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Rapar Region of Gujarat

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"Donations will be used to help MARAG expand its program of education for Maldhari children. There are children that do not currently have access to education and children that are being married before the age of 16.

The best way for this community to preserve what is valuable in their heritage while changing what is detrimental to their future is through education of children. "

- Catherine Strickland & Ashok Kotwal,
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Empowering Children through Education and Awareness

The Maldhari are the traditional shepherds of India, with a customary knowledge of animal husbandry and a history of supplying dairy products to Gujarat. This community’s culture and livelihood are slowly being eroded by privatization of land which forces families to migrate to find fodder for their cattle.

In addition, because many Maldhari children are born while their families are migrating, their births are not registered and they lose their right to vote.

Project Goals

The project is an on-going effort to improve access to education and empower children regarding their rights, originally starting in 2004. The current phase of the project is scheduled to be completed in September 2010.

The main goals of this project are:

  1. To increase access to education for Maldhari children by establishing a pilot mobile education unit that allows them to attend school while migrating.
  2. To empower children to participate in the democratic process in India.
  3. To empower villages to obtain access to services that are rightfully theirs such as schools, healthcare and participation in the democratic process.
  4. Raise awareness within the community of children’s rights to equality, education, health and to childhood by not being married before adulthood.
  5. Preserve the indigenous culture of the Maldhari community.
  6. Increase the effectiveness of state-delivered education programs by making them accountable to the community that they serve.
  7. Establish a supportive environment for children to live while attending state schools.


MARAG began working with 10 Maldhari communities in the Rapar District of Kutch in Gujarat. To date the project has succeeded in increasing school enrollment and attendance by 50%.

In addition, a Bal Panchayat (children’s council) has been established in each village that teaches children how to participate in a democratic process, how to take action to improve their lives and exposes them to issues such as equality, children’s rights and key health concerns. Participation in these councils prepares children to participate in the village councils when they are adults.

The project has also delivered parent workshops to raise awareness about the value of education, the negative effects of child marriage and the role of the community in taking action to obtain access to the government services they are entitled to.

The project is establishing a mobile education unit that will follow children as they migrate with their families in order to provide continuity to their education. In addition, the project is establishing a community-run hostel that will become a supportive residence for children who must leave their village in order to continue their education.


MARAG, run by Neeta Pandya and Lalji Desai, is a true grassroots organization that works to empower the Maldhari community to overcome the numerous challenges to its survival.

These challenges include privatization of their traditional grazing lands which threatens their livelihood and a lack of access to basic rights such as the right to vote, the right to an education and the right to adequate healthcare.

In addition, there are some traditions within the Maldhari culture, such as child marriage, that threaten their future by serving as barriers to education and self-determination, especially for girls. MARAG works closely with each community to understand their particular needs and then facilitates the development of community-based strategies to address those needs.

Lalji Desai is Maldhari and has become one of the most respected leaders of this community through MARAG’s dedicated commitment to bettering the lives of the Maldhari.

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