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Opash conducts tours to renowned social projects such as Hiware Bazar, Anandwan-Hemalkasa-Somnath, etc. that have transformed the lives of many individuals and families and serve as benchmark of social innovation and change. These tours are conducted primarily for school and college students, but are open to everyone who wishes to contribute or is eager to know about social projects.

Objective of the Tours:
The youth of the cities are unable to relate to the realities and hardships of the rural world. Since young minds are the drivers of tomorrow and a pool of fresh ideas, we were looking for ways to ignite their curiosity. We thought that conducting social tours to model villages like Hiware Bazar, Anandwan might give them an idea of the issues existing in society and how they can be solved. It was also our hope that such exposure may kindle in them a motivation to contribute to the social sector by themselves.

Our Tours:
The following locations have stood out as model villages and inspired us to select them as starting point for the social tours:
1. One day trip to Hiware Bazar. Hiware Bazar is a village about 3 hours from Pune. It is an example of a sustainable village. However, thirty years back, the village was experiencing repeated drought and crop failure. Unable to practice farming, many villagers had to move to bigger cities like Mumbai and Pune in search of employment to make ends meet. In 1989, Mr. Popatrao Pawar, the only postgraduate in the village contested for the post of gram Panchayat Sarpanch and won. He used funds from government schemes towards several water conservation methods like rain water harvesting, construction of earthen/stone bunds, percolation tanks, afforestation of the hills. He also encouraged drip irrigation and growing of crops that are not water intensive. Along with this he initiated some social changes like adoption of family planning, ban on liquor, etc. It resulted in the village winning the title of “Ideal Village” by the Government of Maharashtra and the “National Water Award” by the Government of India. By 2010, the average income of the village had increased twenty-fold: 50 of the villagers had become millionaires, and only 3 families were below the poverty line. All this has been possible due to the combined efforts of the villagers working for a common cause under the leadership of an able Sarpanch.

2. 5 Day Trip to Anandwan, Hemalkasa and Somnath. All three are social projects that were envisioned by Baba Amte and are being carried forward by his family and a large group of volunteers. Anandwan is an ashram and a community rehabilitation center which was mainly started for leprosy patients and the disabled from downtrodden sections of society. It has small-scale industry units run by the residents, two hospitals, a college, an orphanage, a school for the blind and deaf and a technical wing. Hemalkasa has an animal orphanage cum rescue center to keep and protect orphaned babies of wild animals, a residential school for tribal children and a 40 bed hospital for tribal people. Somnath is a sustainable village run by cured leprosy patients.

How are the trips conducted?
Besides being a trip, the tours are tailored to spark curiosity in the students. They are mentored by individuals who are actively working for various social /rural projects. The mentors conduct a pre tour session in which the students are oriented about what to expect in the trip and post tour sessions during which the mentors ask for feedback on what the participants learned, how they think they can improve upon or contribute to them at their level and any other doubts they may have about the same.
On the tours, students/participants are given utmost exposure to the location by the means of village walks, visits to prominent projects within villages, interviews with dignitaries (who have actually built those projects), and interviews with villagers -the unsung heroes who have given mammoth contribution in the success of the projects. They are given experience of simple yet tasty food, farm visits, understanding cropping patterns, etc. All this gives the participants an insight into the simple yet fulfilling lifestyle of the villagers.
Building and maintaining ongoing relationship with the participants is important for Opash. We ensure this by conducting several engagement activities throughout the year like workshops on positive parenting, summer camps, etc.

Triumphs along the 3 year journey:
Slowly increasing number of participants: For the Hiware bazar trip, Opash started with merely 25 students in 2015 and has so far conducted tours for 400 students across the age group of 11-14 years in Pune. The trip to Anandwan, Hemalkasa and Somnath has also been coordinated for up to 100 participants till date.
Growing association with several schools: Our continual engagement programs through the year by way of information sessions and camps have enabled us to build a great rapport with the school fraternity of Pune. A recently passed government resolution (GR) by the education department about the Field Trips and Rural Tourism has given a new impetus to the social tours conducted by us.

Impact of the tours:
Last 3 years have seen a steady growth of goodwill and appreciation of our work. A few of the participants have got inspired to get into social work and take up small projects at their community or personal levels. About 10% of the past participants are contributing to Opash in different capacities (help with office accounts, spreading awareness about tours, etc.) and this is assisting us in building a community of like-minded people.
The testimonies and feedback that we receive at the end of the tours have valued our efforts and given us goals for further improvement. We continue to evolve our tours and are soon going to incorporate newer locations in addition to the current ones. We hope that we continue to inspire the youth towards social innovation and social entrepreneurship.

Kavita Puri
Manager, Study Tours