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  the ant
Cause: To work directly in villages and furthering the pace of development in the areas of Lower Assam in the north eastern region of India, an area frequently targeted by the separatist and extremists. At another level, it works to build up the voluntary sector in the northeast region.

Profile: Over the past decade, in responding to the need of the community the ant’s work has grown organically. It can be divided into 5 major initiatives, some of which are now independent organizations of their own but linked to each other in an organic manner:

the ant – Organizing the Village
The parent body, ant , works directly in around 130 villages across 4 work clusters in Chirang District mainly with the poorest and marginalized in villages, irrespective of community, class or religious affiliations. The issues it currently works on are:

Women’s Empowerment: the ant works to organize women’s collectives – both savings and non-savings groups. These women’s collectives are capacitated to take action against Domestic Violence and violation of rights of women & girls. We also run an innovative cycle bank which provides cycles on loans to women to increase their mobility. The cycle bank is now run by women’s groups and we have over 300 cycles which are being revolved on a regular basis. The ant also promotes micro enterprises among Self Help Groups & individual women entrepreneurs.

Organizing farmers: Agriculture being the backbone of our food security, the ant works for sustainable agriculture practices. It has 5 Farmers’ Resource Centres which gives training and support to farmers. In 2009-2010, they have trained over 1400 farmers in 75 training programs on various topics such as SRI paddy cultivation (System of Rice Intensification), plant diseases, weeds and Integrated Pest Management, potato cultivation, vermi-compost, mushroom cultivation, goatery, piggery, dairy etc. The ant is now working to organize them for marketing of their products and have started an outlet selling pesticide-free foods near the highway.

Organizing for Health: The state of government health services was pitiable in the entire area before the government launched the National Rural Health Mission in 2006. Then, the poor had no access to medicines or health care. The ant was one of the first in the region to train health workers in 2002 to take care of many illnesses with a revolving kit of medicines. Similarly, they started Community Blood Testing Labs for detecting and treating malaria before the govNRHM helped give such facilities in government dispensaries. Now that the health centers have started functioning, we feel we should not duplicate the services. Instead the ant has now taken on the role of supporting the government in making sure that quality health services are being made available to the poor. The ant works with 60 Village Health and Sanitation Committees (VHSCs) to carry out community monitoring of government health services. This has helped improve functioning in many health centers.

Mental Health Program: The ant also runs a mental health program where they treat and give free check up and medicines to over 225 mentally ill patients every month and they have handled over 3500 cases – since June 2007. We estimate that around 300 – 350 patients have got better and been able to resume normal life after treatment. We are now advocating that the government, at the District and State level starts such mental health services.

Organizing Children: We feel that children in many villages lack opportunities for self-growth and development. Given a chance, children from government schools can build up their confidence and realize their talent and potential. Since 2008, the ant started working for children’s development. Till date, they have organized 40 children’s groups in different villages where 1100 children (both boys and girls) are involved in the activities like games & sports, art & craft, drama, singling, dancing etc. It is well known that children will start doing well in studies when they do well in other activities and gain confidence.

Organizing for Rights: the ant is promoting the rights of the poorest and the marginalized. They take special care to keep an eye on the Right to Food schemes of the government such as PDS, mid-day meals, ICDS, NOAPS, NREGA etc. If such schemes of the government are implemented properly it will help the poor eat better and not go hungry.

Networking & Advocacy: the ant is a part of national campaigns and movements on the Right to Food, the Right to Information, on community health, Malaria, T.B etc. Sunil Kaul, one of the ant’s founder, is also the Assam State Advisor to the Supreme Court’s Commissioners on Right to Food Schemes of Mid Day Meal, ICDS (Anganwadi), PDS (Ration), Old Age Pension, NREGA, etc. the ant is proud to have collaborated with other NGOs to start not just the People’s Rights Forum which has made successful conquests in winning rights of the poor in different parts of Assam, but also the Lower Assam NGO Forum that meets regularly to learn and share together.

Aagor Daagra Afad – Organizing the Weavers
Started as a weaving program of the ant in 2002, aagor daagra afad (called aagor) is now registered as a separate entity with its own management and funds but still organically linked and promoted by the ant. Aagor gives work to over 150 poor women weavers who weave from their home. They also run an in-house weaving centre which gives young women who have been housemaids a chance you to earn and break free from their bondage through weaving. Aagor sells over 7 million rupees of products in a year and in 2009-2010 distributed wages of 2.5 million rupees to local women weavers.

IDeA – Organizing Capacities of the voluntary Sector
Even as the ant works directly in villages, the ant believes that for the fruits of development to spread, the voluntary sector must be more capable of effecting larger social change. Hence, the ant is part of various state level and national level campaigns on different issues, networking in order to advocate for better laws and implementation of government schemes. It has started an institute called IDeA (the Institute of Development Action) which runs short trainings and courses for building up capacity of NGOs in the northeast region. Ever since it started IDeA in 2007, it has trained 1980 people from different NGOs all over the Northeast. In IDeA’s Training Centre at Rowmari, it has run 75 courses on NGO management, Rights Based Approach, Proposal development, documentation, training skills etc.

The Ant Craft Trust – Organizing Artisans
The most ambitious initiative of the ant, ACT (The Ant Craft Trust) was registered recently in 2009. But it began two years ago (in December 2007) as a store to sell high-quality northeast craft and weaves in Bangalore. The ant started this store so that it can help crafts and weaves from the northeast find a market and to sensitize the “mainstream” about issues of the region.
Apart from just selling crafts and weaves of the region, this year in January 2010 we started a project to “northeastise the mainstream”. Using the store as a base, the ant organized small events such as food festivals of various tribes, musical evenings, book readings, documentary screenings & discussions on various northeast states etc. In just 9 months they have organized 17 events in which over 550 people took part! This has helped people of Bangalore to understand and empathize about northeast issues. The whole aim is to change people’s minds and hearts about the northeast region and not just malign it without understanding.

Gramin Vikas Samiti : Organizing and Building Small Enterprises
It started as an initiative of the ant to promote microenterprises in the village areas, Gramin Vikas Samiti is now registered as a separate entity. Apart from encouraging savings, it gives trainings as well as small loans to start and run successful micro-businesses such as poultry, piggery, vegetable vending, agriculture & animal husbandry etc. It has given loans of Rs. 1,748,000 to support 145 individual businesses (disbursed 302 loans - some took bigger loans again after returning). Fresh applicants are given loans from the loan return amount which is now being managed and revolved by loan management committees at the cluster level. Gramin Vikas Samiti is now registered as a separate organization and we are hoping that it will grow to be an independent, self sustaining entity in the future.

For more details about the ant, please Click here.

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