A group of social activists, led by Jacob Thundyil and Chacko Paruvanany, initiated development programmes in 15 villages of Mohana block in the Gajapati district of Odisha in 1980. Its primary initiative was the propagation of Paulo Frerian functional literacy and such was its success that within two years the programme had been extended to two additional blocks. By the time of its registration as a non-government organization (NGO), PREM’s operational area covered over 200 villages.
Along with the formation of people’s organizations, PREM established non-formal education programmes for educating Adivasi (tribal) children and discouraged dependence on shifting cultivation through active promotion of the concepts of agro- and social-forestry. PREM’s development initiatives were next introduced among the fisher people communities at Gopalpur-On-Sea (1985), Brahmagiri (1987) and Chilika (1990) and the organization was instrumental in relief delivery programmes to its project population during the drought of 1988 and again in 1991 in Kalahandi.
PREM’s inclusive approach led to the formation of a network of like-minded NGOs in 1988 and a federation of people’s organizations in 1990. Innovative programmes, such as the 100% literacy campaign, were implemented in 300 villages and correspondence education was introduced to develop the skills and knowledge of activists operating at grass roots level throughout Odisha. Following the success of such programmes PREM constructed and established vocational training centres at Chandragiri in 1990 and at Mandiapalli in 1992.
Since 1996 PREM’s development efforts have focused on engineering child sponsorship programmes in the tribal district of Gajapati and at Chilika Lake in Puri district, where fisher people predominate. Through its partnership with Plan International, PREM has established a multi-dimensional initiative, sponsoring the educational needs of 7,400 children in Gajapati district and 5,300 children at Chilika and addressing the development needs of their families and communities. This commitment to education and community continued as PREM introduced innovative approaches to address issues of non-admission to schools and high drop-out rates. Pre-schools were opened to inculcate the school going habit at an early stage, Bridge Courses were organized to reach young people who had dropped out of school and hostels were established to offer residential facilities to students who had no access to educational institutes in their villages. Programmes were created to provide quality English Medium education for promising students and vocational education was developed to help young people to pursue alternative and sustainable livelihoods.
In addressing the needs of its entire project population, PREM has gone on to devise and deliver programmes in the fields of health, livelihood, agriculture, food security, savings and credit, gender, child rights, water and sanitation, and good governance.