Reaching the Unreached

February 2023

Dear Friends, 

What does it mean when a person is illiterate? In its latest findings The ASER (Annual Status of Education  Report) underlines that since 2018, the reading and learning levels of children have gone down markedly to pre-2012 levels across government and private schools. In class VIII, the percentage of children who can read basic text is 69.6%, a drop of more than 3% points over 2018 levels of 73%. If a child cannot read in class VIII, then in all probability, he or she will be unable to read in adulthood. Which means that as our education system bumbles along in its inept and inefficient ways, every year, the number of illiterate adults increases by about 10 crores in this country. Which brings us back to – what does it mean to be illiterate?
Just imagine, in a city where everything around you is indicated through lables and writing: places, directions, distances, bus numbers and destinations........ how will the person be able to negotiate and navigate? The person will not even be able to use a mobile with any competence, perhaps, just a few numbers whose appearance he/she might have memorised. He or she will not be able to hold or ever aspire for anything more than the most unskilled jobs, he or she will not be able to know about new discoveries in agriculture, health, medicine. Most chillingly, he or she will not be able to teach her child the basics of reading and writing, or help her with school learning, and so, the cycle of illiteracy will continue……………
In school, a child who cannot pickup reading, will not be able to make any sense of his or her text books as 90% of learning in our schools is from text books. In the tribal regions, one can infer that this problem is due to linguistic gaps between the teacher and students, as tribal children speak a different language. But, when in the whole country, 57.2% children cannot read, then one cannot attribute the problem to linguistic disparities. It is much deeper than that! The tribal population in the country is only about 8%!
But it is not just the disadvantages of individuals. According to a report by Forbes, the low levels of adult literacy could be costing the United States $2.2 Trillion a year, with about 43 million (almost 20%) of the adult population reading below third grade level.  Internationally, it is recognised that low literacy reduces income abilities and negatively affects health and quality of life. The Forbes report points out that one third of adults with low literacy (of Grade one or below levels) are unemployed, and those with jobs have significantly lower income than those with literacy levels between grades 1 and 2. The income differences diminish with higher levels of literacy. 
In India, there are few reports apart from the census and the NFHS (National Family Health Survey) on adult literacy. These reports indicate that one fourth of the above 15years population (325 million) is illiterate. And these numbers as we have shown in the first paragraph, are increasing. What is the cost to the country of such a large number of illiterate people, it is difficult to imagine. Needless to underline that these people with much lower awareness of their rights, and the much slacker labour laws than in countries like the US provide cheap labour in the unorganised sector. Cheap labour that builds our cities, and keeps major establishments running. One finds them in almost all major sectors from municipal corporations to railways to airports, to private establishments and institutions. There are 92.4% informal workers (with no written contract, paid leave and other benefits) in the economy. There are also 9.8% informal workers in the organised sectors indicating the level of outsourcing. This section of our society lives with almost no income or economic securities. Their children will get the worst quality of education, will be barely literate as adults, and in all probability also join the unorganised sector.
This Newsletter is about the lives of these people as they intersect with the efforts of Agragamee. One of our major efforts is in the area of early grade education, as the country is lagging far behind even in effective and quality basic education for all, and as strong foundational education is the first step to equality and equal opportunities. We also help people do better in the primary farm sector, as we feel that is the key to any kind of wellbeing in the rural and tribal areas. We continue to be ever grateful to all those who support us in our work and help us reach the unreached and excluded children, women and men. For only when the last person can stand on her own feet and fend for herself will we have a vibrant and active democracy. 
Achyut Das
Agragamee is a not-for-profit organisation working with the poorest communities in Odisha for
a world without hunger and injustice
Its efforts in ten most underdeveloped districts focus on  education, economic development and wellbeing of tribal and other poor communities
Join us in this effort to help some of the most disadvantaged communities lead a life of dignity and self-reliance
Donations to Agragamee are tax exempt under section 80G of the IT Act
Donate to educate a poor tribal child
Donations to Agragamee are Tax Exempt under 80G of IT Act
Parents Laud Agragamee's Efforts in Village Learning Centres
Meetings are key events in Agragamee’s efforts, facilitating exchanges and learning on all sides, and ensuring that programmes are dynamic and meaningful to the community, not just ‘outputs’ in  a log-frame. The November 20th Parents’ meeting brought together 87 members from 17 villages to discuss about tribal children’s education. 

After the initial introductions, the Edu-leaders took up the discussion and explained the entire programme to the parents. Ladi Mandangi, Edu-leader in Himarpodi village explained how he taught with the help of the Kau Dake Ka wall chart. As the village was Qui language speaking, he had to use bi-lingual methods, which he had learned in the Agragamee training programme. This helped children learn easily, and become eager to join back their regular schools. 12 children in Himarpodi who had dropped out, joined back in their respective government schools after attending his village learning centre for 6 months.
Sasi Jhodia, Edu-leader of Ratapada village said that children had very poor reading abilities in the government school. But after joining her learning centre, their studies improved a lot. Their parents were also very happy and expressed their appreciation of her work she said. 

Purandara Jhodia, Edu-leader of Kapuguda village described how he used to be terrified when he studied in school, and the difference now, as he adopted Agragamee’s methods. He underscored that children enjoyed coming to his learning centre in Kapuguda village, and wanted to study more and more. 

The most compelling story was that of Sanu Majhi Edu-leader of Derunja village. This village can only be reached by foot after an hour of stiff uphill climbing and walking. The village does not have a school. Before he started the Learning Centre, children had to walk more than an hour to reach their school in Potesh village. Now, children are eager to come to study in his centre, and in fact come and call him, if he is even a little late. Children from nieghbouring  villages, in Kalahandi district also come to study in his learning centre. 

On their part, the parents had lots of praise for the way their children were learning. Alei Majhi of Tayangiri village spoke of how she had always dreamt that her children would be able to study, and now that dream was coming true because of Agragamee’s efforts and Gita Majhi, their edu-leader.

The women from Peringini said that their children had learned much more from the 3 hours spent in the learning centre than in the whole day spent in the government school. They wanted the learning centre to continue for all time. 

But we got critical comments as well, as some people suggested more solar lighting to help the children study better, as also having more edu-leaders. It was explained that as we have quite a funds crunch at the moment, these supports are difficult. 

Read about our Education Programme
Donate to educate a tribal child
Tribal Farmers in Nabarangapur Double their income through Seasonal Crops
If farming is done systematically and according to the climate and soil fertility then the yield will be more. It is more profitable if we harvest multiple  crops a year, than just one or two crops. Farmers of 15 villages of Nabarangpur and Nandahandi Blocks in Nabarangapur district have proved this with the help of Agragamee. Many farmers have become financially self-sufficient by cultivating multiple crops in a year with the help of HDFC’s (Housing Development Finance Corporation) HRDP (Holistic Rural Development Programme), a flagship programme  endeavors to provide tools and means to the rural population to grow and prosper.

Through this program, the farmers of Dedeshapali village who were cultivating sugarcane for years are now cultivating different seasonal crops. Earlier these farmers used to cultivate sugarcane only once a year. This required irrigation for five months from January to June. But after several discussions on crop diversification and introduction of short varieties of cash crops through Agragamee HDFC project, 5 farmers left sugarcane cultivation and started cultivating radish in more than 5 acres of land. Farmers harvested this crop in very few days and earned a good income.

The farmers sold the radish in the local market at Rs 60 per kg. They have invested Rs 8000 per acre excluding their own labor. And within 35 to 40 days they earn more than 50,000 rupees net profit. These 5 farmers of Pujariguda Block Dedeshapali village are Mohan Sundar Nayak, Shubhash Chandra Nayak, Gopal Nayak, Dambur Nayak, Sadasiba Batra. After radish, these farmers are ready to cultivate cabbage, brinjal, cauliflower and tomatoes. They are expected to do 3 crop cycles in a year and they will earn more than 1 lakh. These five farmers have enthused other farmers in neighbouring villages, and now multiple cropping and improved land use has helped boost the economy in 15 villages. 
Read about Agragamee's efforts for sustainable agriculture
Donate to increase a poor tribal farmer's income
My Village Banyan Tree by Agragamee School Student Pushpanjali
Illustration and Essay-see below, by Pushpanjali Jhodia
Constructivism which believes that new knowledge and learning is built on the foundations of prior learning is widely accepted today. Teaching in Agragamee School is based on this approach. Thus the child is able to relate what she learns in her classroom to her own life, family and home from the first day of school. This makes school and classroom meaningful, and the child's mind and cognitive faculties are completely engaged.

Weekly creative writing classes, encourage children to write and express freely on topics which interest them. Pushpanjali and her friends enjoy these classes immensely, and look forward very much to writing essays, reports and stories which describe their experiences, thoughts feelings. They read these aloud to each other, which encourages peer to peer sharing and learning. This approach has also been taken to the village learning centres, and so active and engaged learning is being spread to different villages. We are really happy to find children in the learning centre are also beginning to enjoy reading and writing. Libraries have also been established in these learning centres, and children are reading with lots of interest
Read the Annual Report by Students here
Read about Agragamee School
Agragamee Campaigns to Help Farmers Get Fair Price Through Mandies
Agragamee's campaign vehicle spreads awareness on Ragi price and Mandies.
The Odisha government has launched the Millet Mission to promote Ragi and other small food grains at the national and international level. Ragi and its sister millets, like little millet, foxtail millet, pearl millet etc. are not only staple food for a very large number of small and marginal farmers, but are also found to have wide ranging health benefits. These products of subsistence farmers are in increasing demand in upmarket urban areas are but are going out of the farmers plate, due to various reasons. 

Agragamee's collaboration with the Government of Odisha over the last five years for implementation of this programme of critical importance has helped farmers revive their traditional crops, and improve their production manifold. The collaboration covers 14 Panchayats in Kashipur Block of Rayagada District and 22 Panchayats in Phiringia Block of Kandhmal District. The intervention seeks to improve production of these traditional crops of the tribal people, while also bringing it back into the tribal food basket through various promotional, training and exposure programmes. Apart from this, Millet Mission also organizes Ragi Mandies, wherein farmers can sell their surplus at fair price. 

The first Ragi mandi was started in 2019. It benefitted 599 farmers, helping them sell 2630 qtls of ragi at the government support price of 28.97. In the last financial year, because of Agragamee’s campaign and efforts to help the mandies benefit the needy small and marginal farmers directly, 5200qtls of ragi was procured by the Mandies, from 858 farmers in Kashipur Block, and 3480qtls of ragi was procured benefiting 1280 farmers in Phiringia Block. 

This year, the Farmers’ registration period for selling ragi to the mandies is scheduled between the first week of December to the last week of January, after which the procurement directly from the farmer will begin. The mandies, in three different Panchayats of  Tikiri, Mandibis, and Kashipur, cover the entire block of Kashipur of 22 different Gram Panchayats, and 400 villages. 

To encourage farmers to sell at fair price and not to the middlemen who purchase at extremely exploitative prices The Mandya Ratha has been campaigning in both blocks, Kashipur and Phiringia announcing the provisions and locations of the Mandies, distributing leaflets, and inviting farmers to register in time to sell their produce. 

Read about Agragamee's Millets Programme
Agragamee gets Millets Award
Integrated Farming Helps Dhaneshwar Have Food and Income Security
Dhaneswar in his Adarsh Bagicha
The Government of Odisha Special Programme for promotion of Integrated Farming Systems (SPPIF) in Tribal areas, aims to have comprehensive development of Agriculture, Horticulture, Livestock and Fishery sectors  in convergent mode in underdeveloped districts. The main objectives are to provide protective irrigation, promotion of improved agronomic practices, crop diversification and intercropping, soil health management, custom hiring centres to reduce drudgery, community managed seed systems, promotion of vegetable cultivation for nutrition security, streamlining vaccination systems, Goat Shelter and poultry night shelter development, breed farms of indigenous birds, localized production of suitable fingerlings/yearlings, promotion of FPOs, etc. with farmer to farmer learning forming core implementation strategy. 

Agragamee has taken up the project in 10 Gram Panchayate of Kashipur Block, and the programme is being received with much enthusiasm by the farmers. 

One of the most enthusiastic beneficiaries under this scheme is Dhaneswar Jhodia, a farmer from Sillagaon village of Kashipur block in Rayagada. With very poor production, he was facing difficulties supporting his family, and both he and his wife had to often take up daily wage labour to support their household, with three children, and his parents to look after. 

Dhaneswar says “When I came to know about Agragamee’s project for improving my cultivation, I was very happy. Through this SPPIF project, I received support for improving my land through plantations, and land development, and also for goats and a fish pond. I also received training on making organic fetilizers and pesticides. My wife and I will now work hard to develop all this, so that we can have good income and bring up our children well.” 

Under the SPPIF project Dhaneswar Jhodia got 1 acre Adarsha Bagicha, (Horticulture plantation of leechi, mango and cashew with forestry species on the border and supports for land development and seasonal crops). In the first season, he was able to produce 4qtls of ragi under the scheme. Subsequently, he has received Black gram, green gram and sun flower seeds. In livestock benefits he got goat shelter and night shelter. In fishery sector he got a chance to produce feed. And now these days he is getting benefits in millet mission project too.
Dhaneshwar Jhodia’s enthusiasm has provided an example to other farmer beneficiaries under the scheme, and they are determined to participate fully and ensure that the inputs leads to longterm gains for them. 
To know more visit
Read About the Millet Award to Agragamee
Children Gear up to Face Accidents and Other Emergencies
I hope our children from Mukta Gyana Kutir ( Agragamee Schools for the girls up to Class V) will rewrite ‘HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY?’ for their children and Grand Children. The Landscape of Kashipur, the Ecology and the Climate have changed so much since 1980 ( witnessed by me and Vidhya) , that  we are very much pained. At times, a feeling of Nostalgia also overtakes us. Things are in a flux due to rapid industrialisation ( Bauxite Mining and Refinery) and new kinds of crimes, diseases, fast food joints, drugs and Foreign Liquor (IMFL) are observed in every nook and corner. If this is real change and progress as visualised by ‘we the people’ then perhaps we have to accept them stoically, but it is still difficult. People especially the tribals are caught in a new kind of maelstrom!
We have no option but to discuss these things with 150 students of the Mukta Gyana Kutira:  innocent children in a complex world! On 12-10-2022, our teachers led by the headmistress Mrs. Kanakmani Das took the children to the Fire Station located at the junction of the Kumbharsila road (which also leads to Agragamee campus) and Kashipur road. This was previously a Guava Orchard. The Fire Officer Mr. Rama Krushna Nayak assisted by his support staff ( Mr. Debacharan Mahandia, Mr. Ramakanta Jena and Mr. Purushottam Reddy) very ably and willingly demonstrated  the different aspects of fire-safety, including how to handle the accidents while using a Gas Cylinder, how to control petrol or diesel fires, or in woodpiles in the house, how to help somebody who is about to drown, how to give first-aid to an accident victim on a road, how to rescue people trapped in a well or under a tree, important numbers – 101 and 102 – to call during a life or death emergency. 
I thank the Fire officer and his assistants for helping the children to understand all these accident related issues by demonstrating it in a simple and lively manner. By this, they have endeared the children greatly. The confidence level of the children has gone up.

(Excerpt From The Director's Facebook Post)
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Agragamee is a not-for-profit organisation working with the poorest communities in Odisha for
a world without hunger and injustice
Its efforts in ten most underdeveloped districts focus on  education, economic development and wellbeing of tribal and other poor communities
Join us in this effort to help some of the most disadvantaged communities lead a life of dignity and self-reliance
Donations to Agragamee are tax exempt under section 80G of the IT Act
Donate Now
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Dist. Rayagada, Odisha, India. pin765015


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