From then till Now - Transforming the Hills of Himachal

ACF has been working in the hills of Himachal Pradesh for the last 2 decades, tackling social issues and community needs one by one.  With teams in Darlaghat and Nalagarh, ACF has slowly but steadily made sustainable change in these isolated communities.
In fact a recent Social Return on Investment study conducted by CII Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development on the impact of ACF interventions in Himachal Pradesh, highlighted significant long-term impacts for primary and secondary stakeholders in the area - with an overall return on investment of Rs.  9.36 for each Re. 1 invested.
Data reflects that there is transformative change in various impact parameters in the last two decades including availability of water, increased income, accessibility of health services, increase in agricultural and milk production in the project and improved biomass.
But the most significant change has been the change in mindset of people who are now empowered to take their futures into their own hands. By working closely with 18 Gram Panchayats across 159 villages and a population of more than 65,000, ACF has focused on engaging with local people, building their capacity to tackle local problems and creating people's institutions to take solutions forward.
Let's take a closer look at the areas of transformation achieved to date:
1.     Transformation in Water
As per the need of the local community more emphasis was given for sustainable development of natural water resources, land and water resource management through implementing watershed development projects.
Depleting ground water, scanty rainfall, poor quality of ground water in traditional natural resources were the main issues resulting impact on livelihood of the community to some extent. Special focus was given to enhance the water storage, ground water recharge and judicious use of water for agricultural purposes.
Due to the progressive work of these projects, other activities like construction of ponds, building trenches, construction of check damns and gabion structures were initiated by the watershed committees. Potable water is now available with an increase in ground water level by implementing watershed projects. Water discharge increased in three major spring areas:
-> In Kallarjeri village, increased 0.05 lps in 2013 to 0.07 lps in 2017. 
-> At Dinnen village the spring discharge increased from 0.19 lps in 2013 to 0.30 lps in 2018.
-> At Gater village the spring discharge increased from 0.31 lps in 2014 to 0.38 lps in 2018.
 Soil and moisture conservation, water available for irrigation, improved quality of yield and reduction in water run-off were some of the other outcomes seen. Availability of green fodder for cattle led to an increase in milk production.
2.     Transformation in Agriculture
ACF's Agro-based livelihood program was started at Darlaghat in 2005-06 and at Nalagarh in 2012, initially promoting agriculture activities in 16 villages, now it has been extending to 98 villages.
Initially the focus was only on enhancing agri-production. However now, farmer groups are formed to collectively support farmers in knowledge and market linkages. Today ACF is reaching out to over 4000 farmers in both locations and providing agriculture inputs through established co-operative societies.  The farmers are forming co-operative societies and are also receiving monetary support from organizations like NABARD.
At Nalagarh, the Shivam milk producer co-operative dairy society was formed as a village institution to initiate milk production.  Thereafter the society started to provide agriculture inputs like seed, pesticides and cattle feed to farmers. There are 431 members in the society out of which 210 are women. The society is now thinking of setting up their own infrastructure where farmers could get  agriculture training regularly and provide more agri inputs to the farmers.

3.     Transformation in Skills
ACF's Skill & Entrepreneurship Development Institute initially began in 2008 in Darlaghat and 2016 at Nalagarh. Today it has 2 skill training centers in Darlaghat and Nalagarh offering 10 certified courses in various trades. The initial vocational training for both these institutes was designed/conceived after conducting a need assessment and , market survey of the potential employers.
With rigorous training and life skills being provided, the students are now providing alternative income sources for families. With a placement rate of over 70%, SEDIs are instrumental in changing the lives of rural youth, creating alternative sources of livelihood, thus enabling them to lead financially independent lives.
4.     Transformation in Women
Darlaghat had initiated this program in year 2002 and Nalagarh in 2012. In the beginning, it was very challenging for the team to organize women on a common platform. However with efforts they managed to form Self-Help Groups which play a very positive role in the development of the rural area in both locations. The purpose was to provide a source of micro credit for women and raise their socio-economic status. Initially these SHGs' were formed to fulfil their domestic needs through internal lending, further some groups started income generation activities to strengthen their economic status.
In Dec 2019,  75 SHGs formed a Women Federation with 926 women members and is providing facilities to groups for availing loans @1% rate of interest. The Federation has also started a business of promoting local organic turmeric. This federation was formed with the intention to fulfill the credit needs of the women and to combat the existing social issues in the area.

5.     Transformation in Health
The complete physical, mental and social well-being of the community is what ACF's Community health initiatives have been trying to achieve over the years and its program has evolved on that line. The major problem was lack of availability and accessibility of the testing and treatment as some of the villagers had to travel as far as 5-7kms to access diagnostic services.
Initially only providing services through Mobile Medical Vans to the community, the health programs expanded to introducing health sakhis to organizing special health camps and setting up diagnostic centers. It slowly built in the Adolescent Peer Educator Knowledge of Life Skills and Health Affection  
(APEKSHA) program, molded Swachhta Doots and initiated the NCD program. The program then opened a Trucker Health Care Centre in Nalagarh to provide basic health facilities to truckers which is one of the major stakeholder of the company.
Reaching out to over 90 villages, the health program is offering its services to more than 20,000 people in both locations. Through the sanitation program, 47 villages are 100% toilet covered. 1950 patients on a monthly basis are getting pathological and X-ray services through diagnostic centers. 66 Swachhta Doots are creating awareness on good health and lifestyle in over 45 villages and mobile medical van is now providing door step facilities to over 55 villages in the region. Apart from that around 28,000 Truckers and allied population are being covered under the Health Care Centre at Nalagarh.
6.     Transformation in Education
The main objective of school support program was to introduce and promote activity based learnings and active learning methodologies. On August 2, 2005, ACF Darlaghat signed an MOU with the Department of Primary Education, Government of HP to improve the quality of education in Government Primary Schools of Tehsil Arki. Today 31 Primary schools and 18 middle schools are supported by Ambuja Cement Foundation under the School Support Program to enhance the quality of Education through different teaching learning methodologies.
Through this journey, awareness has been created amongst students on various issues and also support to their younger siblings in studies has increased. Capacity Building of Anganwadi workers, teachers and Balmitras (educators providing assistance to weaker students) was provided. Parent awareness sessions have been held on studies making schools a conducive environment for learning and leading to zero dropout rates. 

At the bottom of all these efforts, it is our belief that development can be sustainable only if communities participate in the activities. The team at Himachal Pradesh endeavors to achieve sustainability in all the programs and projects that it has undertaken, by engaging and empowering local people.
March 31, 2020

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