What we do | Bridging Urban-Rural Divide

Anant Vikas aims to bridge the ever widening urban-rural divide in India. We are working with young school going children 13 years to 17 years because we believe that shaping young minds is a major step in achieving our objectives. We have designed two flagship programmes that are working towards this mission. The first, called Youth Empowerment Mission (YEM) developed around the concept of service learning and the second is the Indian Youth Parliament (IYP) which centres around creating interest and awareness among the Indian youth about the legislative processes.

Youth Empowerment Mission (YEM)

YEM is built around service learning. Service learning as a concept began in the early 1960s in the United States of America in response to a perceived need of alienation of youth from their communities. However, in India, such a concept has been part of the ancient gurukul (the house of the guru) education. Gurukul was a residential school in India where students lived with the guru. In a gurukul, students, irrespective of their social standing, dressed alike, worked and lived together as equals. The guru did not charge any fees, and so they had to serve the guru. The service included helping the guru in his day-to-day life, including the carrying out of mundane chores such as washing clothes, cleaning the Gurukul, collecting firewood, cooking. By the end of their education, they were expected to pay gurudakshina which was a gesture of acknowledgement, respect and thanks to the guru. This may be monetary to help the guru carry on the tradition, but may also be a task the teacher wants the student to accomplish, such as building a community centre.

In the modern context, we believe that such a tradition would roughly translate into something that resembles service learning. Broadly defined, service learning can be understood as a learning tool that involves students in community service activities with adequate space for self-initiative and cooperation but also instruction from the organisers and reflection to enrich the learning experience. Research, over the years, has building evidence indicating that the practice teaches civic responsibility, and strengthens communities.

We have carefully designed the programme to cover all aspects of service learning. Currently, the participating students are from about 40 major international schools in Mumbai. For a list of the schools, click here.

YEM is a one-day activity where the students visit a rural village within an approximate distance of 50-60 miles. The planning, preparation and the excitement for the programme start nearly a month ahead, with intense preparations 10 days prior to the trip. The number of students in each trip can vary from 40-80 students. They are accompanied by 2-3 teachers. We divide the students into 6-8 groups, and each group takes on one project. These projects are varied and chosen based on the interests of the students and the needs of the community. The needs of the community are assessed through a transect walk or by conducting a baseline survey or focus group discussion. The findings of baseline survey or transect walk carried out during one trip are designed to feed into the work of the next trip. A typical trip may have students taking on as many of 4-5 projects. These projects may include – conducting a baseline survey, teaching children at the village primary school, setting up a sanitation pit, painting an old public toilet, cooking in the community kitchen, researching about the government welfare programmes and performing street plays based on that, or setting up a volleyball court. They bring in the material for the projects they have planned. They would have researched the welfare programmes, written and practised the play a week in advance.

The idea is that the urban children get a chance to interact with their rural counterparts, eat with them, play a game and have at least a tiny window into the lives of rural children. We have often seen that this results in them being interested in doing more. This is the service aspect, where children learn that they can make a difference in their communities. They get real-time feedback from those they interact with in the villages.

Regarding learning, in planning and executing the community projects, they learn important management lessons. They understand the need for teamwork and realise the importance of team dynamics and effective communication. They learn about the social welfare system that their country offers, and more specifically about the various scheme and programmes aimed at rural population. The activities are planned to help the students build the following hard and soft skill sets.

  • Organisation, team work, leadership and effective communication
  • Planning and implementation of small scale projects
  • Research methods like participatory rural appraisal
  • Entrepreneurship and Fund raising techniques
  • Advocacy through writing and enacting street plays and film making

This form of active learning has received consistent recognition since the writings of John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Maria Montessori was also a proponent of peace studies based on a deep empathy and understanding of fellow community members that bridges the divide. YEM gives students an opportunity to learn about the needs and lifestyle of “the other”, those who are unlike them in many aspects, in spite being fellow citizens with similar aspirations. We encourage reflection where students often share their learnings through an opinion based feedback form. Such feedback also helps us improve our programme.

In time, Anant Vikas through YEM aims to create a culture of service learning in schools across the nation through its agenda of YEM INDIA 2030. The vision is that each urban school will adopt a rural village council (Gram Panchayat) for at least five years. Such adoption will connect the two communities to work on the Sustainable Development Goals through sustained engagement. We implement the YEM Programme in association with United Nations Volunteers (UNV).

Indian Youth Parliament (IYP)

Our second programme in our mission to bridge the urban-rural divide is the Indian Youth Parliament (IYP). IYP is also a day-long event aimed at High School and College students, 13 years to 21 years . On the day, the event involves simulating parliamentary proceedings and debates on social and political issues of national importance. Anant Vikas along with PRS Legislative Research organised two different sessions of the Indian Youth Parliament in 2014 in Mumbai. The event served as a first-hand experience of how the Indian parliamentary system and processes work. Mirroring the parliamentary proceedings, sessions such as the Party Meeting, Question Hour, Zero Hour and Legislative Business gave students have a chance to present ideas, debate on various relevant issues of the country and pass a mock bill.
The first Indian Youth Parliament was held on 19 February 2014 at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. A total of 105 students from 14 different colleges across Mumbai participated in the IYP. The second Indian Youth Parliament was held on 24th February 2014 at the International Convention Hall, Bombay Stock Exchange, Mumbai. A total of 207 students from 27 different schools participated in the event.
In this event, it is the rural youth who get a chance to visit Mumbai and attend the IYP (we also conduct bal panchayats in villages). Anant Vikas sponsored the transport and conference registration of over 35 rural young boys and girls. We have seen that students in rural communities tend to have a more restricted world view compared to their urban counterparts because of limited exposure to the urban areas. These trips, therefore, serve multiple purposes. For the rural students, it is both the exposure to the urban environments and into prestigious institutions, but also an exposure into how the legislative process works. The event also provides a platform for interaction, which is an important first step in bridging the urban–rural divide.