Submitted by Mr. Subhash Mehta, Devarao Shivaram Trust, India
Comprehensive Community Development for Poverty Alleviation
This project focused on the Olep ethnic group who live on the western fringes of an important national park in the west central part of Bhutan. Originally a nomadic hunter gatherer community, the Olep were encouraged by the government to settle in Rukha in the early 1970s, so that they could benefit from the development initiatives that were taking place in the country. With no experience of settled living and their earlier means of living off the forest no longer available, the community fell into extreme poverty. This project, run by the Tarayana Foundation, has developed skills and encouraged a self-help ethos that has successfully helped the community recover and prosper. Originally focusing on the village of Rukha, the project has spread to 150 other villages across Bhutan.
Aims and Objectives
The project’s main aim was to empower the local community so that they could help themselves out of poverty. This was achieved through the key objectives:
Tarayana Foundation is a non-profit organisation working to enhance the lives of vulnerable individuals in rural and remote communities in Bhutan. It was founded in 2003 by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck (who remains Chair and President of the organisation). Although independent, Tarayana works with the Bhutanese government and the local communities to help achieve its objectives of improving rural prosperity.
Tarayana focuses on extremely remote areas that would otherwise be considered too difficult and isolated to work in. The Foundation worked around logistical and practical issues of reaching and serving these far-flung places. By doing this, they recognised small, marginalised communities as important groups to support in accessing opportunities and maintaining their unique culture. This is important as remote ethnic minorities often risk isolation and/or see young people leaving for more vibrant places.
Rukha is a small, remote village of 18 households (147 people). The people are from the Olep ethnic minority. The Oleps settled in Rukha in the early 1970s as part of a government programme to settle nomadic communities so that they could benefit from the planned development that was being introduced. The government gave the community three acres of farm land in addition to half an acre for house construction and kitchen gardens.
Families settled on the land in temporary, makeshift small houses made from bamboo with bamboo leaf mat roofs. The original expectation was that these houses would be replaced with more permanent housing. However, the community had little experience of settled living and lacked the skills to improve their houses. As a result, not only was the housing not replaced, it was not well maintained and fell into disrepair. The community’s background also meant that they lacked the experience and skills to sustain arable farming. Over several years, the farm remained partly cultivated with more fallow fields that fell out of agricultural use. The nearest school was many hours walk away and few children were educated.
After the initial three years of support from the Ministry of Agriculture, where terraces were made and basic farming skills taught, they were on their own. With the failure of reliable irrigation, the crops failed, and the lack of awareness regarding seed selection and storage, the villagers slowly fell into extreme poverty. At the time of a visit from Her Majesty in 2001, the living conditions had deteriorated significantly and there was evidence of poor health and malnourishment.
The project’s philosophy was to encourage the community to lead their own development.
Tarayana’s role was to facilitate community involvement and engage key actors in helping the community to prosperity. Tarayana’s Field Officers worked and lived in Rukha with the community. This helped them understand the Olep lifestyle and concerns and build a relationship of trust.
The project used the Rural Participatory Appraisal Approach to engage the whole community in project planning as it did not require participants to be literate. Through this, the community formed a committee which drew up the project objectives and strategies. Housing improvement was given the first priority, concluding that better shelter was an essential basic need and the first step to feeling secure and confident. Other priorities included revitalising farming and starting up traditional handicraft businesses as a source of cash income.
Three sub committees were set up to oversee the three priority areas:
In addition to the three sub committees, the project also included:
Support for education, sanitation and health: A primary school was built in the nearby village of Migtana, which serves as the central location for three other villages. Tarayana covered daily meals for the 60 students enrolled there. A community learning centre was set up by the government to initiate Non Formal Education for adults, and the Foundation provided basic stationeries, learning aids and facilitated other sessions for the children. English classes were provided for young people.
Awareness raising activities also took place around:
Access to credit: Community members wanted to access micro-credit to start up small enterprises. They took up Tarayana‘s micro credit programme to access 100.000 BTN (US$1,500) to purchase a power tiller. This served as the main transport service in the absence of any vehicle after the farm road was build.
Irrigation: Installing appropriate water pipes for agricultural irrigation and solving the previously inadequate water distribution. This piped water was also used for aquaculture.
Fishery: Smoked fish called Nga Dosem is a delicacy of the Oleps. Fish production started locally with the introduction of fingerlings from the Government fishery programme and it became a good source of cash income.
Solar electrification: Three local women installed solar home lighting systems for all 18 houses, the community shed and the learning centre. They were trained at the Barefoot College, Tilonia, Rajasthan in India, an institution that teaches community members to become ‘barefoot solar engineers’. A Rural Electronic Workshop was also set up in the village for repairs and maintenance of solar panels and the home lighting system.
What impact has it had?
Within two years, 15 houses were completed in Rukha; 33 men and 24 women were trained in carpentry and masonry skills. Tarayana facilitated the construction of 860 other houses as part of the housing improvement programme based on the Rukha model, in many remote rural villages.
The availability and variety of food increased and improved farming techniques led to surplus production that was sold in the market. With the increase in cash income, they could buy other necessary goods and services. The population saw an improvement in their access to health and education, along with increased employment opportunities through agriculture, handicrafts and selling smoked fish. A few of them also took up house construction work in other remote villages as carpenters and masons. The activities carried out to improve life in the village led to people working together that built social cohesion in the community.
How is it funded?
The United Nations Volunteers/United Nations Development Programme (UNV/UNDP) provided US$50,000 to start the project in 2006 for the duration of two years. The community contributed labour and land, while Tarayana contributed project facilitation, management staff and administration support.
In 2007, the Global Environmental Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP) Support funded the ‘Alternative Livelihood Options for the Indigenous Community of Rukha’ programme with US$31,845. This programme complemented the ongoing work in Rukha. Tarayana applied on behalf of the community and the funds were transferred to the community’s bank account. Tarayana helped use the fund according to the plan developed with the Oleps.
Why is it innovative?
What is the environmental impact?
Is it financially sustainable in the long term?
What is the social impact?
Tarayana was able to demonstrate that with opportunity and coordinated facilitation, all community or section of society could become empowered and capacitated to drive their collective developmental agenda.
From a poor and impoverished, highly indebted and food insecure community a decade ago, the Oleps of Rukha are enjoying a better quality of life. They are also better able to articulate their aspirations to their elected leaders. The community also built a common temple in their village of their own accord, mobilising support from others for the statues and altar, but putting in their collective labour to bring the temple to fruition.
While there is still much to be done, they are on a sustainable development trajectory that can only bring them more collective prosperity and well-being.
The Project Manager carried out monthly visits to the Rukha, involving four hours of drive followed by eight hours on foot, each way. The mid-term monitoring and evaluation visit was jointly carried out by representatives of the donor, member of the Tarayana Executive Committee and the project management. The project end evaluation was carried out by an independent consultant hired by the Poverty Unit, UNDP. The project was viewed as very positive in addressing multi-dimensional poverty as seen in remote, rural corners of the country.
This model is currently being replicated in 150 villages across Bhutan in 15 of the total 20 districts. Additionally, Tarayana has signed an MOU with the Royal Government’s Gross National Happiness Commission (Planning Commission) in January 2015, as a partner in implementing the ‘Rural Economy Advancement Programme’ Phase 2 (REAP-2). Tarayana had very successfully piloted in three remote villages during the first phase of REAP.
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