Tensions in Livelihoods: A Rural Perspective
Aspirations, hopes, and dreams are inherent to human beings—rural or urban. The desire for a “better life” very often drives youth from rural to urban areas in the hope of being part of the larger urban dream. Tensions are generated when a rural youth aspires to move out to an urban environment in search of what sometimes becomes an elusive better life. This chapter explores the challenges that young people in rural areas face in trying to realize their aspirations and hopes. Are these aspirations a real need? This exploration is done through stories of some young men and women based in the Rishi Valley area—a rural landscape located in the Southern Indian State of Andhra Pradesh. The chapter draws extensively from practice and on-the-ground experiences of rural life rather than from theoretical perspectives. Against the background of the stories of these young men and women, the meaning of livelihoods is discussed. In this, we have drawn upon the philosopher-educator J. Krishnamurti’s approach to an individual’s relationship with society as well as with nature and with oneself. Questions such as the role of professionals in planning livelihoods, helping youth understand themselves, and thereby guiding them toward the right choices without affecting self-esteem or generating inferiority are addressed both rhetorically and with the help of an inclusive model of livelihood.
The second half of the chapter draws from our grassroots experience pertaining to rural livelihood programs, and a framework drawn completely from practice is proposed. In our experience, an essential gap that must be filled with regard to rural livelihoods is the return of an attitude of stewardship toward nature and natural resources so that livelihoods, which follow the seasons, do not vanish. Losing touch with nature leads to a loss in the quality and dignity of rural life leading to forced migration to urban areas, in search of this ephemeral lost quality. This is not to advocate relegating the rural populace to rural areas, nor is it a neo-Luddite approach. It means proactively diffusing and disseminating appropriate technology (e.g., irrigation and farming methods, water conservation measures, value addition, appropriate to the setting and not just skills to use the computer) and creating entrepreneurial opportunities for rural and urban youth where they can be equipped to apply an understanding of science, technology, business and economics to improve stewardship of nature and natural resources, and therefore quality of life. A prerequisite for all of this is access to the right education—not just academic education for youth but education for adult women and men as well, so that the interdependency between health, nutrition, education, livelihood, and quality life is understood.
In this context, one of the biggest challenges is enabling a livelihood model that is appropriate and relevant to local geographical and climatic conditions, independent of constant external financial support, and one that is embedded in the cultural and spiritual context of the communities and their relationship with natural resources. One such framework, the Rishi Valley grassroots action model, drawn from our experience with the rural community in Rishi Valley is discussed in this chapter. The aim of this model is to enable livelihoods that can address some of the critical issues that force youth to leave home in search of their dream life.
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