1. What is the ant?
the antis registered as a Charitable Trust under the Religious And Public Charitable Trusts Act based in District Chirang, Assam in India. It is a voluntary agency (also called a non-governmental organisation or NGO) working towards rural development without prejudice to caste, creed, religion, gender or tribe.
2. Why does it have a strange name like the ant?
You may be aware that an ant can carry up to 50 times its weight. It is also the commonest animal, collectively making for an estimated 25% weight of all animals on our planet, although it does not attract much attention. Ants are also well known for their social work, ceaseless activity, resourcefulness and their ability to work together. Besides, they are known never to give up.
Well! That should explain why we are inspired by the ants. We commit ourselves to work hard like ants and work together with people. We also call ourselves The Action Northeast Trust.
3. What is the objective of the ant?
the ant is committed towards bringing about sustainable rural development in villages of the North East with the core values of ahimsa, truth, honesty, humility, trust and love. Dreaming of a world where there is peace, love, respect and dignity for all, at present, the ant is working at two levels: at one level- directly in some villages of Chirang district in the Bodo Territorial Administered Districts area of Assam, India and on the other as a support and networking organisation to different development agents in the North East region.
4. Where is the Head Office of the ant?
Although the ant was registered in Bongaigaon , Assam in the year 2000, it presently has its Head Office at Udangshri Dera, Rowmari, Dist Chirang which is just a few kms away from Bongaigaon town. However there is a Field Centre at Deosri that coordinates its work with the IDPs in the area.
5. Who started the ant?
A two-year-old organisation, the ant was founded by three development workers. They are also the founding Trustees of the organisation:
• Rabindranath Upadhyay, a known Sarvodaya worker who has since 1962, worked in Nalbari district of Assam for rural upliftment through Khadi and Village industries. He has vast experience and is associated with a number of organisations at the regional and national levels.
• Jennifer Liang has a Masters in social work from TISS and has specialized in social research methods. She has worked directly on health and women’s issues in Assam and has been helping a number of NGOs in the northeast. She used to be the northeast representative of Ashoka Innovators for the Public until recently. She has founded and is on the board of a number of other organisations. She is also the Managing Trustee of the organisation.
• Sunil Kaul is a public health activist who worked as a medical doctor in the army for some years, and then left his job to work for primary health care in rural areas of Rajasthan and Assam . He has a Masters in Public Health (in Developing Countries) from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. An Eisenhower Fellow, he has been working in community health especially with respect to malaria and T.B. for many years and has trained hundreds of village health workers.
6. Where does the ant get its resources from?
Monetarily, at the moment, it has five sources of funds.
Grants – Although for the first two and half years we never resorted to grants and preferred to earn our way through, we have resorted to receiving project based grants from various funding agencies. At various points of time, we have received small and big grants from National Foundation for India (New Delhi) – even a Sir Dorabji Tata Trust grant is routed through them, Sir Ratan Tata Trust (Mumbai), Aid to Artisans (USA), Ford Foundation ( New Delhi), Association for India’s Development (USA), Indo-Global Social Services Society – NER (Guwahati), Indians for Collective Action (USA), ActionAid – NER (Guwahati), the British High Commission (New Delhi ), Paul Hamlyn Foundation (UK) MIVA (Holland), CMC (Holland) and Karuna Trust, Mumbai.
Consultancies – We are proud to declare that we have earned a substantial amount of our funds for the foundation years of the ant through this route. This has been through training and consultancy assignments with other development organisations. Self- dependency begins at home.
Publications - We have been able to publish booklets, manuals and diaries and earn funds from these for our work
Personal Contributions- We are fortunate to have kind friends, relatives who believe in our endeavours and kindly contribute for the work. the ant is also registered under section 80G of the Income Tax Act for 50% concession for donors on Income Tax.
Loans – We have been resorting to loans from Banks and NGOs for our weaving projects, but have never defaulted in repayments
We have also utilised resources in the form of voluntary service from people believing in us. Getting free translations done, resource people for trainings at minimal cost, designers for our weaving project are few of the types of invaluable help we have received. MSF ( Holland ) left their vehicle and other items behind for us to use and many friends and relatives have gifted us computers, generators and the like.
7. How big is the ant?
the ant has around 43 staff operating out of the Rowmari campus. 4 work on its Health project in Kokrajhar while 9 people are employed at our Bangalore store. These figures do not include the 14 member staff of Aagor Daagra Afad.
8. Some of the members of the ant are from faraway places. Why?
It is true that some of the members are not from the local area. Rural areas need attention of development workers and agencies. Thus, believing that many areas of the northeast could do with help in development, these members have committed to work here.
9. What are the ant’s present activities in the villages of Chirang?
Currently we our work is spread in around 90 hamlets. This can be distinguished into different activities.
· Village Health Programme: Almost all villages in our area cannot access government health care facilities easily, although since 2006, the National Rural Health Mission is trying to make a difference. Thus women volunteers were selected by the village have been trained to handle about 30 medicines for common ailments. Working as village pharmacists, they provide high quality, low-cost generic medicines at no-profit no-loss basis and benefit the poor, especially women and children. We also have community laboratories that give correct Malaria results to local people with a 95% technical veracity. Lately we are trying to work with the community to keep an eye on the National Rural Health Mission guarantees and are helping in building the capacity of the ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) of the NRHAM programme. Alongwith ASHADEEP, A NGO based in Guwahati, we are running a monthly camp to treat Mental Health patients and working at community level also to remove the stigma associated with Mental Health.
· Weaving Programme: realizing that the women in the area are skilled weavers the ant has tried to market this skill so that it can be an income generation opportunity for women. Moreover, it hopes to create a distinct and positive Bodo identity through the products of weaving.
· Jagruti Groups: believing in the concept of self-help groups, these are women groups engaged in small savings and investments. The objective is to lead the women towards consciousness or Jagruti. Larger Jagruti Dals try the same too.
· Udangshri Dera: or Freedom camp is centre that welcomes some of the poorest girls and women who have worked in other people’s houses for monthly emoluments of about four or five hundred rupees ($10) plus food and shelter. In 3-4 months time about 20 girls are expected to earn between 8 to 14000 rupees (USD 300) that each of them can use to start a small livelihood project or return their loans or feed into our weaving programme. Other skills are also taught besides learning and writing for those who are illiterate so that they can face the world later.
· Entitlements work: the ant has been trying to motivate people to ask for their entitlements and fight for them. It hopes to stem the corruption in order to help those below the poverty line to get their legitimate entitlements.
Home stays, visits to villages, mobilizing people, understanding their context, baseline survey etc are some of the strategies used to initiate the above activities.
10. Why did the ant choose to work in Rowmary?
During their initial reconnaissance for a needy place to work, some people staying in the Kokrjahar – Bongaigaon border had brought some of the founding trustees to the areas north of Bongaigaon that were badly affected by lack of communications and river erosion. Since they were convinced that the area deserved the attention of a development agency and that they could contribute from their experience, they set up the ant in October 2000. By March 2001, villages of Rowmary VCDC were chosen as the stepping stone for future developmental activities. Presently our activities extend to other VCDCs as well, like Malipara, Birhanggaon, Amguri and upto Koila Moila, Amteka and Deosri on the Bhutan border. Moreover, Bongaigaon town being close to the work area was chosen as the base initially, as it helps us to communicate with other agencies and facilitates our activities at the second level.
11. How long will the ant stay in Bongaiagon?
We believe in sustainable development. Thus all are activities are designed in such a manner that the community members can start running them on their own very early. Once that is achieved the ant will work on other issues or in other villages of the region, but even then will act as a support organisation.
12. What are the present activities of the ant as a support and training organisation in the northeast?
the ant plays a supportive role for organistions and volunteers in other parts of the northeast who are engaged in development activities. It has worked chiefly in four ways:
· Trainings: We have been invited as a resource group for training NGO personnel on issues in which we have expertise - community health programmes; malaria prevention and management; essential drugs; social analysis; NGO management; research methods, self help groups etc.
· Consultations & Evaluations: From helping organisations in conceptualising a plan of action to assistance in evaluation of projects of other organisations has been a role that the ant uses to guide agencies towards community - driven sustainable development.
· Publications: In order to reach out to a larger audience, the ant published material that has been translated into various languages, some of it by others. Some of these include: A to Z of Malaria ....and more, Your Medicine Box, Health Diary cum Manual and a Three Phase manual to train village health workers.
· Fellowships: the ant helps committed young people interested in working with village communities by helping them get a small fellowship to enable them to continue their work mainly through a commitment from the Bhoruka Charitable Trust, Jaipur.
13. What kind of salaries and perks do the members of the organisation get?
Everyone in the staff is allowed to take 4 days off in a month at her/his convenience and only needs to inform others about the absence in advance. Apart from this, ants can avail 15 days leave in a calendar year.
The lowest salary is just above that of a Daily Wage labourer, at 3400 pm incl all cash perks. The highest salary based on experience and qualifications in 2008 has been hiked to around 22000 per month. These scales incl the Provident Fund. By early 2009, we plan to start a medical insurance system for everyone
14. Do the Trustees draw any benefits from the organisation?
Jennifer draws a salary of approx 22000 per month incl of Provident Fund Contribution . Sunil being married to her, lives on her largesse. They pay a monthly rent of Rs 2000 for the house provided to them on the camps. The other trustees do not draw any benefits.
15. How are work related decisions made in the ant ?
We have monthly meetings in which one member by turns is asked to chair and anyone is allowed to put an issue on to the agenda. An open discussion is encouraged on each issue until a consensus – or rarely an overwhelming majority - is arrived at.
There is a voluntary code of conduct that is read out to new members and an administrative committee that has 4 members – having more than 1 year experience with the ant – by rotation is expected to deal with discipline, salary or recruitment issues.
Strategic issues like salaries etc, are of course finalised by the Board of Trustees.
16. Is the work of the ant reviewed or evaluated?
As far as all activities of the ant are concerned, from the first year itself, we had set up a periodic system of review by all staff members of the organisation. Each member has to help evaluate the activity – like weaving or health or group work - on 5 parameters by allotting scores out of a maximum of 5 (lately revised to 6 to avoid midpoint bias) for each of the parameters. These are Effectivity, Efficiency (of money, time, resources and emotional cost efficiency also) Community Participation, Sustainability and Gandhiji’s Talisman, the last one to assess the relevance of the programme to the poorest of our area.
Every member of the ant also has to face an anonymous 360 degree evaluation by every member of the ant including one’s own self against 25 parameters. Besides, a performance analysis has also been instituted to measure performance as the earlier evaluation was seen only as a quality evaluation. This evaluation is analysed on a percentile basis and upto one month a year of one’s salary can be earned as bonus based on this. By rotation every staff member also forms part of the Internal Audit team to get to see all the payments passed by the accounts department.
Besides, funding agencies assess and review our progress while they are giving or continuing grants to us. Formats for programme and personal assessment can be found here for other organisations to adapt from.
17. Can the ant receive funds from Indian and foreign donors?
Yes, the ant is registered with the Home Ministry under the FCR Act of 1976 with a registration number 020730005 as an Economic and Social organisation. It is also registered under Section 12A of the Income Tax Act, 1961 and donations to the ant have been granted exemption since inception under Sec 80G of the Income Tax Act 1961 which is renewed every now and then.
Trust rules do not allow for carrying over more than 15% of the receipts in one year to the next financial year unless the money is specifically donated to the Corpus. We are trying to raise a Corpus that will allow us to initiate work at short notice without having to look for donors in emergencies and will also help us prevent wasteful expenses at the end of the Financial Year just to meet the Income Tax rules. A line in your letter saying that 'the donation is made to the Corpus of the ant, ' will help us to use the money according to our convenience even after the end of the Financial Year.
For more details about where and under what name you can send in a contribution, click here.
All accounts are audited annually and can be seen in person at anytime or may be sent on demand after screening the request. Locally we do not make public our accounts for security reasons as we work in an insurgent region. However, we invite anyone to walk in without notice to see our vouchers and bills and inspect our documents.