Building pride habitats! Meet "quintessential ‘Cachari Fuwa" Gaurav Chakraborty and his venture Aranyak Valley
It is often the dream of small-town people to move out of their habitats and go to big cities in search of better opportunities and livelihoods. Sure, the migration of the rural/suburban population, especially the youth, to bigger cities is nothing new. Yet, when it comes to the Barak Valley, this rate of migration is considerably high and this trend is increasing every year. According to Census data, from 2001 to 2011, the rural to urban migration rose from 52 million to 78 million, thereby witnessing a steep 51% rise in the migration rate. And here too, Cachar is no exception. But this brain drain of youth after the completion of education is also rendering this region barren and devoid of its human resources.
Although the migrating people are right to prioritise their own individual careers in search of better opportunities elsewhere, very few stops to look back and try to find any solution to this crisis. Gaurav Chakraborty of Cachar is certainly among one of them, who was born in Cachar but raised/schooled in Aizawl, Dimapur & Guwahati, before finally moving out of India at the age of 25. “I was away from home since the age of 17 when I set out to do my Engineering Degree. Then I moved out of India at 25. I have had the opportunity to experience life in over 50 countries through the multinational organizations that I have worked for,” said Gaurav.
But whenever he came back to his home in Cachar on vacations, over the years, he’d get sad seeing Cachar facing a huge exodus of the young local population. “Every other house has old parents living on their own. While it is natural for youngsters to migrate elsewhere for the want of better opportunities, in the case of Cachar, it seemed to me that there were more reasons for this exodus. A dipstick study suggested that the place was losing the youngsters because the sense of belongingness and associated pride for the region, was diminishing over the years. It seemed as if pride resided in “moving out of Cachar” and not in “staying back”. It was painful to see such a large number of brilliant minds leaving the region batch-by-batch.”
It was then that he realised that with the education and resources that he has at his disposal, he could give back something to his land which nurtured him for years. Keeping that vision in mind, Gaurav Chakraborty launched ‘Aranyak Valley’, a social start-up aimed at building ‘Pride Habitats’ in areas regarded as Tier 3 and 4 like Cachar in Assam. To take back and instil the pride within the students, ‘Aranyak Valley’ was founded in 2017 to train the students of this region in vocational skills required for individual growth, as well as motivating the same in people’s active participation. “In Aranyak Valley, we adhere to the 3P Model, which stands for Professional, Personal and People’s participation. Through vocational training and various other skill development courses, we groom the upcoming generation in respective fields to meet their potential,” said the start-up founder Gaurav Chakraborty.
‘Pride Habitats’ aim to transform & help retain youth within such regions through education and skill development, helping such regional ecosystem sustain on its own while maintaining the rich local cultural life. Elaborating on that, he said, “We do this through our two complementary, interconnected and interdependent forces called Urban and Rural Pride Habitats. Our students undergo rotational in-house training modules within these habitats, depending on the nature of the skill to be honed. The Urban Pride Habitats is a vocational academy that aims at helping young adults become skilled professionals, confident human beings and contributing residents. The Rural Pride Habitats is a sprawling habitat of cultural agro-eco farm & native forest that aims at conserving local flora and fauna, preserving native culture, promoting artisanal handicraft and integrating community.” They have successfully trained over 1000 students till now, while also generating 21 employments till date.
Meanwhile, under the ‘Rural Pride Habitats’, Gaurav and his team have managed to plant 10,000 native trees/plants in their eco-habitat in Dudhpatil, Cachar. Regarding this, he said, “Growing up during my time, we had so many rare plants that our parents and forefathers used to grow in their backyards, which have several medicinal values. We don’t see those plants anymore these days, and neither is anyone aware of all these in today’s generation. By planting those indigenous plants and herbs in our Rural Pride Habitat, we wanted to recreate that awareness about rare indigenous plants that are usually found in our valley, and help the next generation take pride in their eco-habitat as well.” The primary aim of this is to instil a sense of awareness and pride regarding native local culture, its flora & fauna, language, etc. so that the migration of youth or the brain drain could be slowed down.
In this short span of their journey, ‘Aranyak Valley’ has managed to gather support and also win various awards and accolades along the way. Once, starting as a one-man start-up, ‘Aranyak Valley’ is now officially incubated by Assam Startup Nest, IIM Calcutta, Indigram Labs, NEATehub, and many others as well. They have already made it to the Top 10 start-ups of the entire North-east. Last year, they were included in the list of 31 start-ups from Assam who received financial benefits from the Government of Assam after qualifying for the My Assam Startup ID (MASI) under the Assam Startup Policy 2017. “We encourage and train students to not just develop their individual skills and personality, but also instil entrepreneurship sensibilities so that even if they leave Cachar in future for better opportunities, they should at least come back to use their skillset and resources to generate more occupational opportunities in this valley. As part of the Urban course, students and their faculty must take up what is called ‘Project of Validation’ in a bid to use what they have learnt to solve a local problem through entrepreneurship,” shared Gaurav Chakraborty.
But the Corona pandemic last year forced Chakraborty to shift the training modules from offline to online mode. “We have both online and offline facilities for learning. However, considering the fact that most of the rural students do not have access to smartphones and good bandwidth, we have invested in additional machines that are located in our Rural Pride Habitat. This has helped the students of remote villages access online content. In this period, we were able to train more than 500 such students. But in the urban region, the demand was more for our Agro-eco skills where we conducted live digital sessions on gardening, waste management, home composting etc. The team Aranyak has designed the courses keeping the local sensibilities in mind. It is 70% practical lab/field session and only 30% classroom session. But this is only a start I feel.”
Gaurav Chakraborty has shown that with resources and relevant knowledge and awareness, one can make a huge difference to a place to take pride in its origin and uniqueness. “I am a quintessential ‘Cachari Fuwa who was just fortunate to have access to urban outlook and resources due to the nature of my work.”