Indian American group meet in Chicago to improve India’s villages

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : A group of Indian American activists plan to bring together friends of India who wish to play an active role in improving conditions in India’s villages at a conference in Chicago in May.

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Sponsored by ‘US-India Friendship’ group, the May 3-4 India Rural Development Action Programme Conference aims to develop concrete action programmes for water development, healthcare, primary education and economic development of Indian villages.

It is a follow up to the December 2007 Rural India Learning Journey undertaken by 24 Indian Americans to rural areas in Tamil Nadu.

It gave the participants a first-hand look at how the villagers of India are faring compared to the rapid progress of the upper and middle-class in the cities, the sponsors said.

The experience, while certainly eye-opening, was perhaps unexpectedly a positive one, according to Ram Narayanan, coordinator of the sponsoring enterprise US-India Friendship.

“Some of India’s dynamic social entrepreneurs, otherwise known as NGOs (non-government organisations), are already in action lending a helping hand to transform rural India,” he said.

Most of the areas visited fell within rain shadow regions where livelihood is primarily agricultural and heavily dependent on scanty, seasonal rainfall.

All of the villages suffer from acute shortages of drinking water and water for growing crops, as well as other poverty related infrastructural deficiencies, Narayanan said.

Many villagers themselves, particularly the women, are also pulling themselves up, making heroic efforts to conserve rainwater resources, and improve their livelihood in all aspects, he said.

“What we saw and experienced,” said Narayanan, “gave us renewed hope that rural India is not a basket case. Still a lot more needs to be done.”

Narayanan and the other participants in the Learning Journey consider the Chicago Action Programme Conference the logical next step towards making a concrete contribution to the future of India.

During the May 3-4 conference, participants in the Learning Journey will share their experiences and discuss the work of credible NGOs already making strides in developing rural India.

They also plan to formulate specific project possibilities and encourage others to participate in future Learning Journeys to different Indian states in 2008 and 2009.

Ultimately, Narayanan said: “Our objective is to get together friends of India in the US including Indian Americans. We want all of rural India to make progress during the next decade or two – including the states of the north and east that have lagged behind.”