About zindagi
The project
zindagi Oxford

To date Zindagi has funded five projects in Uttaranchal, a province in the Indian Himalayas. The villages we work in are in a remote and underdeveloped part of Uttaranchal (see map), which is a state which itself has been historically neglected and marginalized within India.

Geography has determined the life conditions of these villages in many important ways. Life in the mountains is difficult - to fetch water and collect firewood requires climbing up and down narrow trails over long distances. The challenge of the terrain has complicated the servicing of the area. Shortfall of tax revenues in the absence of large scale agriculture or industrial development has lead to an absence of significant federal and state-level investment in infrastructure development. Moreover, most NGOs have tended to over-look this remote area. Socio-economic development has thus been slow and largely remained on the shoulders of these communities.

Most families in the villages where we work live off animal husbandry and farming their own small plots. This is sufficient for sustaining themselves only for eight to nine months of the year, during the rest of which they have to buy their food. Apart from selling their small quantities of milk and vegetables on the market in Mussoorie, a hill-station about a four hour jeep drive away, there are very few opportunities to earn a cash income.

1. A primary school in Ghati village

Our first project was funding the construction of a primary school in Ghati village, a poor village in Jaunpur block of Tehri district in Uttaranchal, in July 2003. This was funded in part by the Social Entrepreneurship Fund of the Goldman Sachs Foundation. We chose Ghati for the first school from among several community education initiatives during a field visit in April 2003. Ghati is surrounded by five other villages in a 2 km radius, with a total population of about 1,140. The nearest doctor is a four hour Jeep-ride away in Mussoorie, as is the nearest international phone line. Because Ghati and neighbouring villages, Chotty and Thapala, do not have primary schools, the community had started its own initiative to educate its children in Spring 2002. They formed a Village Education Committee (VEC), i.e. a group of 14 elected parents, who cleared some space as an open-air classroom and hired Sanjay, a teacher from another village. Classes had to be suspended during the monsoon rains and during the harsh winter season. The only remuneration they were able to provide for Sanjay was food and shelter.

The Ghati initiative stood out from other initiatives because the community in Ghati had shown maximum commitment to its school initiative over one year, because the people in charge were the most competent and because the community showed the greatest interest in making the project sustainable for the years to come. A further important factor was that the approach to education adopted by Sanjay and the Ghati VEC is entirely consistent with that of Zindagi India, as reflected in their choice of curriculum, governance by a VEC, and emphasis on increasing female enrolment as well as spending priorities.

Zindagi thus decided to provide funds for two full time teachers and a school building for the school year beginning in July 2003. The VEC agreed to provide some of its communal land for the school building for free, as well as to contribute free labour during the construction process and for maintenance thereafter.

Map of India

2. Ghati book scheme

Following the completion of the school Zindagi continued its support in the school year 2004-05 beyond meeting the running costs by funding a special book scheme. Zindagi decided to buy all books needed by the current students which are kept by the school for future students. Discussions with the villagers revealed expenditure on books to be a major deterring factor which kept girls and poorer students out of school. The school follows the Uttaranchal Education Board's curriculum which assigns as many as six books for students of class three. The teachers have introduced a homework session after school, so that the books can remain in school. This addresses the additional problem, reported by the teachers, that children often do not do their homework as their home environment is not conducive to studying. The scheme has enjoyed great success to date.

3. Pilot income-generation goat project in Ghati

To make a first step towards financial self-sustainability of the school after Zindagi withdraws funding in future years, we started a pilot income-generation scheme by funding the purchase of 32 goats. This innovative idea was conceived by some VEC members during one of the field visits of Zindagi Oxford members. The purchase of one pregnant goat will result in the birth of three goats over two years, which can be sold at an average of Rs 1,500 each, with a total revenue in two years of Rs 4,500 per goat. Eight VEC members will keep four school-goats each with their own herds and in return will get 50 per cent from the sales revenue of each goat. This leaves Rs 2,250 revenue per goat for the school for two years, which amounts to Rs 1,125 per year, which is Rs 36,000 for 32 goats, the equivalent of the principal's annual salary. With the first sale of the self-bred goats after two years, the Ghati school will have earned the next two year's of the principal's salary. This scheme is the first of its kind in India and has been enormously successful precisely because it is so closely integrated into the way of life in the mountain villages.

Owing to the success of the pilot scheme we funded the purchase of a further 16 goats for the school year 2005-06 to cover the salary of the second teacher.

4. Women tailoring project in Ghati

Following the completion of the school building, the next step was to make use of it after school-hours and expand the group of people benefiting from it beyond the children who are enrolled in it as students. In doing so, the priority is to address the most pressing need after education, i.e. poverty, and to target those most vulnerable to it, i.e. women. A tailoring course does both. Zindagi is funded a course to train teenage girls above 15 years and mothers from Ghati and five nearby villages how to make clothes themselves. We paid for the training of the female teacher in the school in tailoring tuition, funded the purchase and delivery into the mountains of sowing machines and are paying for the materials needed and a nominal salary for the teacher giving bi-weekly classes in the afternoons.

This helps in alleviating their economic distress by reducing their monthly cash expenditure by 10 to 15 % in saving tailoring fees. In many Indian villages people buy cloth and pay a tailor to stitch clothes out of it. The monthly expenditure of an average family in Ghati with 5 to 6 family members on tailoring fees is estimated at Rs 200 - 300, i.e. 10 - 15% of their monthly cash expenditure of about Rs 2000. This is saved when the women know how to stitch the clothes. The scheme was made possible with a generous donation from the Wilson Wilson Trust.

5. Building a primary school in Gharket village

In 1996 villagers from Dwargarh, Khas-Kudaun, Thakkar-Kudaun and Thal village came together to start a school for their children in this remote part of Uttaranchal in the Himalayas. They formed a village education committee (VEC) and hired a teacher to start classes. Later they raised funds from the local panchayat (governing body) to construct a rudimentary building in 1997 in Gharket, a nodal point for these four villages. They named the school "Hamari Pathshala". The school grew consistently to encompass all classes of primary school, and in 2004 127 students from ten different villages attended it. Today the school is financially self-sufficient. The small fees charged to each student are enough to pay for one full time and one half time teacher. In addition the community raised a corpus fund over the years through donations from individuals and charitable organisations in Mussoorie the interest from which alone is enough to cover the rest of the school's running costs.

Despite its enormous achievement in attaining financial self-sufficiency, the community has nevertheless been unable to meet the need for a proper building on its own, and this problem had become more and more pressing as the school continued to grow. The villagers could afford to build only a very basic structure, consisting of loose rough stone walls covered by a tin roof. The lack of plaster makes it impossible for students to rest against the walls while sitting on the ground, as is customary in local India, during classes. During the rainy season water leaks into the classrooms through the small spaces between the loose stones. There are no glass windows and there is no electricity or running water. What is worse, the tin roof does not protect classes against the harsh Himalayan winters so that classes have to be suspended when temperatures drop too far. In the summer the effect of the tin roof is to exacerbate the high temperatures with the sun bearing down on the roof for hours. When this becomes too much for the children to bear classes are again suspended. Because of this lack of basic infrastructure not only the basic comfort but also the quality of teaching is compromised and oftentimes altogether disrupted.

With the rising popularity of the Gharket education initiative children from more and more villages have begun to attend the school so that the building began to burst at the seams. This has not only caused overcrowding in classrooms, but has also meant that willing children had to be turned down and could not be admitted to class one. In July 2004 as many as 20 new students could not be enrolled due to space constraints.

Zindagi has therefore funded the addition of one classroom on the ground floor as well as three classrooms on a new first floor in 2005, including a proper roof and staircase as well as a veranda so that students can move in between classrooms.

Given that 20 students had to be turned down in admission to the 2004-2005 school year, the new school building will allow 100 additional students to enrol over the next five years who otherwise would have been denied an education. This will benefit countless families in the ten neighbouring villages and transform the lives of the next generation. For the existing students the school building will enable them to enjoy uninterrupted tuition regardless of the weather and will visibly impact the quality of teaching.

© 2006 by zindagi