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As part of the Community Driven Development Program I presently follow at Bala Vikasa, today I am coming back from my third field visit. I must say on each of those visits I have been touched deeply. This time, hundreds of women coming from nine villages have gathered to celebrate the birthday of 30 or so orphans from the same communities. As their real birthday is often unknown, once a year they gather and celebrate them together. Again I was struck by the smile and the sparks in the eyes of the people, as they welcomed us so naturally. I was moved by the unity, the sense of togetherness emanating from these women. Again I was impressed by their generosity. Today the women in front of me were poor women; they earn 100 rupees a day (around $2), they have their own children to feed. Yet those women came because they care about those orphans, contribute financially to their education and also regularly visit them in the boarding schools where they are enrolled .Here the poor gives to the poorest and gets a very obvious pride and satisfaction out of doing it. What a source of inspiration to me to witness that!

The constant effort of BV over the last 20 years to unite, empower and educate women through various programs is behind extraordinary results in communities. I have been very impressed by the number of people reached through Bala Vikasa’s approach: 18,000 self help groups consisting of 200,000 women members participate in their women’s programs. On one occasion I saw 2000 women gathered to be motivated to promote the rights of widows, women who are ostracized by their family and community because of a very ingrained cultural belief that they bring bad luck. Again I witnessed unity, empowerment in those women and again their beautiful smiles! On another day 900 adolescents and young adults in BV’s education program for semi-orphans came together for their annual meeting. They looked so beautiful … taking in the support and encouragement to continue their studies. Those orphans, or Vikasa children as they call them, are being supported financially and emotionally by BV, and also by the people of their communities as I described earlier. Kids who were on the streets or working as child labor are studying at college and university level and were sharing that they want to help the poor in one way or another when they are finished. Talk about sustainable development!

Before I came here the concept of sustainable development was just that …a concept. It was a wish that development could be more sustainable, that it could last over time, making people autonomous, wherever it happens. I have often heard of projects in developing countries that failed in spite of huge amounts of money being spent. What I am seeing here is evidence of incredible results with a lot less money being spent by outsiders, evidence that communities that are part of Bala Vikasa are taking responsibility for their own development.

Bala Vikasa’s Community Driven Development training is very thorough and communicates very well the wealth of knowledge and experience the organization has acquired over the last 35 years. What is the most significant aspect for me is that their approach to development fits with my values. Right at the beginning as people from the communities contribute financially to their projects, they develop a sense of ownership. The projects are theirs instead of the organization’s.
The water purification plant project is a good example. More than 600 villages in the area have their own purification plant – they manage the project, administer the plant, and even make some profits. These funds are sometimes used for other development projects for which they feel a need. The people don’t need to buy any more bottled water which is a saving for them, and the planet is better off with less plastic around. The development facilitator is there to do that – facilitate the process happening among the people towards their project, not run it. I have seen people empowered in the various committees existing in the villages and I have seen people being proud of themselves.

I can say that what I am witnessing here gives me hope for humanity. A real sense of unity, of togetherness for the greater good transpires from this place. I am grateful to all the people who welcomed me, showed their openness and affection to me.