Published: 07th October 2020
Being Archana Soreng: How a young tribal girl from Odisha went on to address the United Nations
When in school, Archana had participated in an essay-writing competition that required her to find out about her own tribal community and that's where her journey really began. This is how it went on
Hailing from a family who made tribal movements and women empowerment their mission, it is not surprising that Archana Soreng chose to tread the same path. But she did not merely take to it, she owned it by becoming a member of the United Nations Secretary-General's Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change in July this year. Her role is to put the youth's perspective forward to all the stakeholders and constantly communicate with youth groups across the country. As part of this seven-member committee, the 24-year-old also addresses many summits — she recently spoke at the First UN Summit on Biodiversity at the UN General Assembly 2020 as the sole youth representative. How cool is that! And yet, there is so much more to Archana than her new role.
At an annual gathering of Athkosia Adivasi Ekta Manch | (Pic: Archana Soreng)
The ways of yore
Born in Bihabandh in Odisha's Sundargarh district, her father had told her early on that the only way to bring about constructive and sustainable change in the society is by getting into policy-making. That's the main reason for why she took up her Master's in Regulatory Governance at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai and even went on to become TISS Students' Union President (2017–18). "This is where I learnt about public administration, policy analysis and policy-making from an academic perspective," she says. And back at home, she was showered with indigenous knowledge of her own tribe — Kharia. "Did you know that the inner crust of pumpkin and watermelon was once cooked and used to store water? The cool water it held was a real thirst quencher, especially during hot summer days. As I found more and more nuggets of information like this, I realised how sustainable our ancestors were," says the youngster.
She was nominated to the United Nations Secretary-General's Youth Advisory Group by YOUNGO, the official youth constituency of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
The decision to document
After losing her father in 2017, Archana felt an even stronger need to document indigenous knowledge. "My father was an indigenous healthcare practitioner who specialised in snakebites. Some of the most prominent memories of my childhood were of people flocking to our home to consult with my father," she recalls. This urgent need drove her to join Vasundhara, an action research and policy advocacy organisation where she currently works as a Research Officer. Did you know that in the 1970s and 80s, when felling trees at the hands of the timber mafia was at its peak in Nayagarh district, it was women who stepped up for forest protection? "They used to carry a stick along with them at night and pass it on to the next woman who was on duty after they were done. Thus, the practice came to be known as Thengapalli. The contribution of women in this regard has been immense, there is only the need to document and highlight it," informs Archana. And these are her duties at Vasundhara in the form of videos and papers. In this regard, the youngster has travelled to many districts including Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Mayurbhanj and many more.
Interacting with the women of Budakhomon, Sardarji Village | (Pic: Archana Soreng)
Another interesting initiative is that they have identified indigenous youth who are being encouraged to document their own story, instead of a third person narrating it. "They usually write it in their own words and I help them edit and streamline it," she says. This she has currently initiated with the youngsters of Paudi Bhuyan tribe. And as far as the future is concerned, Archana would like to tread the academic path and continue to work for climate change and indigenous tribes.
For more on her, check out twitter.com/SorengArchana