When we start getting involved in organizations like Asha, an early question we have is, “Will we have to support this project forever? How can we help more and more children in India if we have to keep supporting this project forever?” This brings us to the question of sustainability, and what we can do to help the project generate their own financial resources – perhaps by developing a handicraft business, by also admitting wealthier students who can pay a fee, by helping them get corpus funds grants from other organizations, and so on.
Financial sustainability is important, but there are many other aspects to sustainability as well. One key aspect is the people. NGOs in rural areas are often run by middle class people from urban areas who sometimes have given up lucrative careers to focus on the development of the community in remote rural areas. The efforts of these people are highly laudable, but the question does arise – what after them? What should be done for a school or educational effort to run after the time of the people who have temporarily moved to the area? SVYM says, “Our goal is to leave the area entirely in the long run, and have the tribals themselves run everything – run the hospitals and the schools and become doctors and nurses and teachers themselves so that they can work at these institutions. Finally SVYM has to be completely run by the tribals themselves.” This is an insight that few NGOs have. Often NGOs do not even have a second line of leadership and they tragically fold after the initiators no longer work in the area. The goal should go beyond having a second line of leadership; it should also focus on building into the community a capacity to run the school on their own.
It is with this philosophy that SVYM created a teacher training institute in the area, got recognition for it for the government of Karnataka, and are working towards ensuring a substantial number of tribal students get trained. Their initial efforts had been focused on getting the tribal youth interested in education careers to Mysore and Bangalore to get training there and then come back to the area. As the number of tribal youth with the interest and eagerness to become educationists themselves grew, they came up with the teacher training institute in the area with a focus on training tribal youth to be teachers (this also meant that the tribals need not go to the nearest big city if they did not want to, which had led to some other challenges). Eventually these youth will be able to take over teaching positions at the Viveka Tribal Center for Learning (the school run by SVYM), and at government schools in the area. Having tribal youth teach tribal children will have an impact at multiple levels – the tribal children will have a role model from their own community, tribal teachers would understand much better the challenges faced by tribal children, tribal teachers will be able to teach very young children in the tribal language or dialect (this has been a problem with non-tribal teachers in government schools – since they do not know the tribal language they have trouble communicating with tribal children in elementary school, contributing to a faulty foundation laid for learning in later years), and the social distance perceived by tribal children between themselves and the teacher becomes non-existent. Best of all, these youth represent a significant step towards the tribals taking control of their own education, a step towards a school by the community for the community. This is true sustainability, and is essential for a permanent impact on education in the area. This is critical for sustained change in rural areas in the long run – they should not have to depend on people from urban areas coming in to bring about change.