Empowering Remote Communities: The Vital Role of NGOs in Uttarakhand

Kusum Tewari
Kusum Tewari 14 Min Read

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, the state of Uttarakhand is known for its lush green valleys, snow-capped peaks, and tranquil hill stations. However, behind its picture-postcard scenery lies isolated communities grappling with lack of access to healthcare, education, livelihoods and more. This is where non-governmental organizations (NGOs) step in to serve these rural and remote areas where government interventions fail to penetrate sufficiently.

An Overview of Uttarakhand’s Challenging Terrain

Spread across 53,483 sq km, Uttarakhand comprises of two main regions – Garhwal and Kumaon, which are divided into 13 districts. According to Census 2011 data, Uttarakhand has a population of about 1 crore, of which close to 70% resides in rural areas plagued by difficult terrain, lack of connectivity and limited infrastructure.

The state’s challenging topography makes building roads, delivering healthcare services or ensuring electricity connectivity expensive and arduous. Many villages remain cut-off during the harsh winter months. Lack of livelihood opportunities triggers huge migration, leading to fragmented communities. The 2013 Kedarnath disaster exposed the state’s vulnerability, causing massive destruction and loss of lives.

Uttarakhand’s rural communities thus end up neglected, battling poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and more. NGOs over the years have been working tirelessly to uplift them across diverse sectors and empower individuals and communities alike.

The Vital Role of NGOs in Uttarakhand

NGOs are playing a pivotal role in enriching the lives of disadvantaged and marginalized communities in Uttarakhand. From enabling healthcare access and improving education to providing sustainable livelihoods and preserving local culture, NGOs are at the helm of driving holistic development in the state’s remote pockets. Some focus areas where their interventions have been significant are:

Healthcare Access

In remote locations with challenging terrain, NGOs have been taking healthcare services to people’s doorsteps by:

  • Running mobile health clinics and telemedicine centres
  • Holding medical camps providing diagnosis and free medicines
  • Imparting health awareness through community volunteers
  • Training and deploying local youth as healthcare workers
  • Ensuring ambulance availability for medical emergencies

By enabling last-mile delivery of healthcare, NGOs have been instrumental in improving health indicators and saving precious lives in Uttarakhand’s rural hinterlands.

Education & Empowerment

NGOs have built and supported schools to take education to remote villages where government schools are lacking. Their key initiatives for promoting education in remote areas include:

  • Operating boarding schools providing free lodging, food & education to disadvantaged children
  • Running bridge courses and enabling enrolment in government schools
  • Providing scholarships and financial aid to meritorious students
  • Supplying books, uniforms, stationery etc to poor students for continuing education
  • Imparting vocational skills training to make students employment-ready

Apart from academics, NGOs also focus on building essential life skills, promoting extra-curricular activities for students’ holistic development and organizing exposure visits to broaden perspectives. Thus NGOs have been playing a pivotal role not just in making education accessible but also empowering students to unlock their potential.

Environmental Conservation

Uttarakhand takes pride in its rich forests, wildlife and biodiversity. However, rapid development and construction activities pose a threat to the area’s ecological balance. Understanding these environmental implications, NGOs have undertaken critical ecological restoration and conservation initiatives such as:

  • Afforestation drives across degraded forest lands
  • Running environment education programs in schools and village communities
  • Working with farmers to shift towards organic practices that prevent soil degradation
  • Promoting eco-tourism to spur economic growth while preserving ecology
  • Advocacy and policy efforts around minimizing ecological damage

Thanks to NGOs’ grassroots interventions, protecting Uttarakhand’s fragile ecosystem while enabling sustainable development has become an achievable goal today.

Livelihoods & Financial Inclusion

Generating livelihood opportunities is imperative for arresting distress migration from Uttarakhand’s villages. Here NGOs have played a pivotal role by:

  • Imparting vocational skills training aligned to market needs in areas like handicrafts, food processing, tourism etc.
  • Forming and nurturing self-help groups focused on savings and credit
  • Facilitating tie-ups with government schemes and banks for easy credit access
  • Promoting off-farm producer companies around native produce like rajma, fruits, ocal grains etc.
  • Reviving traditional crafts like weaving, pottery etc through design intervention and market linkages

By enabling diversified income streams, NGO interventions have been instrumental in boosting financial security and stability across several village communities today.

Relief & Rehabilitation

Being prone to natural disasters like landslides, flash floods and earthquakes, disaster management is extremely crucial in Uttarakhand. NGOs have been actively collaborating with the State disaster response teams to accelerate relief & rescue efforts during episodes of destruction. By mobilizing quickly and leveraging their grassroot volunteers’ network, NGOs have provided vital support such as:

  • Evacuating affected populations to safety
  • Organizing medical camps and supplying essential medicines
  • Distributing food packets, drinking water, blankets to the needy
  • Carrying out damage assessment surveys in unreachable areas
  • Identifying beneficiaries for compensation schemes
  • Initiating rebuilding efforts once normalcy resumes through house construction and more

Thus during critical hours of crises, NGOs have often bridged the capacity gap and provided much-needed aid alongside government bodies.

Cultural Preservation

Uttarakhand takes pride in its vibrant culture – from distinctive art forms to cuisine, festivals and more. However, rapid modernization poses the threat of local traditions getting eventually extinct. Understanding this risk, NGOs are playing a meaningful role to preserve cultural heritage by:

  • Reviving folk dance forms and music through dedicated training programs
  • Promoting traditional sports and games in schools and communities
  • Organizing literature and poetry symposiums showcasing local art forms
  • Facilitating participation and representation in national cultural platforms
  • Documenting culture and traditions through books, videos and dedicated repositories

Thanks to the untiring efforts of NGOs, upholding Uttarakhand’s unique cultural legacy and keeping age-old traditions alive amidst the younger generation remains an achievable reality.

Spotlight on Major NGOs in Uttarakhand

Several non-profits over the past few decades have been working wholeheartedly across Uttarakhand’s varied development needs. While many NGOs are hyperlocal outfits focused on one village or block, some have achieved considerable scale spanning across multiple districts through their exemplary initiatives.

Here is a spotlight on 3 leading NGOs in Uttarakhand to showcase the incredible work spearheaded by the non-profit sector across remote parts of the state:

Socity for Motivational Training and Action -SMTA

HQ: Vikasnagar, Dehradun; Founded: 1986

Key Focus Areas:

  • Women empowerment
  • Child education
  • Health access
  • Agriculture development
  • Financial inclusion

Present across 3 districts in Uttarakhand along with parts of UP and HImachal , SMTA provides integrated development interventions for poverty alleviation and rural empowerment.

Flagship Initiatives:

  • Operating APNA School providing primery education, schooling, nutrition and medical facilities for disadvantaged rural children.
  • Imparting vocational skills training to village youth and linking them to placements or enterprise opportunities
  • Forming 100 Self Help Groups focused on savings, credit and livelihood activities operated primarily by rural women members
  • Collaborating with various development partners to facilitate credit linkages across villages over 15 years


  • 14000 plus children provided primery education over the past 30 years through APNA School facilities
  • 1000 women mobilized into strong SHG network focused on financial security and income generation
  • 5,000 families benefiting from integrated initiatives spanning nutrition, health, sanitation, livlihood and more

Owing to its grassroots presence and community centric approach, Rural Outreach Society has positively influenced the lives of over a hundred thousand vulnerable households across 3 states in Northern India. With 80% of their staff recruited from within target communities, Rural Outreach reflects the true ethos of participatory development.

Society for Himalayan Action Research & Development (SOHARD)

HQ: Almora; Founded: 2004

Key Focus Areas:

  • Education
  • Agriculture Development
  • Water security
  • Skill building
  • Rural infrastructure
  • Renewable energy

Operational across 6 districts in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, SOHARD adopts a research-based approach coupled with community mobilization for integrated rural development.

Flagship Initiatives:

  • Establishing computer literacy centres in 50 government schools across remote hills
  • Promoting organic sustainable agricultural practices along with market linkages
  • Installing solar pumps, developing water catchment areas and watershed structures in 115 villages
  • Training 300 rural and semi-urban youth annually on vocational skills aligned to jobs or self-employment


  • 60,000 students trained on basic computer skills enabling better learning outcomes
  • 1000 acres of farmland brought under organic cultivation with yields improving by 30%
  • 50 villages achieve water security through decentralized structures and revival of water sources
  • 1800 youth skilled in recent years, with 70% successfully placed or self-employed

Through its sustainable solutions backed by technology and grassroot capacity building, SOHARD has been scripting transformation in the lives of marginalized mountain communities through an integrated area development approach.

These stories reflect how NGOs in Uttarakhand are spearheading development through context-specific solutions. Blending community engagement with administrative experience, they have been scripting lasting change.

Avenues for Contributing to the Social Sector

The excellent work done by Uttarakhand’s NGOs has been possible thanks to a spirit of civic participation and giving back to society. Opportunities for social service span across parameters like time commitment, skill application and financial contribution – thus allowing people from all walks of life to contribute.

As a Full-time Volunteer

  • Work on grassroot projects for extended periods spanning months and years
  • Gain first-hand experience of ground realities and challenges
  • Leverage one’s expertise across areas like healthcare, engineering, farming etc
  • Ideal for students, working professionals seeking a break or retirees

Through Skill-based Pro-Bono

  • Undertake short virtual/on-site consulting assignments with NGO ventures
  • Areas for support: graphic design, content writing, financial planning
  • Enable NGOs to gain from external domain expertise and manpower bandwidth

By Donating/Fundraising

  • Contribute funds for sponsoring education, healthcare or other initiatives
  • Help raise resources within one’s network through fundraising campaigns
  • Enable NGOs bridge funding gaps and remain financially sustainable

As Product/Service Contributions

  • Offer in-kind supplies of products, IT tools, office infrastructure etc needed by NGOs
  • Help minimize NGOs operational costs so they divert funds towards core program delivery

Thus the opportunities are endless – contributing time, money, skills or products can help enrich lives at the grassroots.

By aligning personal interests and abilities with NGO focus areas, citizens can play a meaningful role in writing the story of rural transformation in Uttarakhand.

Key Takeaways

Let’s recap the key highlights on the pivotal role being played by NGOs across Uttarakhand:

  • From healthcare to education, NGOs are enabling last-mile access to services across remote rural areas where government’s reach is limited
  • By mobilizing local communities through an area development approach, NGOs undertake integrated interventions spanning livelihoods, farming, financial inclusion etc
  • Leading NGOs like Rural Outreach Society, Suchetna and SOHARD showcase impact at scale through their deep grassroots presence
  • By aligning domain expertise with grassroot experience, NGOs provide evidence-based solutions tailored for rural realities
  • For citizens, diverse options exist from volunteering to donating, fundraising or providing pro-bono support to contribute to NGO-led transformation

Uttarakhand’s future hinges around uplifting its remote hill communities and nurturing livelihood opportunities rooted in its context. By placing communities in the driver’s seat, NGOs have been silently leading a revolution of empowerment and equity across the state’s picturesque landscape. Supporting their efforts can unlock lasting social change which leaves no one behind.

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