Arpana: A Multi-Dimensional Grass Roots Community Outreach, Inspired by ‘Maa’

Set up only six decades ago, in a two-room tenement, this NGO has weathered local stigmas, the pandemic and other challenges, to become an effective instrument of social and economic change in the states of Haryana and Himachal. Read on a conversation that brings out the success story of Aparna, making the difference.

Arpana has been doing an extensive range of initiatives. What made you choose these fields and give these your priority?

Arpana’s story began in 1965 in a small two-room tenement nestled in the verdant fields of Karnal, Haryana. It began because of the arrival of a simple, charismatic, lady forever known as Ma, outwardly so ordinary but filled with an all-encompassing love with a unique attitude of adherence to the truth and reality. Ma being based in this community, identified with everyone around her and thus understood their needs. And as she said, when one see’s the need, it is imperative to respond – to assist and alleviate their problems.

This simple credo has led to the establishment of a 100 bed Hospital at Madhuban, Karnal with multidisciplinary services providing advanced medical care. It has led to the organization of landless 14,500 women into 1004 Self Help Groups in 106 villages in Haryana with an accumulated savings of over 65 crore rupees.

A similar sister program in Chamba district in Himachal has 81 SHGs with around 800 members saving 15 lakh rupees. These are tiny villages with the women having the saving potential of only a few rupees in a month. A big drive has been to make the women themselves responsible for their bookkeeping. All the money is in Government banks in the name of the women!

Many associated programs sprang up concurrently in the same villages be it sanitation drives, toilet for each home, building brick homes, training in digital technology, kitchen gardens, nutritional well being of women and children. These are simply too numerous to enumerate. They all came into being from the continuous evolving needs of the community. So the readers have to imagine a village in which the poorest of the poor woman who had absolutely no say in any matter even in her own hose, living in a mud house with no toilet, mal nourished with not a rupee in her name now in the span of 25 years living in a brick house with toilets, owning a business with money in the bank and being elected to the village Panchayat! She maintains accounts and reports village problems via WhatsApp to the concerned government officials.

A big push both in Haryana and Himachal has been to focus on the marginalized farmers, i.e. those who own less than one hectare of land. Arpana is a big believer in working with the Government and ensuring people are made aware of and can take advantage of the numerous government schemes. We have organised visits by experts and government officials to train the farmers in crop rotation, farming techniques, distribution of seeds etc.

Arpana has constructed common irrigation tanks which has transformed the yield from farming in these villages. Farmers have been organized into Farmer Self Help Groups and registered under the NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) and thus can benefit under the various government schemes especially related to marketing of their products and micro credit.

Arpana’s entry into the education sector came in the shape of handful of slum children in Delhi in 1991. Our volunteers began to work with illiterate families of daily wage workers whose children were first generational learners often bewildered and unable to keep up with their lessons in the Government schools that they attended. A holistic approach was adopted along with nutritious meals being provided and over the years numerous success stories of young lawyers, air hostesses, medical professionals have emerged. Today over 1500 students receive support in their education in Delhi.

Whether it is medical, education, rural women programs, disabled persons or supporting farmers one thing which unites is our belief that we become our best when we serve selflessly. We have seen this in the transformation of Arpana volunteers, all ordinary people doing extra ordinary work with immense passion and dedication.

We are all about the power of going ‘local’, starting at absolute grassroots with one village, one child, one woman. We are one with the community around us.

Ideally, we would like to take up one initiative at a time to begin with, the hospital in Karnal. If you can give us an idea of the scale and scope of the activities that go on there?

Arpana Hospital’s OPD began in 1965 under a tree in Madhuban with rural folks queuing up to see the doctor. His only equipment was a first aid box, and the medicines were purchased from his own funds.

Today, it is a four storey multi-specialty Institute with excellent doctors and facilities, including four modular operation theatres, a 12-bed ICU, a Neonatal ICU, a 4 machine Dialysis Unit and a CT Scanner.

Additionally, there is digital X-ray service and a centralized laboratory, which functions round the-clock, ensuring timely diagnosis and initiation of treatment. There is a 24-hour pharmacy, and a canteen serving healthy meals.

The hospital has been accredited by the NABH (National Accreditation Board of Hospitals and Healthcare Providers). It uses the Government Insurance Program, Ayushman Bharat Yojna, for the uninsured and has been empanelled by the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation.

It covers a population of one million persons in over 500 villages and towns. About 70,000 outpatients are served every year, as well as over 10,000 medical camp patients.

In the next five years, we plan to significantly augment our healthcare services by establishing our own Catheterization Lab for advanced Cardiac Care, our own fully functional Blood Bank, and by becoming a sophisticated Trauma Care Hospital.

This could not have been easy, scaling up from virtually zero to becoming a standard. What were the challenges on the rural development side and how did you meet them?

Our rural development program started with a focus on health services for mother and child. It was initiated in a single village ‘Kutail Gamri’, Haryana.

The time was the 1970’s and the rural communities then were steeped in primitive, superstitious practices. It was a deeply patriarchal society, entrenched purdah system with women having no mobility, voice or recognition in the society.

The first five years were spent in combating deep resistance, fear and ignorance of the people. Nobody even understood the concept of vaccination and to inject oneself when one was healthy was considered blasphemy.  There was a complete absence of government services. It was through sheer persistence and with one woman at a time that small breakthroughs were made. It was decided to use plays, stories, flashcards and skits to enable the women to gain visual literacy of the health information. The messages were woven into songs being sung in the villages in the local dialect. Slowly, over the next 20 years we could gain trust, especially of the women.

However, this all counted for nothing when seeing the dire poverty and marginalization of women, the micro credit program was started in 1997. Even though it was the women themselves who had come out to express their desire to start income generating activities and by now Arpana had inter-generational relationships with the families, it was still an uphill task.

The biggest handicap was the very low self-esteem of women coupled with the fear that Arpana would run away with their money! This time a team was created from within the women and a monthly stipend was paid. They were intensively trained in book keeping, conducting meetings and basic financial literacy. These in turn organized the women into self-help groups.

Today, the 1400 SHGs are welded into two dynamic grass root organizations – Janshakti Mahila Vikas Federation and Janshakti Mahila Unnati Federation providing a range of services. They have an accumulated savings of over 65 crore rupees with 98% of women taking loans and as a result there are now 6800 women entrepreneurs.

Women’s skill development and the women support system are critical to the economy and social upliftment of our society. What has been your mission and your success ratio?

We have responded when we have seen the need in the community around it. Women being more vulnerable and marginalized have been at the forefront of our services.

Empowerment programs for rural women include:

  • Facilitating self-help groups for savings,
  • Enabling micro-credit loans,
  • Enabling women to start their own businesses,
  • Training in gender sensitization and digitalisation,
  • Training in leadership roles, local governance and participatory community development.
  • Nutritional awareness, sanitation drives, toilet building and kitchen gardening.
  • Developing Handicrafts as an income resource.

The success of these programs is proven from thew following success parameters:

  • There are 14,500 women into 1004 Self Help Groups in 106 villages in Haryana with an accumulated savings of over 65 crore rupees. A similar sister program in Chamba district in Himachal has 81 SHGs with around 800 members saving 15 lakh rupees.
  • 100% women have individual savings between Rs 10,000 and 250,000 and free access to credit.
  • 6800 women have increased their financial security through their businesses.
  • Earlier, there was not a single woman in any elected office. Today, women have fought elections and in 2022-2023, women have been elected as members of village councils in 54 out of 100 villages in the program target area.
  • 96% of the women have proper brick houses.
  • Regular training has ensured that SHG members work for family and community health. 96% of the SHG women state that their families remain in better health than ever before.

Most importantly from earlier being victims of patriarchal orthodoxy, women have respect and a voice in their families and communities.

Arpana hospital has a dedicated mother and child wing equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and staffed by a team of highly skilled medical professionals dedicated to providing comprehensive healthcare services for mothers and children.  Seeing the competency of our gynaecological department we have been requested by NDRI Karnal to operate the OPD in their premises also.

When Arpana started its educational support program it was very difficult to persuade parents to send their daughters as they were needed for household chores. Thanks to community mobilization, teachers and other stakeholders, the mindset of parents has changed and gradually from 50 girls in 2002 we have more than 550 girls coming to our educational program today. The parents over the years have seen their daughters become air hostesses, medical technicians, lawyers, teachers etc.

On the education front, it is important to get the child to school, to get the child to remain committed and be given an education that gets them jobs? How does this work for you in the field?

Arpana provides educational support, preschool day care facilities (Bal Vatika), vocational training, career counselling and cultural opportunities to about 1500 slum dwelling children at Molarbund and Vasant Vihar in New Delhi.

These children are first-time learners in Government schools, bursting with energy, and full of potential – yet with no way to achieve their dreams in their present circumstances. Crowded classrooms, teacher absenteeism, impossibility of personal attention and lack of parental guidance leave them bewildered and unable to keep up with lessons, and hence drop out after primary school.

This is where the holistic approach of Arpana makes a difference:

  • Tuition support is given to the children who attend Government schools so that they get the required knowledge to understand their lessons.
  • With small classroom sizes ensuring excellent student teacher ratio personalised attention is possible to fill the gap of lack of guidance by illiterate parents.
  • Teachers are additionally trained to counsel, guide, provide constant motivation and support to the children.
  • Many of the teachers at Arpana come from the same communities as the students. In fact, some of them are ex-students and so understand the challenges faced by the students. They act as mediators between the parent and child, especially in the case of girls who are expected also to do heavy housework along with their studies.
  • Scholarships are assured by Arpana where students wish to pursue higher education after Grade 12. This proves a great inducement to parents to continue the education.
  • The Middle school is where there are high chances of drop out. To prevent this, especially for bright students, small scholarships are provided.

Nearly all Arpana students go on to higher education or technical courses.

What have been the landmark achievements of the trust over its years of existence? What you feel proud of, what you feel says it all for the trust?

Arpana takes great pride and joy in many landmark achievements. Few of these and the people who achieved them we would like to share with you:

Prakashi along with her husband Dharambir is a resident of a small hamlet in village ‘Kutail Gamri’. A daily wage labourer, she earned a meagre Rs. 20 a day. Her husband was a bonded labour to a local landlord. Her home was of mud, devoid of even minimal comforts.

After joining her SHG group, she began savings with Rs. 10/- per month. Gradually her savings grew. She took a loan to free her husband from bonded labour. Then she decided to become a business woman and took a loan to purchase ‘combine’, a machine which she rents out to farmers and earns a steady income. Her personal savings in the group now stand over Rs 1 lakh.

Chano Ram is the president of the farmer’s group in village      Chabri of the Jatkari Panchayat in Himachal. He took a loan of Rs. 15,000 from his group and put in some of his own money to start a small flour mill. All the village folk of Chabri and neighbouring villages now patronize his mill and he earns up to Rs. 10,000 a month.

Anjali was 5 years old when she joined Arpana school at Molarbund. She was a first generational learner with her parents being daily labourers.

She achieved her aspiration to become an advocate and cleared the All-India Bar Council Examination at her first attempt. Anjali is now a practicing advocate at Saket Court, New Delhi at Chamber Number 610.

There are innumerable such stories over the years which truly represent Arpana.

Outside recognition because of such achievements has been plenty and we are grateful and humbly accept them. To name a few:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) awarded Arpana the Sasakawa Health Prize for “outstanding innovative rural health services”.
  • The Government of India’s National Commission on Women honored Arpana programs to empower women, i.e. gender equity, and justice.
  • In successive years, the Himotkarsh National Integration Award was conferred twice for Arpana’s health and socio-economic programs in Himachal Pradesh.
  • The State of Haryana has recognized Arpana’s Family Planning activities and intensive Eye Programme with many awards and certificates over the years.

Who have been the inspirations and guiding lights behind your initiative? There are usually some big names like Narayan Murthy that come to mind. There are many who silently contribute their might!

Let’s play the game of love, where both sides emerge victorious, and the score always remains ‘Love All!’

These words of Ma encapsulate everything about Arpana. This concept of serving all selflessly, thus inculcating humane qualities in ourselves is what she blessed us with. This is our guiding light and Ma is our inspiration.

Funding is always the big issue. How have you ensured you are funding adequately? Or are these long-term commitments from corporates? There is so much of NGO work going on, is the task of fund raising becoming any more difficult?

Funding is always an ongoing process. We do have a corpus fund that gives us some measure of security. Both corporates and individual donors have supported us through the years. However, Covid has had a severe impact on our donations, and we are actively looking for support.

How can an MNC or corporate or an individual join in to help and donate at the organization?

  • Individuals and companies can support us by both financial and In-kind donations as well as volunteering their skills and time.
  • We are now intensively looking for CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) funds from corporates to help fund our initiatives.
  • Support can also be in the shape of sponsoring specific projects, events, or campaigns.

Please email or for further information.

What has been the nature of cooperation with governments, at the centre and the states? Is your funding coming also from government? Central ministries are also looking out for agencies who can execute on their behalf?

We have traditionally not received many government grants as a source of funds for our operations. We do get a small grant of Rs. 1 lakh from the Director General Health Services (Haryana) per year for Arpana Hospital.

Arpana is however an enthusiastic supporter of government schemes and one of our main aims is to spread the awareness of such schemes and also actively help people avail of such services.

In fact, government officials often approach us to help them in their projects because of our expertise and relationship with rural communities in Haryana and Himachal.

In recent years, government has clamped down on many NGOs and also on most of all foreign funds. What do you make of these moves from government? Has this affected you in any way?

For decades we have had FCRA registration without a break as Arpana is meticulous about following the rules and regulations that are set up for NGOs.

Early in 2022 we learnt that, along with thousands of other NGOs, the FCRA approval for both Arpana Trust and Arpana Research & Charities Trust to receive foreign funds, had been withdrawn.

But after Arpana’s application for restoration, Arpana Trust received approval vide Registration Certificate from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, for the next 5 years for the Period 1st October, 2023, to 30th September 2028.

We have submitted our application for registration for Arpana Research & Charities Trust, which is still being processed. We expect it to be approved shortly.

We also feel that the Government would like to see less dependence on foreign funding for internal development. As our economy grows and we take pride in Indian achievements, we also would like to find more donors in India to fund our programs.

Your next moves? In the same fields or will you undertake newer verticals.

Arpana has over 60 years engaged in offering diverse services in multi locations serving over a million marginalized and vulnerable populations. Currently, we are in the process of reviewing, assessing and consolidating our existing operations before launching in any new area. We have also in this process realised that some of the initiatives have to be relaunched as with time, old problems have resurfaced. Just to give an example, substantial progress was made in the eradication of anaemia amongst village women. But recent government reports have suggested that rates of iron deficiency are again rising, indicating a new generation of women have to be educated and supported.

Is there any audit that you conduct that ensures your efforts are always in the right direction? Delivery, after all, is important for ongoing successes.

We have internal and external audits conducted annually. Over the years we have had several assessments done by professional agencies of our rural development programs. Arpana’s Head of Rural Services regularly updates government officials in Haryana on the development progress Arpana is making in 106 local villages.

How big is your current organization’s strength, in number of people, your total outreach?

Arpana has over 300 family members in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi. Arpana Hospital in Karnal serves 500 villages and towns serving a population of a million people. The schools in Delhi cover a population of 50,000 in slum resettlement colonies. The rural development programs in Haryana and Himachal cover a combined 166 villages with over 70,000 direct beneficiaries.


Arpana, based in India, has been carrying out programs since 1980, to improve health, provide education and enhance livelihood for over 500,000 marginalized and vulnerable people in rural Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and for underprivileged children in Delhi. These programs have received National and International Recognitions over the years.

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