkhand are trapped in intergenerational vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and deprivation due to their primitive nature and thus isolated from mainstream of life and other strata of the society. Factors like agricultural land not giving adequate returns, landlessness, and few opportunities for non-agricultural employment continue to push large number of families out of their rural homes. Migration of families with children to urban centres makes the lives of children more vulnerable. In the absence of livelihood opportunities in their native villages, children migrate to urban areas searching for sources of survival. Some children migrate with their families and many are single migrants. Uncertainty of income and employment coupled with non-permanent places of residence at the destination, continuing school education poses a serious challenge for these distressed migrant children.

Aarohan’s Project Prakash operates out of a small centre at Gamharia Village. Given the high rate of school drop-outs in the area, Aarohan runs a Bridge course which focuses on a range of interventions to help children enroll into schools – sensitizing parents, assisting with admission related paperwork / documentation and also playing a parental role in encouraging and supervising the children. The centre also offers after school academic support as well as nutritional support to school going children.

Aarohan also works towards raising awareness for health, hygiene, rights of a child, skilling and livelihoods.