Project Unnati days with Pardhi & Baheliya kids of Panna – Manil Agarwal

I do not generally let anyone write in this space…in fact i have never let anyone else write in my ‘open diary’.

But then, this is different. Manil is a good friend of 11 years, from hostel days to his jobless (pun intended) today. I have seen him transform over these years. At times I have looked at him with admiration, like for his eloquence in a language i barely knew (English) in my college days. And he manage to surprise me very often.

He quit his job with Yes Bank few months back and started on a volunteering journey to inspire more folks, especially young minds. He is currently in McLeod Ganj teaching autistic kids. 

So he called me the other day and asked whether he can share a write-up on his experience at Panna in this space.

Well, I am honoured to host this post brother.


Recently The Last Wilderness Foundation gave me a brilliant opportunity to work with the kids of the Pardhi Community in Panna, Madhya Pradesh. Having resigned from my job I was looking to volunteer for a social cause before moving onto whatever I could do to make a living. Luck and I had a pretty little moment and this opportunity to work with Pardhi kids fell in my lap!

The role required that I spend time interacting with the kids and learn about their ways of life and share about my ways of life and it panned out beautifully! The kids were the teachers and I was an impatient learner. Here is what I learnt and experienced while spending time with these little gems:

A warm hello from the tiger and temple town of Panna (Madhya Pradesh, India), also home to Project Unnati, an initiative of The Last Wilderness Foundation to skill the children of the Pardhies, a nomadic hunting tribe, for vocational employment.
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The Pardhie community is considered one of the reasons for the extinction of tigers in the Panna Tiger Reserve in the previous decade. The foundation aims to curb tiger poaching and preserve nature by skilling the kids of the Pardhies to take up conventional jobs through Project Unnati, which is a 45 days residential summer camp.
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The Pardhies have been very enthusiastic about sending their children to the camp and today we have approx. 25 kids learning skills to be tailors/electricians! .
Through this week I will try and bring to you the story of all the kids and participants of Project Unnati under the #ProjectUnnati. I request you to please share your love with them and share their story further and connect them and the world!!

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Pardhis or Baheliyas are a community of nomads who have typically become infamous for poaching tigers and causing their eventual decline. Governments across states have been intervening by either arresting them or talking to them and getting them to give up on the practice of hunting and settling down in an urban life. A number of Pardhis have indeed settled down and are now trying to integrate into the daily urban rigours but have typically been facing challenges in seeking employment that anyone would without conventional education.

To tackle this issue WWF and Madhya Pradesh Government established a school for the Pardhi children in Panna under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2008 to educate the children and help them seek employment in future. Since its inception the school has grown in size and today has a total of 200 students.

Despite these splendid efforts there is an issue at hand and that is giving the children life skills.

Though the school covers the text book education required by the children it has had limited success in providing life skills and a wider perspective to approach urban living. One of the reasons for this is that during summer vacation the kids end up going back to the forest with their parents to gather and hunt thus sweeping away all that was learnt through the year and once again reinforcing in their minds that their way of life is still nomadic in nature.

Project Unnati by The Last Wilderness Foundation aimed to counter this issue. The idea was to keep the children in school during their summer vacations (sounds like a punishment, trust me it was a good move) and give them vocational skills and expose them to people from various walks of life. During my stay the girls were given tailor training and the boys electrician training. They got to meet service professionals, environmentalists, photographers and bloggers.

#ProjectUnnati Post 3: The girls gather around their tutor Seema to learn the skills of pattern cutting as part of their tailor training program. The enthusiasm is always rife in the air each time these girls gather for their class, with each one gunning to out do the other one! This healthy competition is helping them pick up the required skills at a good pace! .
Project Unnati is an initiative of The Last Wilderness Foundation to skill the kids of the Pardhie community, a nomadic poaching tribe blamed for tiger poaching and decline, to take up conventional jobs and stay away from the profession of poaching.
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Request you to please keep following my feed for more of these insights from this summer camp and keep sharing your love for them and help connect the world with them!
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Wish to get involved, please write to contactus@thelastwilderness.org

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#ProjectUnnati Post 4: The boys posing for a pic while assembling a 4 bulbs connection/circuit. After this pic they went on to build a 6 bulbs connection and it was an epic fail! That did not get in their way though and they did get there albeit with some assistance from their teacher! Later in the day when they thought the bad part of the day was behind them they were beaten to their bones at cricket by me!!😋 despite all this their parting words were that they look forward to tomorrow! It is such enthusiasm and positivity that can make anyone's day
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Project Unnati is an initiative of The Last Wilderness Foundation to skill the kids of the Pardhie community, a nomadic poaching tribe identified as one of the reasons for the poaching and decline of tigers in India, to take up conventional jobs and stay away from poaching as a profession.
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Request you to please please keep following my feed to see more of what is happening at this summer camps for the kids and keep showing your love and sharing their story and help connect the world with them
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Wish to get involved, write to contactus@thelastwilderness.org

A post shared by Manil Agarwal (@manil_agarwal) on

Staying away from the details of each hour spent with them I would like to share what I learnt about them.

Given their immense exposure to the forests and its surprises the kids have learnt to take on challenges, be adaptive and learn quickly. They have endless questions and energy levels of gummi bears on gummi juice!

They are gifted kabaddi players and sprint like deer. Their attention span for the teachers is less than a peacock’s flight but their willingness to learn hands on is immense. These kids now need to be exposed to more people and a wider spectrum of thought, professions and practices so that they can make more informed choices for their future. They are now tasting the first drops of success, the way we urbanites define it.

They have the first 10th pass individual in their lot and more will be attempting the same later this year!

#ProjectUnnati Post 5: Chaos leads to life and in life there are always beautiful things u ll find! No clue who said that but sitting through this super chaotic mehendi art class for the girls made me experience this first hand. Ready to pull down the roof the girls had a million ideas they wanted to ink in #Henna. The masterpieces they delivered are for all of you to see and I hope you like them as much as we did!
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Project Unnati is an initiative of The Last Wilderness Foundation to skill the kids of Pardhi community, a nomadic tribe considered one of the reasons for the poaching and decline of tiger in India, to help them settle down in convetional jobs.
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Please keep following my feed to see more such snippets from this summer camp for the kids. Please keep showing your love and sharing their story and help us connect the world with them.
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Wish to get involved, please write to contactus@thelastwilderness.org

A post shared by Manil Agarwal (@manil_agarwal) on

#ProjectUnnati Post 7: Thank You! To all you lovely people out there who have showered us with their love and likes and helped us spread the story of Project Unnati and its family!! It has been a roller coaster ride here speaking to these kids, playing with them and understanding them! These kids are made of steel and I am sure one day they will be the change for our forests and our tigers! The outstretched hands and open palms is their support for the tiger! (PS: The ball hanging on my head is definitely the most innocent attempt on my life till date 😅) .
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Project Unnati is an initiative of The Last Wilderness Foundation to skill the kids of Pardhie Community, a nomadic hunting tribe considered one of the reasons for the decline and poaching of tigers in India, to take up conventional jobs.
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My journey with these kids comes to an end shortly and I hope you have enjoyed the posts about the camp! I request you all to keep sharing their story and help connect them with the world!
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Wish to get involved, please write to contactus@thelastwilderness.org

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The trippy bubbly siblings!
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#smile #innocence #childhood #siblings #brother #sister #love #care

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For those of you who have read this far I request you to please take out some of your valuable time and go meet these kids, spend some time with them, understand them, answer their questions to the best of your knowledge, sing with them, play with them, just be with them.

Contact Bhavna at Last Wilderness Foundation and she will be more than happy to guide you on how to reach them!

Parting words: Get Fit, they will want you to play with them and like I said, they sprint like deer!

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