“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Reaching out to places where even the GPS can’t take you is achieving an unprecedented milestone, which is what the Sauramandala Foundation has done.
Sauramandala Foundation is a young non-profit organization, having completed their 2 years in August 2020. Within such a short period, they have positively impacted many villages that are located in remote and difficult terrains with almost no connectivity. It focuses on rural development in remote areas by facilitating support to the extremely vulnerable and less developed communities that lack access to basic resources. It works across a plethora of domains ranging from healthcare, education, access to energy and livelihood in a holistic manner.
At a time when we are feeling helpless while being locked down in our homes, Sauramandala works for communities where normal life is similar to the lockdown, that is, with little or no connectivity to the outside world. The core team consists of 3 co-founders: Nagakarthik, Keerthi and Prateek. The inspiration for Sauramandala came when 2 of them were teaching in a school in Jammu and Kashmir from 2015 to 2018. Facing the ground realities made them realize the need for a greater push to the existing systems in terms of their pace of growth and development. Their inclination towards upliftment and service of communities led to the birth of Sauramandala in 2018. Although they’re mostly working in the villages of Meghalaya, Assam and Manipur, they are based out of Bangalore and their team also consists of interns from across India.
Standing apart from the crowd, the team goes and lives with the natives in the remote area which they want to develop. They find such areas with the help of a statistical tool called Remoteness Index, which tells them about the topography, population & terrain of that area. It also comes in handy at the time of budget allocation. The index score is directly proportional to the remoteness and the cost of logistics. A single project typically spans over a timeline of 3 to 5 years. The first 6 months involve living in the community to study the need assessment and conduct ethnographic research. Later half of the year comprises bringing on-board the relevant partners to design the solutions and fundraising. Once ready, the next 2-5 years focus on implementing the model. They usually derive their funds through collaborations and building on the resources of their partners. The larger goal includes recognition of their projects by the Central and State Governments to be implemented at a larger scale.
Until now, they have reached out to many areas of the North-East and have successfully aided multiple communities. Some of the major developmental programs they’ve undertaken till now include: Teacher Training programme with Azim Premji Foundation, Edtech Programme with Meghshala, Energy access to School and Health care with Selco Foundation amongst others.
Inclined towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of education, healthcare and welfare, they work tirelessly with the indigenous communities. In most of the areas, they’re the first such organisations to reach the villages. Sauramandala is unique because we seldom come across such organisations where the team itself goes and lives to experience the conditions and understand the problems through experience. Their data and insights are impressive, as nothing can beat the idea of real-time field observation.
Recently, Sauramandala has been recognized by the Government of Meghalaya. The State Government is considering to implement their project of providing solar energy access for healthcare centres across the health sub-centres of the state.
Sometimes it takes a lot of persuasions to convince organisations for collaborations, as the places are mostly absent from the regular maps. It also creates a problem while arranging the funds. But they’re able to forge the collaborations with the organisations with tailor-made models that suit the stakeholders. As they’re mostly on the field, the Coronavirus pandemic has created a barrier for them. And although they can’t work on the field right now, it hasn’t stopped them from their goal of serving. They have developed 3 solar power equipped COVID sample collection kiosks in collaboration with the Government of Meghalaya; aided the transportation of essential food items through food apps like Zomato Feeding India, and have raised funds for donating in Government relief work.
Their short term vision is to be able to influence large corporations to channelize their CSR funding for their initiatives. In the long term, they’re planning to come up with an independent model for indigenous tourism along with developing local contextualized folktales for children. The basis of the tourism model would be the development of the community through a two-way working model: The community would collect a sustainability fee which would be used to fund the developmental aspirations of the community. This kind of tourism would not only generate employment but also make the tourists responsible and aware. That is something which the Sauramandala foundation also wants to convey to us i.e. many communities have been living like our present lockdown-like condition for decades. Still, we are less than half in their shoes, we should be grateful for our privileges and realise the importance of helping others; because you rise only by lifting others!
Article by Shambhavi Kapoor, Team ulaunch.