Jana Jagaran

Operating under the registered name of Shramik Abhivrudhi Sangh (SAS), Jana Jagaran is a grass roots organization working on community building and socio-economic development in northern Karnataka and the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. Their primary work is with the weaving and migrant sheepherding communities in these regions, assisting them in reviving traditional techniques and technologies while developing markets for their products.

Father Joe

The efforts are led by Father Joseph Chenakala, a Jesuit priest whose entire life since attaining priesthood has been in social service. A former student of anthropology and professor of philosophy, Father Joe wanted to explore the possibility of working in villages without the usual infrastructure necessary to maintain an organization. Since 1978, he has been working on his vision to empower and affirm the self-worth of the rural population with 50 full-time volunteers, 90% of whom are from villages, working from their homes to support all Jana Jagaran projects, from education and adult literacy to rural sanitation.

The inspiration for SAS is empowerment. Each of the SAS programs, from microcredit through self-help groups (SHGs), community health, vocational training, watershed management, livelihood, education, and biogas and rural sanitation are primarily geared to improving the self worth of the individual, group, and community. SAS takes a mass approach to development, with 650 SHGs in Belgaum district alone, and self-help groups among the traditional shepherd families, 90% of whom are illiterate. Teams working with these communities follow the migration, training them in community building, better sheep care, use of modern medicines, modern breeding practices, and helping to market course-wool products from the short-hair wool that was previously considered a liability (it is costly to shear the sheep).

Gopi

Gopi Krishna coordinates the livelihood projects for Jana Jagaran. Gopi has been working in Karnataka for 22 years in various capacities, from grassroots activism to working for a funding agency (Oxfam, UK) back to grassroots community development. He believes in NOT upscaling projects. Rather, he helps to bring the projects to completion and hands them off to the local community. Jana Jagaran is working with 5,000 families on the creation of livelihood options in communities where there is too little water for profitable agriculture.

On November 2 Mark and I visited one of SAS’ production centers in Rajankatti Village, Keshappanahatti, Gokak Taluka, Belgaum District, where 100 women comprising 5 self-help groups work together to produce handloomed and handcrafted cloth, bags, and belts that are marketed throughout India and abroad under the trade name Shramik Kala. According to the women in these SHGs, this program, which started 4 years ago, has changed their lives. They have acquired assets (gold), built homes, they can send their children to school, and they are able to sit and work together. They are excited about the ability to leave behind a trade for their daughters. Two of the women in the SHGs were elected to the Panchayat, the local governing council. Their first decision was to get water supply to the site where they work. They have also intervened in domestic violence issues, banding together to visit the home of an abused woman and threatening the husband with jail.

The next day, we visited a village of shepherds in Hunnur, about 30 kilometers from Rajankatti. SAS has been working here for 22 years on issues of sheep mortality, the preservation of local breeds, and the importance of the black wool of the local sheep breeds in livelihood generation. The natural wool (black, grey, white and brick colored) is handspun on the thighs of women, then loomed into traditional blankets and newer designs such as bags. In all, SAS works with around 6,400 sheep herding families with over 1 million sheep.

SAS may be reached at:
20, Milkman Street, Belgaum
Karnataka, India 590-001
Tel: 91-831-2431978/2425609
Email: janjagrn@sancharnet.in
shramik@dataone.in

Gopi Krishna may be reached at:
Mobile: 94481 32609
Email: gopikrishna50@yahoo.com

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