by Sameer Misra
Laba Naik, a determined and resilient tribal youth hailing from Kachalekha Village in Kalahandi district, Odisha, India, has emerged as a shining example of hope and inspiration.
Born in one of the most underdeveloped districts in Western Odisha, which is a state in India, Laba’s journey from hardship to empowerment has been supported by the SBI Youth for India (YFI). Today, he dedicates himself to empowering underprivileged children and youth through education and community development amidst the relentless struggles faced by the region.
Kalahandi district, situated in Western Odisha, India, bears witness to the round-the-year hardships endured by its native farmers in remote rural areas. With persistent crop failures, droughts, and scarcity of water, the livelihoods of the local farming communities are consistently at stake, leading them towards desperation. Starvation and malnutrition have been rampant issues, affecting the well-being of families and children in the region.
Kalahandi’s remote nature presents significant obstacles, including a lack of basic amenities. The absence of phone and internet connectivity isolates the region, depriving its inhabitants of vital information and services. Erratic road connectivity and unreliable electricity supply further hinder development efforts, exacerbating the difficulties faced by the communities.
The district’s illiteracy rate remains alarmingly high, impacting the growth and progress of the local population. Limited access to education deprives many young minds of opportunities, preventing them from realizing their full potential and contributing to their communities’ development.
In the face of these formidable challenges, Laba Naik’s journey has been marked by extraordinary resilience and determination. Coming from a family of farmers, Laba experienced financial constraints from a young age. Despite the odds stacked against him, he was unwavering in his pursuit of education. His family’s dependence on the support provided by the Gram Vikas organization, including Laba’s own schooling, highlighted the struggle they faced to access basic educational facilities.
During his early years at Gram Vikas Sikshya Niketan in Kumdabahal, Kalahandi, Laba encountered SBI YFI fellows, Siddharth Vashisht, Souvik, Nishan, and Ishan, who ignited his passion for dance and helped him overcome stage fear. Despite personal hardships, Laba’s commitment to his studies never wavered, and he excelled academically.
However, further challenges loomed as his mother fell seriously ill during his ninth standard. Balancing his studies with the responsibilities of taking care of his mother, Laba faced immense pressure. His father’s struggle with alcohol addiction added another layer of difficulty, leaving Laba to shoulder the responsibility of managing the household. Yet, despite these adversities, Laba continued to persevere, supported by SBI YFI fellows Sharbani, Nishan, and Ishan, who provided crucial financial and emotional support.
Laba’s academic achievements caught the attention of Sharbani, another SBI YFI fellow, who introduced him to the Youth Fellowship Initiative program. This opportunity opened new horizons for Laba, and after completing his graduation in Economics honours, he was selected for the prestigious fellowship. Opting to work with Seva Mandir in Rajasthan, Laba’s mission was to empower underprivileged children and youth through education.
Currently, Laba is actively involved in Seva Mandir’s education theme, focusing on Non-Formal Education (NFE) centres. He initiated basic English and computer classes for children, teachers, and youths, striving to equip them with valuable skills for a brighter future.
Laba’s journey from a challenging upbringing in Kalahandi, India, to becoming a tribal youth championing education and development exemplifies resilience and determination. Despite the persistent hardships faced by the region, Laba’s dedication and efforts offer a glimmer of hope and a pathway towards empowerment and development.