A 2017 diary entry on the challenging yet energizing mission to empower rural youth and connect them to jobs close to where they live. 

I was in Gulbarga district of North Karnataka on April 19th-20th last week. Summer has just set in. In the scorching summer heat of 44 to 45 deg Celsius, Gulbarga is definitely burning. Nature doesn’t spare anyone- be they rich or poor. For the poor, it is worse due to lack of basic amenities and right access to them. They are exposed to nature’s wrath, apathy and annual urban migration cycles. Several villages in north Karnataka belt usually migrate to big cities like Mumbai and Bangalore. Trains are full of villagers leaving en masse to seek work in metros. With such migration, villages are left empty and this is a sad plight.

I saw hundreds of displaced villagers operating as manual laborers in Gulbarga city. They huddle around near railway stations and bus stands. Labor contractors come on small mopeds and there is a rush to meet them. Daily wages, work, terms are negotiated in a prolonged shouting match. Some of the laborers were also seen boozing at 7:30AM, at a nearby friendly neighborhood shop. It’s shocking to see alcohol shops opens at such early hours of the day. The poor need ‘Bacchus’ to overcome hunger, boredom and slip into strenuous work after 10AM. With increase in heat intensity as the day passes by, the 90ml pegs will make it worse.

The poverty cycle is created and sustained by the establishment in such a relentless manner that there is no work in villages and hence villagers have to move out. Spend more, lose health. Double whammy!

Our trainers continue to battle it out in smaller nondescript villages – Kallur, Wadi, and Ravoor – to make an impact on young minds in these places. We aim to stop urban migration and connect the rural talent to the right jobs. We started operating a centre at Wadi junction. This is a very old railway point where the Mumbai-Madras and Hyderabad-Mumbai lines intersect. Plenty of trains with lakhs of passengers pass through this junction. Some of our trainees sell tea in the evening at the station. During the day, they are in the HHH training class — supported by ACC Cements CSR centre. Some of them take trains /buses to reach this CSR centre. They did not complete their schooling and have been left out. But this is their chance and ours — to end this cycle and help them eke out a proper living.

We tried an activity at many of these centers using good old comics. These youth have never experienced the fun of reading a comic. We used Tinkle/Magicpot/others to read, learn new words and assimilate the messages. Students huddle in groups, read and then present what they read to the rest of the group. They seemed to like the activity. We ask students to buy one newspaper for Rs. 3 or 4, once a week. It is a small investment towards taking ownership of content. If you buy, you will read.