Renewing the commitment to our values and vision
36 years of determination towards holistic change. 36 years of community engagement and empowerment. 36 years of advocacy and knowledge creation. 36 years of furthering transformation. 36 years of all things YUVA!
30 August 2020 marked the completion of 36 years of Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), a vision that was taken ahead by enterprising youth led by Minar Pimple and has since then led change across sectors and states in the country. The work, in 1984, started with the youth but the intersectionality of societal issues encouraged YUVA to work with women, children, informal workers within the rights framework on issues of housing, labour, environment, thereby broadening the vision of the organisation, making inclusive and holistic development the central goal.
Reflecting on our work with women
‘Persistence is the hallmark of YUVA staff (saathis). When we believe in the vision and the path to its achievement, there is no stopping us.’
Over the years, YUVA’s work with women in informal settlements, to promote the formation and independent functioning of self-help groups (SHGs), has been geared towards encouraging women’s empowerment, ownership, leadership and financial independence.
As Rihana Begum, an SHG governing body member, from Shantinagar, Nagpur, shares, ‘The YUVA saathi visited our basti multiple times. We would refuse to engage with her each time. We didn’t know anything about savings, and worried that they may just take our money away. But YUVA persevered and eventually we decided to engage with them. Today, I am so glad we did!’
Women joining the SHGs soon realised how the daily saving of even Re 1, went a long way! The group was able to earn interest on their savings regularly, and were able to support their members and their families in times of financial challenges. Early successes encouraged many more SHG formations in their area, and groups of SHGs were organised into cooperatives. Today, the women in Shantinagar stand strong with 25 SHGs and are also a part of a federation.
In addition to persistence, YUVA believes that change can be realised only when collective efforts are made by the community in question. This mantra is relevant even today and is among the important blocks that build YUVA’s interventions.
Reflecting on our work with children
‘Societal questions that affect children are generally discussed by elders. YUVA aimed to change that by basing their work with children on jinka sawaal unka netrutva.’
To promote child participation in city-building efforts, YUVA helped facilitate the formation and strengthening of local-level children’s groups. Keeping YUVA’s value system and the rights-based framework at the centre of its work, YUVA engaged with the children groups, spreading awareness about child rights, encouraging dialogue on community issues that affect children, strengthening their voices and providing them a platform to take ahead their demands. This process resulted in the formation of multiple city-wide Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathans (BASS), children’s collectives, which have led diverse campaigns, collaborated with multiple stakeholders, and drafted demand manifestos to ensure their interests are rightfully represented.
Value-based processes and meaningful participation of children is the foundation of YUVA’s work and even today, guides various children-focused interventions.
Reflecting on our work with informal workers and housing
‘With YUVA’s support, we have been able to speak up and fight for our basic rights’.
Residents of informal settlements struggle on multiple counts daily — to access rights, basic services, and stake their claim over the urban space. Puneet Verma, a resident of Mata Ramai Nagar basti of Panvel says that with the support of community-based organisations facilitated by YUVA, residents of his settlement have been able to collectivise their efforts, lead rallies, campaigns, drive media engagement to hold public officials accountable and get more public support for the issues they face.
Anil Wasnik from Shehar Vikas Manch, a people’s organisation facilitated by YUVA, has been a valuable contributor to the 16-year long struggle for securing malki patta (land tenure security). Their struggle translated into success when the distribution of malki pattas began in 2017. ‘Clearly defining citizens’ issues, collectivising efforts to increase bargaining power has been the foundation of our struggle’, he said.
Reflecting on our work with youth
‘Building confidence in youth, encouraging their awareness and ownership of change efforts has been central to YUVA’s approach from the start.’
Zarin Ansari says, ‘I was among those girls who was not allowed to step out of her home in Ambujwadi, Malad. From being an active participant inYUVA’s youth process to leading youth campaigns today, I have come a long way. Today parents in the community willingly ask me to take their children along to our meetings.’
Realising the potential youth members have to drive change at the grassroots, YUVA began working with youth in 1984. Efforts to empower youth have led to the formation of youth groups and to capacitate them to address their community’s issues. The COVID-19 pandemic saw the youth at the forefront of relief efforts in their community, helping fellow residents tackle these difficult times.
Responsiveness to people’s emerging needs
Our deep understanding of informal settlements and the rapport we have with people residing in them helped us anticipate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which the subsequent lockdowns would pose. In mid-March, YUVA was among the first organisations across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region to begin relief work, which is ongoing even today. ‘The aim of our relief efforts was to uphold people’s right to live with dignity and integrity, however, challenging the times’, says Marina Joseph from YUVA.
YUVA adapted to the fast-evolving situation of the pandemic, due to strong networks built, rich experiences and learnings accumulated over the years, and experience in disaster-response efforts that the organisation led in the past. This helped reach out in different ways — from the distribution of dry ration, to cooked meals, essential kits for migrant workers, facilitating travel arrangements, setting a helpline to address relief requests — as and when the need arose.
Relief efforts on ground could continue uninterrupted, backed by rising fundraising initiatives. Many organisations, networks and individuals supported the fundraising process. Entrepreneur Juveca Panda, who played a valuable role in strengthening YUVA’s fundraising efforts says, ‘YUVA’s work on ground gave me the energy and motivation to keep bringing networks and individuals together to support them online. My journey with YUVA has taught me so much, and reinforced the thought that we can only succeed as a society when we move ahead together’. Broadcast professional and producer Vaibhav Modi agreed, adding, ‘YUVA clearly identified how I could help them when I reached out, converting my helplessness into meaningful support’.
In addition to relief, we have been taking ahead advocacy with government and local authorities to ensure access to rights and basic services, starting with people’s food requirements. YUVA’s focus remains on long-term recovery and rehabilitation of marginalised people, strongly grounded within the rights-based framework. Working with people on-ground has been the foundation of advocacy and research efforts at YUVA since the beginning. The process of identifying grassroot questions and challenges, conducting thorough research towards evidence building has been the backbone of knowledge creation, dissemination and advocacy.
The name YUVA defines the spirit of the organisation — young, spirited, determined and always ready to face challenges. As YUVA staff and well-wishers shared their thoughts and reflections on our 36th founding day, we drew energy from each other’s struggles and actions, and recommitted stronger to the journey of social transformation.
As Minar Pimple said, ‘Adaptability, flexibility have been vital to YUVA’s journey. And basing every action, every intervention on the values we hold so dearly will be integral to the longevity of YUVA in the future.’
Vindhya Jyoti, YUVA