Interview by Sourabha Rao
“If conservation were to be considered a cricket field, you could call me an all-rounder,” says Govindappa H. L., somewhat shyly. And when you listen to him for the next half hour or so, you will realise just how befitting that analogy is.
Hailing from a humble village called Hiregonigere in Davanagere, Karnataka, Govindappa has been working with us since 2013. He is actively involved in conservation work across Mysuru landscape. His contributions ever since to the post voluntary-relocation work of our Livelihood Support team have been invaluable.
We are delighted to present you this interview with Govindappa where he talks about his origins, his work experience in the past, the projects he is currently working on, what inspires him every day and more.
Over to Mr. Govindappa.
1. Could you tell us about the beginning of your journey and how the years you spent in your village informed your sensibilities about rural way of life?
I was born to a family whose only source of income was agriculture. My village is hemmed to some hillocks, and some wildlife like wild boar, sloth bear and peacock would frequent our agricultural fields and it would sometimes lead to loss of crop and property damage. The human-wildlife interaction sometimes leading to conflict is something everyone in my village has seen and continues to. Although I do not come from a scientific background, I have always been fascinated by the role one could play in addressing the part concerning humans in the conservation story.
For the past 18 years, I’ve been with organisations that, in one way or another, work with people belonging to various tribes in Karnataka. The tribal places I’ve worked in include Malava Haadi, Balle Haadi, Seeguru Haadi, Kere Haadi, Machchuru Haadi, Goluru Haadi and Maanemoole Haadi. Nearly two decades of experience of working with tribal people has allowed me the privilege of gaining their trust and doing my best to help them avail of several schemes from central and state governments that aim towards their socio-economic development.
2. You have been working with us for over eight years now. Could you please tell us about the various projects you’ve been a part of thus far?
I’ve been a part of all the projects that involve helping tribal people in the fields of agriculture, health care, children education and women empowerment after they voluntarily relocate to our relocation centres. With the generous support of our donors and the various government schemes that exist for the welfare of these people, we have been able to facilitate tens of families to lead an economically, socially, environmentally sustainable life.
It helps that I myself hail from a family that was into organic farming. This has helped me share all the learning I’ve had from my father with the farmers in the resettlement areas – it could be equipment or different ways of doing planet-friendly farming. We have also been able to be the bridge between people, and our donors who sponsor different types of saplings and government schemes on seeds and so on.
We encourage our farmers to attend agriculture fairs across the state so that they learn various methods of sustainable farming first-hand and implement in their lands provided by the government. We are proud to see many of these farmers making a name for themselves and winning awards and accolades throughout Karnataka. We arrange for scientists and researchers to visit these farm lands for interaction.
Before owning the three-acre land, most of these families were working in Kerala and other places in farms owned by others. Now they are indeed happy and content to have a piece of land and call it their own and to be living independently post voluntary relocation.
For voluntarily relocated beneficiaries who are interested in other skilled labour such as plumbing, tailoring, driving, bee keeping, we organise comprehensive workshops.
Constant engagement with the beneficiaries is very important to keep them inspired in doing what they choose to do.
Personally, I am always on the lookout for all kinds of schemes available from different departments of the government for the welfare of our tribal people – including schemes for school children (uniforms, notebooks, stationery and so on); and financial aid for widowed and deserted women, old-age and handicapped people, and ration card holders. Solar lamps have been donated to the 60 voluntarily relocated families of Sollepura where we work. Some families have availed of schemes through which they have been given sheep, chickens, fruit saplings, and things like gas cylinders (this ensures they do not enter forests for firewood), bee boxes and tarpaulin.
3. What are the challenges you face?
The most important thing is to build trust with these families towards the mainstream society by being available to them constantly. Most of the people, especially in places like Sunkadakatte Haadi, had to walk at least seven kilometres to find a grocery shop or a hospital or a school. They have had very hard lives. So the biggest challenge is to make them realise that there is timely help after they voluntarily relocate – both from the government and sponsors. Most of the time, it is the lack of awareness that such programmes and schemes even exist that make people lose faith. This is where we act as a bridge between these entities and execute work flawlessly, to make it easy for the beneficiaries.
Our programme is designed to enable them to lead a comfortable and meaningful life. Now they do not have to worry about living in remote areas without access to infrastructure, health care and education.
It is our responsibility to ensure that after these tribal people voluntarily relocate from protected areas, they are trained and motivated in every way to lead independent lives. I am deeply grateful to all my colleagues who work very hard with utmost dedication and commitment to this cause.
4. How do people respond to the work you and your colleagues do in the field?
Because of our availability whenever they seek help, people trust us and cooperate with us wholeheartedly. They even help us in implementing programmes to help them – it’s a symbiotic relationship. They do not hesitate at all when they need guidance with the work they are involved in.
If there is any conflict of interest, our team and I always ensure we find the origin and try to address the situation objectively. It is also to be duly noted that the head of our team is always supportive of the work we do and always helps in the hours of need in finding resolutions as quickly as we can in challenging situations. We also have the freedom to work and are never micro-managed, which is very important in the kind of work we do, because it is not just about us but about hundreds of human beings who need us to work efficiently.
It is fulfilling and humbling when people consider you one of them. That itself is the biggest reward for the work I do.