The Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD) was formally launched in June 2011. The Trust aims to address the challenges of preserving India’s tangible and intangible rural heritage, and to connect the preservation and enhancement of this heritage with economic development, livelihood enhancement, and general improvement in the quality of rural life. The Trust has taken up several projects in a number of States in India. These projects relate to conservation of architectural heritage, revival and promotion of cultural traditions and development activities calculated to bringing about a positive change in the lives of rural residents. All these activities are taken with the full and active participation of the community. The approach is bottom-up rather than the other way around.

An interesting project relates to the setting up of a primary school in village Hariharpur in district Azamgarh in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Hariharpur, with a population of about 2000, has a unique music tradition as every Brahman family has a musician and it is heart- warming to see youngsters of the age of seven or eight practicing on their instruments early in the morning. The Trust has decided, with a view to nurturing this talent, to set up a music academy. Side by side it was also decided to set up a primary school to provide quality education to the children starting from the nursery level. With this end in view, we recruited local girls who had done their graduation and sent them for intensive training. A house was taken on rent and 64 girls and boys in the age group of three to five years old were selected, the majority of whom belonged to the very economically backward sections of society.

During that period we came to know from the British Council that a group of architects and a community organiser representing WORKSHOP architecture had been given the task of identifying a rural architectural project in which they could be involved and which would also be partially supported financially. The group was invited to Hariharpur and after a series of discussions involving the community also they fell in love with the village and the project. It has been a very rewarding and learning experience interacting with the WORKSHOP architecture team. They set upon the task in a very systematic and organised manner. After discussions with our architect, Mr Shiban Ganju, they set about drawing up their plans with emphasis on the use of local materials and architecture to blend with the environment. Workshops involving Indian architects and other experts were organised in Delhi in which some members of the Hariharpur community also participated.

A major decision that the Trust took, which the group endorsed, was not to engage any contractor for building operations. This constituted the first and biggest challenge. The community rose to the occasion. Not only did they offer the land for the school building, they offered to mobilise the labour and other artisans such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians etc. The WORKSHOP architecture team moved in and decided to live in the village to exchange the various skills involved. They became a part of the construction team and by their example were able to motivate the entire community including the womenfolk, who showed no less enthusiasm than their male counterparts.

The first phase with the funds available will soon be completed, and the bigger challenge is now to complete the building and to sustain the momentum that was generated. We are hopeful of continuing the training of the locals in various building skills. A former head of the village Panchayat has taken on the responsibility and he will be assisted by a young architect and a young volunteer serving with the Trust. Funds will obviously be required for the completion of the Master Plan, and the Trust has been assured by one of the biggest corporations in the country, ONGC, of the necessary support. This project, we hope, will serve as a catalyst and model for projects in other villages. We are grateful to the British Council and this team of young and dedicated architects for the services rendered. They will always be fondly remembered in the village community.

– S.K. Mishra 04.07.2013

Project Hariharpur

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