"I used to work in the copper mines of Malajkhand when I used to live in the village. I like this work much more. It pays better and does not involve the hard physical labour which was required there."
- Krishna Kumar Uikey

"I am very happy with the job that I have at Bella Vista in Pune but it is my dream that in the future, after learning my work from here, I shall return to my home district of Balaghat and work for the development of my people."
- Sunita Adame

The forests of Central India are sustained by a rich mosaic of cultures composed of the various indigenous communities and tribes that reside within them. They lead simple lives, closely tied to the forests, engaging with the forest in ways and enjoying benefits which the urban populace has long forgotten.

However, they are also excluded from a world of facilities and opportunities which we often take for granted in an urban environment. Semi-literate youngsters within these areas are an example of the groups adversely affected by the shortage of alternates to traditional livelihood opportunities. A majority of these youngsters drop out of school before reaching the higher secondary level due to a variety of reasons, prominent among which is the distance of educational facilities from their place of residence and the lack of a means of transport to their school and back. These students are then forced to abandon their education and return to traditional occupations, having gained no employable skills.

Balaghat is a prime example of biodiversity rich forests existing outside protected areas. Located within the corridor which connects Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves, WWF-India’s team in the Satpuda Maikal landscape conducts a holistic community based conservation programme which aims to inculcate the conservation paradigm within local communities by introducing sustainable practices, reducing human wildlife conflict and providing alternate livelihoods opportunities.

Under the present intervention, WWF-India tied up with Pratham, one of the nation’s leading NGOs working in the sphere of education. With the objective of enabling semi literate students from forest dwelling communities to further develop their skills on the basis of their education and secure gainful employment, the beneficiaries were enrolled in a residential vocational training programme in Pratham’s PACE Centre in Bhopal.

WWF-India carefully selected 5 youngsters in Balaghat with an education and aptitude which was suitable to the opportunity. These candidates were then motivated, mentored and monitored before the commencement and throughout the rigorous two month long training. The candidates pursued specializations in either the Housekeeping Service or the Food and Beverage Service. They also completed certificate courses in Basic English, Basic Computer Operation and Data Handling. The team worked closely with the staff and faculty at Pratham to ensure that the students adjusted well, completed the entire course and were successfully placed with reputed hotels upon its conclusion.

After the successful completion of their training, candidates were placed directly into three to five star hotels in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The candidates are happy with their new employment and with their food and lodging expenses covered, have also started saving and sending money home.

The vocational training programme conducted in association with Pratham was one such example of WWF-India’s efforts to preserve the healthy relationship between the India’s forests and the communities which call them home.

The author, Abhik Palit, is a Project Officer in the Satpuda Maikal Landscape, WWF-India

Photo © Abhik Palit/WWF-India

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