John F. Kennedy said, "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try". These words of one of America's best-known presidents probably inspired a former engineer in India to try to transform what was once a bone-dry region into a green oasis simply by motivating its inhabitants to do what they earlier thought was impossible.
Some 120 km from Bengaluru in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, the village, of which little was known previously with no signboards even indicating its location to outsiders, has now become famous through its self-sustaining model. A dozen families here grow crops organically, meet their energy needs entirely by tapping wind power, harvest rain to conserve water and supply it to their homes with a solar-powered pump.
What's more, the village boasts of a Wi-Fi facility, provides entrepreneurial opportunities to farmers and has its own syllabus for children to hone their skills rather than learning by rote.
Even as many parts of rural India still lack rudimentary amenities, the sustainable development model of this small hamlet makes it an example when it comes to water conservation, power generation, ending gender bias and even eliminating casteism.
As water depleted in the rocky soil and farming became tough in the semi-arid zone, villages in the district despaired as people deserted them and migrated to cities for livelihood.
That was when 39-year-old Kalyan Akkipeddi -- who gave up a lucrative job in the finance and marketing division at General Electric to travel around the country's villages in search of knowledge -- arrived at remote Tekulodu.
Inspired by the simple life of tribals that he had witnessed during his travels, Akkipeddi chose to "intern" with a farmer family in Tekulodu and helped them increase their income from Rs 7,000 a year to about Rs 14,000 a month by putting scientific practices to work and tapping natural resources like solar and wind power.
In 2013, he bought a 12.5-acre plot of land a few kilometres from Tekulodu, on the forest fringe near his hometown Hindupur, in the same district of the Rayalaseema region. This has evolved into what he named Proto-Village -- the prototype of an ideal village.
"I was so inspired by what I saw in the tribal communities. Their wisdom allowed them to live in synergy with their surroundings. I thought of demonstrating that kind of life-based on three simple principles -- a deep respect for soil, air and water, inter-dependence and, as a result, self-reliance," Akkipeddi told IANS.
Applying scientific methods to farming and living sustainably, Akkipeddi, along with the villagers, has in four years transformed the barren piece of land into an inspiring model that is self-reliant, environmentally sustainable and socially cohesive.
"We want to be in the place where knowledge resides," said Akkipeddi.
As part of developing the village, Proto Village's inhabitants had initially built eight farm ponds in low-lying areas to store rainwater and had networked them.
ProtoVillage is unique in other ways as well. Food is cooked for all the families in a community kitchen by both men and women, irrespective of caste and creed. And they live as a joint family, with even men taking care of children.
"In other villages, women are confined to their homes, cooking and rearing children. Here, I have the freedom to learn and do a lot of things, as others take care of my child," Lakshmi, 28, who migrated to ProtoVillage, told IANS.
The daily chores of the dwellers include working in the fields to grow crops, vegetables, fruits and flowers. In the evenings, apart from indulging in folk arts like music, dance or drama, "we all sit down to talk about the things we had learnt that day", Akkipeddi shared.
Not to be left behind, the children have a system of learning which goes beyond the classroom. They learn to build homes, have drafted their own constitution for the learning centre, tend animals and even know to code software. And they share their knowledge with nearby villages.
The community aims at meeting nine basic needs: Food and water, shelter, clothing, healthcare, energy, connectivity, trade, education and disaster management, all in a sustainable manner.
G. Govardhan, 22, a computer applications graduate from Tekulodu, takes greater pride in farming than doing a nine-to-five job. Inspired by the work on increasing the green cover, he mobilised people in the nearby villages to grow more trees.
"This is my world, with the greenest of trees and farms. Why would I leave this and go to a crowded city for a job?" asked Govardhan.
Proto Village also houses a Rural Economic Zone (REZ), where farmers and others from the region can work on entrepreneurial ideas.
"We would like to create a support system for people from across the country, who wants to set up Proto Villages in their districts," Akkipeddi added.
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