Published by Kate
I recently met with Surendra Gehlot, founder and project manager of the Mandore Project (also known as the Rajasthan Village Project, and officially registered as an NGO organisation as Marwar Medical and Relief Society). Surendra started the Mandore Project in 1988 to address the needs of tiny villages around the small town of Mandore, which is located about nine kilometers north of Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan.
I met and discussed the project with Surendra at the Mandore Guesthouse, which he owns. The guest house is set in a lovely garden, with mud-walled cottages and beautiful furnishings. It is definitely a peaceful retreat from the busy city of Jodhpur. Volunteers stay at the guest house, which provides a tranquil, familial atmosphere
The Mandore Project is a secular, all-inclusive, nonprofit organization. It takes a grassroots
approach by involving local communities and linking them with volunteers. The project has an
unorthodox approach to the typical, hierarchical bureaucracy that drives India. Run out of the
guest house, there is no formal, centralized office, and the aim is to minimize paperwork and
Surendra also believes it is important not to make “false impressions” through the distribution of expensive color brochures and media materials (however, they do have a Web site). By streamlining the operational costs, more of the funds can go directly to the projects.
Mandore Project is based on Gandhi’s principles. The mission is to work with underserved people and strive for equality for all. The Mandore Project also seeks to work with people who have encountered discrimination (by race, sex, caste, addiction, etc.). Many of the schools set up by the Mandore Project have posters of Gandhi to remind the new generation about his principles.
There are a broad range of projects that focus on several different areas of community development, including:
Surendra believes improved education is the key component for the ultimate solution to many of India’s problems. In underserved rural communities, the literacy rate continues to be much lower than in cities. The Mandore Project has a few basic goals as part of its educational initiative:
To address these goals, Surendra takes a practical, “from-the-ground-up” approach. The schools
in the villages around Mandore lack a very basic infrastructure that is necessary to ensure a
proper learning environment. Many of the Mandore Project endeavors focus on creating or
improving school’s infrastructure.
Volunteers have been linked directly with students to work together on making basic furniture for schools. This experience provides an opportunity for cultural exchange and an invested interest for the students.
The Mandore Project has also added basic toilet facilities at schools. By fourth or fifth grade, many female students walk home to use the toilet and do not return back to school. In a practical fashion, Mandore Project is addressing drop-out rates amongst female students by equipping the school with basic toilet facilities. This conversation was eye-opening for me as I often take for granted the basic educational infrastructures that are already in place in the U.S.
Surendra’s first priority when addressing health issues is to increase awareness amongst parents. Sometimes children do not receive proper medical treatment because the parents do not have basic knowledge about medical services. Thus, all Mandore Project initiatives occur in collaboration with parents. Services provided have included:
Education about drug abuse is also a health campaign. Opium addiction is a common problem among villagers. The Mandore Project previously ran a detoxification center for 13 years, from 1992 until 2006. It closed due to problems associated with the space being leased, but Surendra would like to re-open it on new land he has secured from the government when funds permit.
According to Surendra, the key components to Mandore Project’s environmental programs are to
fully educate and engage the communities and to especially involve women. Drought and
deforestation are severe problems in this part of India, and the use of resources makes an
Some of the Mandore Project programs have been:
Surendra noted the culture of the villages lies within the homes. A critical piece of any initiative is to build trust and rapport, and the involvement of women is crucial. Currently, two Belgian volunteers are working on a project with the women of a village to modify cooking devices in every home. The project has many practical advantages, such as:
In two months, the volunteers have completed all the homes, and the village women are very pleased with the outcome. Surendra now plans to continue the project in other villages.
Surendra is very proud that Mandore Project is not funded by government sources. He does, however, admit that the irregularity of funding is a challenge.
Mandore Project works in coordination with other agencies and NGOs. Part of the funding of projects also comes from the guest house and volunteer packages. Volunteers are asked to contribute $125 Euros per week (about US $197) for room and board, basic materials and transportation to the villages.
If a volunteer wants to work on a specific project, they are often asked to provide all or part of the funds (either themselves or through fundraising). However, Surendra stressed that money should not be an obstacle for a volunteer. If someone wants to come and contribute, but lacks funds beyond the basic weekly cost, there will be work available.
Five years ago, the government gave Mandore Project four acres of land, which is located about four kilometers away from the guest house. Surendra has big dreams for the land, but has lacked the funds for development.
He has designed plans for the layout of a complex that can be implemented in phases, as funds become available. The complex would eventually include:
Surendra also wants a small van equipped with x-ray, scanning and diagnostic equipment that
could provide medical services door-to-door in the villages. He envisions all of these services
being free of charge to patients.
Surendra admits these are lofty goals, but he looks back at all the Mandore Project has accomplished through the years. He started it 20 years ago with nothing but a dream and some goals, and it has far exceeded anything he imagined.
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