– A factual Account by Suresh Pala
I am Suresh Pala, born 23 years ago. I am an Indian and belong to Daburavaripalli village in Ananthapuramu district which is in Andhra Pradesh. When I was much younger, I used to look at the trains wistfully and allow my mind to be transported to all kinds of mysterious places. Unfortunately, I could only do that in my mind for the chances to ride on a train were few and far between for a poor villager like me. Now, however I have qualified for the prestigious Indian Engineering Services (IES) and will start off serving my country in the Railways hallowed portals. This is a story of God’s grace, accompanied by the hard work of one person, and the full support of his family and his extended family, the Rural Development Trust (RDT). Allow me to tell you the story.
I belong to one of the backward communities, both in terms of education and finances. Our family comprises of 5 members, father, mother, two sons and a daughter. I am the eldest child in the family. My sister is studying general graduation in nearby town, while my younger brother is doing graduation in engineering with the help of Rural Development Trust’s (RDT) merit scholarship. RDT’s Special Education Programme is a boon for meritorious students of rural areas, where the students get full help from Intermediate (Pre-university) to post graduation.
My father is Shri Ramakrishna and has studied up to secondary school level. My mother, Shrimati Lakshmidevi, while very wise, is unfortunately illiterate. Both my parents are farmers and they have 6 acres dry land. They have to work very hard but for most of my childhood, they had to rely on the rain gods to favour them, which unfortunately was not the case most of the time, due to inconsistent rains they did not get proper income from land.
My parents had limited means to support the education of their children. Due to their inability to pay fee, I was admitted in Government Residential School at Lepakshi in Ananthapuramu district. From very early on I could sense that a good education played a very important part in anybody’s life and society treated one very differently when one had a solid education. Therefore, I decided from very early on to work hard, despite us children also having to help in the home and farm for our parents. In my class X exams, the first real test of a child in India, I was lucky enough to do very well, and scored 559 marks out of 600 (93% marks).
That was when I stood at a crossroads in my life – both about what I should study and where that study should be. Normally, Intermediate after the class X exams will provide you a good base for higher studies. Of course the better college we join, the better will be our future. Some of the private colleges have very good faculty and very good Intermediate courses. Unfortunately these colleges also charge for their reputation and my family and me were in no place to even dream of a place in the private colleges. Luckily, dreams can come true if dreamed about passionately enough! My dreams came true when I got in touch with my benefactor – the Rural Development Trust (RDT). The trust provided all the funds – from tuition fees to hostel fees – for me to go to Sri Chaitanya College, Vijayawada, a private college with an admirable reputation. In addition, they provided me with even pocket money and all the required material for my course!
Although the college was very far away from my village, over 400km, I put all thought of homesickness out of my mind as I again persevered during the Intermediate course. Here I scored 950/1000, translating into 95%. At the same time I sat for the EAMCET examination. The EAMCET is an entrance exam for admission into Engineering, Agriculture and Medical Common Entrance Test (EAMCET) is conducted by Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad on behalf of Andhra Pradesh State Council of Higher Education (APSCHE). This examination is the prerequisite for admission into various professional courses offered in University/ Private Colleges in the state of Andhra Pradesh, and once again I was lucky to get the 75th rank out of more than 300,000 students who took this exam. This ranking got me admission into the Electronic and Communications Engineering in Jawaharlal Technological University at Hyderabad.
Joining this prestigious University did a lot of good to me as I knew then that I could do anything provided my mind was fully into the program. Consequently, in the last year of my 4 year engineering graduation, I sat the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE), which is an all-India examination. GATE is conducted jointly by the Indian Institute of Science and seven Indian Institutes of Technology (Bombay, Delhi, Guwahati, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras and Roorkee) on behalf of the National Coordination Board which is a part of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), Government of India. Again I was fortunate here too, scoring 102nd rank at the All India Level. After graduating, I got a chance to go to the IIT, Bombay. That, for a person like me who so far had lived in villages and small towns was a real eye-opener. All my dreams of travel in my childhood came rushing back to me as I lived life in India’s commercial capital. That made me strengthen my desire to contribute to Indian society once again!
In the final year of my graduation, I had again, with the help of my benefactor RDT, joined a coaching centre which gives coaching to persons desirous of appearing in the Indian Engineering Services (IES). This is an examination which is held by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) under the aegis of the Government of India and recruits people who can perform the technical and executive functions of the Government on the engineering side.
The examination was held after I graduated. There were two streams to this exam – one was a written exam and the next was an oral/interview by a panel. I was fortunate to have cleared both and I couldn’t believe that I had come 16th at an All India Level! Naturally I chose the Indian railways although there were a host of other services I could have chosen. These included Defence, Power, and Telecom Ministry, but I was very clear about what I wanted – Railways.
Now I have been sent for training in Indian Railways Institute of Signal Engineering and Tele-Communications (IRISET). This is based in Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh which is my home state. After that I will undergo field training and also institutional training in Hyderabad and various divisions of Railways such as Baroda, New Delhi and Guwahati. This training will last for 18 months. After that I will be posted in Signal and Communication Engineering of Indian Railways. One day I hope to be at the highest position in Indian Railways. It is indeed a miracle that one’s childhood dreams can come true provided one puts all efforts into it.
I guess my dreams are now very real. So I will have to set higher dreams for myself. What have been the things that have contributed to my dreams coming true? Is it the dedication to do what others found impossible? Is it the willingness to accept one’s fate and not be bogged down by that? Is it the pioneering nature to go where nobody from your family/village has gone before? I would say it’s all of these but would add luck to that. Imagine if I weren’t born in Ananthapuramu and had never heard of RDT. I am sure there are lots of youth like me across India who have the drive, the passion and the zeal but who have fallen short of their talent because nobody was willing to take a chance on them. I am very thankful for the RDT to have taken a chance on me. I vow that I will also seek to pay this forward by inspiring others and helping them achieve their goals.
Women – Creation and Capacity Building of Self-help Groups/Women’s Networks
RDT teams started awareness camps in Sangham and interaction with women within and outside our village had a bearing on my confidence level.
“After the demise of my husband, I had to completely shoulder the responsibility of taking care of my two children. I joined Sangham in our village as I felt the need for support and guidance. Earlier, women in our village had no space of their own. Men
made the decisions and did not like our presence in any meetings. RDT teams started awareness camps in Sangham and interaction with women within and outside our village had a bearing on my confidence. We members were told many things which were not known to us earlier. I learnt a lot on education and health and my articulation skills improved due to training.
Sangham became our collective strength. RDT trained me as a community health worker, popularly called CHW. I also gained skill in tailoring with the help of RDT and even obtained a loan from Women Development Fund to buy a sewing machine. I am happy that there is no more dependence on outside labour because I earn enough with my tailoring. My son is doing his technical course while my daughter is studying for her graduation and I am able to support their education. Today, I am the leader of SHG in our village. By taking a lead role in the management of the Group, I learnt a lot on social issues and became independent in managing financial transactions. My self-confidence is very much improved, for which I am very grateful to RDT”.
Community Based Rehabilitation – Medical Rehabilitation
I never thought I would be able to attend school or even walk properly. Today, I am leading a normal life-all thanks to RDT and the doctors.”
Balachandra was born to Boya Sunkanna and Anjinamma. At the age of eight Balachandra accidentally fell under an ox and injured his knee. His parents presumed it to be a minor injury and neglected immediate medical action. However, after 4 days, the injury became severe. While he was taken to a doctor’s Balachandra could only crawl because of his injury. His parents had to carry him to school.
Eventually, Balachandra’s parents were able to get better medical attention but due to lack of movement of the knee and nerve damage, Balachandra could not walk normally and needed to support his knee by keeping his hand over it. Despite surgeries, there was no progressive movement in his leg.
On the insistence of the Sanghammembers, Balachandra’s parents enrolled him at the Pre-Assessment Camp conducted by RDT in the year 2010. The Spanish doctors in the team examined Balachandar and advised advanced surgery for his knee. However, Boya Sunkanna and Anjinamma hesitated taking action since they felt this would involve money transactions which they could not afford.
The parents had to be persuaded that this would be a free of cost surgery and were asked to give their permission for the medical treatment. The Sangham played a vital role in persuading the family. Eventually, Balachandra’s surgery was performed at the RDT hospital at Bathalapalli. Due to successful surgery and physiotherapy, Balachandra was able to walk without any support.
Community Based Rehabilitation – PROGRAMMES FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Representing the country at such a global platform was a great feat for us. I had never even imagined that we would win such praises!
Sheik Fakrunnisha of Vepamanipeta village, Talupula Mandal and Kappala Revathi from Kunukutla village of Tadimarri Mandal suffer from mental disability. However, as part of their respective Mandals, they were motivated to join RDT’s schools and take equal part in the extra-curricular activities. The sports trainers at RDT identified the talent for athletics in both these girls. Both Sheik Fakrunnisha and Kappala Revathi showed exceptional talent for athletics and racing despite their intellectual
Fortunately for Sheik Fakrunnisha and Kappala Ravathi, RDT was already working on conducting intensive coaching and training for disabled children as its centers. This had happened previously as RDT had put up the infrastructure for training centers and encouraged participation of disabled children in various tournaments and games at state and district levels.
After Sheik Fakrunnisha and Kappala Revathi were identified as talented athletes by their coaches, they were sent for training to a special team that focused on scaling up the sports initiatives to an international level. This special team worked under the overall guidance and supervision of the director of CBR/Disability Sector. Both girls were among the select disabled children that underwent training at RDT Sports Coaching Centre located at Bhathalapalli.
Both Sheik Fakrunnisha and Kappala Revathi underwent training at RDT-Special Olympics Bharat, Andhra Pradesh and then went on to represent India in the World Summer Games that were held in Athens in June 2011 and made the country proud as they won 1 gold medal and 2 silver in 200 mts, 400 mts and relays.
Women – Facilitating SHGs to manage Mini-Banks and avail Women Development Fund
“RDT came into my life when I joined the Durga Women Group and realised I had the power to change my economic circumstances”.
“My husband Marenna and I have always worked as agricultural labour but work was difficult to come by. Although we have a 2 acre land but it doesn’t yield any crops due to lack of rains. We have two daughters and a son and we needed more to support the family, and I had previously taken loans for children’s education. I did not want to be in debt of money- lenders. RDT came into my life when I joined the Durga Women Group and realised I had the power to change my economic circumstances. Women to Women programme gave me a loan for goat rearing, but it was a loan I did not fear. Marenna and I would take the goats along to work and look after them. I thought it a good idea that one of us should work as labour and the other should take care of the goat rearing. I initially took Rs. 6000 for four goats then 12000 for another four and now I have a total of 68 goats. I did not
sell even one goat while populating our herd.
Goat rearing has helped us to pay for our daughter Gangamma’s GSM education who is now working in a private hospital. Our daughter Chenamma has completed B.Com and is preparing for PG entrance exam, and our son Mahesh is studying Intermediate. I am meeting all their financial needs through rearing goats and selling them. Our family has gained a lot of respect in the
Providing Vocational Training to improve women’s occupational mobility
I was trained in making incense sticks at RDT skill development center in Gandlapenta. RDT not only rescued but empowered me by imparting me skills for earning my keep.
“When my husband deserted me and I was facing many problems, I thought of escaping from life. As such, at the time I would not have taken any drastic decision because I had two young children. But I had no means to support them, was looked down by society and did not know how I would rebuild my life. My parents led a life of respect and I decided to return to their house in Sadulavandla Palli.
It was a critical moment when I met with RDT workers in the village, who understood me and my plight. I visited RDT’s rehabilitation centre in Gandlapenta and received counselling. I could get sponsorship for both my children and was admitted for provision of monthly nutritional package. After becoming a member in women groups, I realised that I could work and earn independently if I acquired additional skills.
I applied for training in making incense sticks at RDT skill development center in Gandlapenta. There were also other women like me who were rejected or abused by their husbands but were now training and learning to be economically independent. Now, during agricultural seasons, I work as labour and in the rest of the time, I involve myself in preparing incense ticks, for which RDT supplies raw material. I earn enough to support us and feel contended that I could do something for myself and my children. RDT not only rescued but empowered me by imparting me skills for earning my keep”.