HomeNewsIndian religious sisters empower Indigenous communities through village development committees

Indian religious sisters empower Indigenous communities through village development committees

Religious sisters in India have been actively involved in creating Village Development Committees (VDCs) to address the socio-economic challenges and marginalization faced by indigenous communities.

These committees, organized by the Congregation of Jesus Mary Joseph (CJMJ), aim to train indigenous leaders who will spearhead initiatives to improve the lives of their communities, according to a Vatican News report. 

The regions of Guntur, West Godavari, Thiruvallur districts of Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, India, are home to several indigenous communities, each with unique cultures deeply rooted in their natural surroundings.

However, historical marginalization has left these communities grappling with challenges such as landlessness, limited access to education and healthcare, and restricted economic opportunities.

The CJMJ has been working in these communities for the past seven years, employing the VDC model as a crucial strategy for inclusive development. 

The VDCs represent various components, including leadership, education, health, livelihood, household care, and cultural and ethical values.

One of the primary objectives of the VDCs is to hold monthly meetings to plan and implement developmental activities, covering aspects such as local governance, resource allocation, education, healthcare, livelihood opportunities, and the preservation of cultural and ethical values.

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Currently, VDCs are making significant contributions to the well-being of indigenous people in 15 communities, reaching out to 1,050 families in the targeted areas. 

These committees act as platforms for leadership development, ensuring that the voices of indigenous people are heard in decision-making processes concerning their villages.

Key accomplishments of the VDCs include decisions related to infrastructure development, advocacy for social entitlements and rights, increased access to education by fighting against discrimination and organizing healthcare initiatives through regular visits, health camps, and improved healthcare services.

Collaborating with government agencies and non-governmental organizations, the VDCs have been successful in creating livelihood opportunities for indigenous communities. 

This includes skills development programs that promote traditional handicrafts and connect indigenous products to markets.

Preserving and promoting unique cultural and ethical values among indigenous communities is another focus area for the VDCs. They actively work towards safeguarding traditions, languages, and art forms, ensuring that these are passed down to future generations.

Despite their successes, challenges persist, including resource constraints, awareness, active participation, and landlessness. 

However, the unwavering perseverance of two VDCs working closely with local government has resulted in a notable achievement – a land and housing scheme. 

Thirty families, who had been living in hazardous conditions beside a railway track for two decades, gained access to water through a borewell in January 2022. 

The construction of houses is currently underway, with completion expected by January 2024, providing these families with safer living conditions.

The CJMJ believes that VDCs are vital tools for promoting the development and well-being of indigenous communities. The religious sisters and their collaborators continue to empower marginalized communities through these committees. 

However, addressing ongoing challenges and ensuring the sustainability of these efforts requires collective responsibility from government and non-governmental agencies, as well as the communities themselves, to create better living conditions sustainably.

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