Dhan Foundation, an NGO with headquarters in Madurai, (India) has been working for over a decade and a half, with poor communities to improve their quality of life and reduce poverty. It has chalked out an ambitious plan for further strengthening its roots and activities in South India as also make increased inroads in rural side in North India.
Dhan, which stands for Development of Humane Action is a professionally managed development institution and currently works with 700,000 poor families in 10 states of India on different development themes, viz., microfinance, small scale irrigation, dry land agriculture, working with panchayats. One of Dhan's important initiatives is reviving Ooranis. Oorani is a dug-out pond that traps rain water run-off and stores it for drinking water purposes in rural areas where ground water is either inadequate or unfit for use.
Ram Narayanan, a well known community activist and Editor-Coordinator US-India Friendship.net, was visiting India recently and he shed light on new the new Dhan themes in progress. The new initiatives include the Tata-Dhan Academy for grooming development professionals, rain fed farming development to improve the livelihood of farmers, enabling the poor through information technology, and working with panchayats. Dhan has an integrated model of livelihood restoration and rehabilitation program in Tsunami affected coastal regions for fishermen and coastal farming families. Dhan People Academy and Dhan Institute of Vocational Education cater to training and capacity building needs for the leaders and people functionaries.
The Foundation, he said, is also promoting development tourism to showcase art, culture, heritage and development work. Dhan is involved in developing rural tourism model in collaboration with UNDP and Government of India.Presently, according to Ram Narayanan, Dhan works in 10 States of India in the rural, tribal, coastal and urban contexts- Andhra Pradesh in six districts, Assam in one district, Jharkand in one district, Karnataka in five districts, Kerala in one district, Madhya Pradesh in one district, Maharashtra in one district, Pondicherry in two districts, Orissa in two districts and Tamil Nadu in 19 districts.
It has over 750 development staff, including 350 professionals. It currently operates two major themes in Tamil Nadu, namely, Kalanjiam Community Banking Program with poor women and Vayalagam Tank fed Agriculture Program with small and marginal farmers dependent on tanks for their livelihood.The Kalanjiam Community Banking Program has developed the federation model of people's organization.
The model places emphasis on establishing appropriate institutions and services owned and managed by poor women and building sustainable linkages with mainstream banking and government institutions. The women are now going beyond microfinance and are addressing other development needs such as health, education etc. Village tanks and ponds occupy a significant position in irrigation and local ecosystem in South India.
They sustained farming activities. Neglect of these precious water resources led to a decline in their performance as assets and badly affected the livelihood of the community. Dhan Foundation, through the Vayalagam Agriculture Program, has sought to conserve these treasures by organizing the farmers dependent on them and regenerating local management by building their stakes.
He said that the people within India as well as people of Indian origin living abroad, including Indian Americans, have contributed financially to the development of specific projects sponsored by Dhan.
Dhan also has a volunteer program where socially concerned and committed individuals from within India and abroad can offer their expertise in the area of health, education, water, communication, web design, content creation in local language for meeting local needs, for periods ranging from three months to a year. Volunteering could also be virtual for tasks such as web design, editorial support, writing for the web etc. There are also opportunities for donation in kind such as computers, cameras etc.