INDIA. Jamui, Bihar – Born in a small village in Bihar, 27-year-old Mohd Sameer is committed to uplifting those in need, from urban slums to rural villages. With a graduate degree in Social Work and a post-graduate degree in Development Management, Sameer began his career with the Ministry of Women and Child Development. His work focused on urban juveniles where he observed many youth who had committed various crimes in order to survive, often being used by adults. “These kids were desperate, and seeing the importance of education for their parents pushed me towards committing myself…to a holistic approach,” Sameer said.
Sameer was then enrolled in the Gandhi Fellowship where he “worked with five headmasters and fifty teachers on their leadership skills. Competencies like empathy and influence without authority [led him] to enhance the learning of 3000 students…in the urban slums of Surat.”
Empowerment initiatives for girls. Ensuring girls’ access to education is one of Sameer’s greatest achievements. “Instilling the importance of education through rallies on cleanliness and girls’ education, organizing counselling sessions for parents who were hesitant towards sending their girls to school, and conducting career counselling sessions for 10th and 12th class students” are among his initiatives.
“My experience in the education sector made me realize the importance of all the stakeholders in the child’s growth,” Sameer said. “I believe that the community plays a very critical role in the holistic development of the child. I have thus decided to dedicate myself to bridging the gap between communities and schools to create a healthy environment for the child. Along with the teachers and headmaster, the community is one of the strongest pillars that will support the foundation of the education system in our country.”
Interconnected challenges. During field work in Goonj, Sameer “realised that every problem is related to each other; if we want to solve one problem we have to work in multiple sectors.”
In addition to challenges faced in education, Sameer and the other Fellows have been making inroads in agriculture and nutrition as well. “We have been working on doubling farmers’ income through various activities like growing high value crops, raising livestock, and using integrated farming techniques.”
In a previous conversation, Sameer shared that mothers are struggling for basic nutrition. “We are dealing with the most basic of needs for women and new mothers.” He said, “They face moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) and non-complicated severe acute malnutrition (SAM).” Through a combination of government support and enhanced opportunities for dignified livelihood, advances toward improved nutrition are being made.
Political risks. As if the challenge of meeting basic needs was not overwhelming enough, Sameer is currently working as an Aspirational District Fellow in a left-wing extremist district of Bihar in Jamui district. As recently as 30 Jan 2017, The Hindustan Times reported that a local accountant “was beheaded for not paying extortion money to the Naxals in Jamui District. A leaflet found on the scene warned that ‘those executing Government plans with the help of Police, and without obtaining CPI-Maoist permission, would meet similar fate’.”
Asked about the impact of these threats on his development goals, Sameer said,”[A] few days ago I visited that area to understand their challenges. We planned to set up a forestry initiative: making [compostable] leaf plates. He said that he entered the area “with the help of a local organization, PRADAN.” Created by two professionals in 1983, PRADAN is equally committed to solving the problem of “endemic poverty of rural India.”
Undeterred by the risks, Sameer remains committed to this development and sustainability work. In an era when so many doubt the capacity of government to play a positive role in the lives of its citizens, Sameer has seen the benefit of government and NGO partnerships. “My experience with NGOs demonstrated their limited ability [on their own] to help due to ‘lack of resources’. I always believe that government has huge potential to change society since they have all the resources. They [just] need good intention.”