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Women who walk the extra mile in rural IndiaIndia Blooms News Service
When little Meena was born, she was so weak and frail that her pulses could hardly be felt. Her family, one of the hundreds of impoverished families living in the remote village of Pokhardiha near the Jharkhand-Bihar border, thought she was dead. They were going to bury her, when Lila Kumari, the very vigilant Anganwadi worker of the village rushed to her rescue.
She not only taught the new mother how to take care of the little one in distress, but kept a routine check to make sure she started growing up healthy. Enter her centre at any point in time during its working hours and you will hear cheerful laughter and singing from the children.
From pre-natal and post-natal care to effective pre-school education, Lila doesn’t let the ball drop when it comes to her work. She used innovative methods to teach the children.
She makes home visits to every household that has a child. She keeps track of every child in that village. Lila is one of those thousands of Anganwadi workers in our country who get meagre amounts as honorarium and are certainly not obliged to work beyond their duty hours or what they are entitled do. But they do.
Just like Mirabai Devi, who mobilised every single mother in the village of Dhab, not so far from Pokhardiha, to help her build a kitchen garden behind the Anganwadi bhavan. And why? Because while she was being trained by Rashtriya Jharkhand Seva Sansthan, a project supported by CRY – Child Rights and You, she came to know that the food that can be afforded with the budget that the Government has allocated for the hot cooked meals in the Anganwadis, does not manage to give our children the nutrition they deserve.
This kitchen garden not only grows nutritious vegetables to add to the diet of the children, it has also managed to build a group of mothers – a Mata Samiti – who do everything from ensuring that every pregnant woman enrols herself to the Anganwadi, to tending to the kitchen garden, to sending every child to the Anganwadi everyday and stepping in when the worker is unwell.
It wasn’t an easy journey for Pinky Birhor from losing her husband at an early age to training to become an Anganwadi worker. Living in the very closed community of the Birhors, a hunting and gathering society of a population largely considered untouchables, she used to watch her predecessor (a lady from an ‘upper caste’) come to the centre everyday and leave without even touching a single child. That is what gave her conviction to fight.
She took vigorous training from the NGO, and now not only ensures 100% coverage of the children and pregnant and lactating mothers in the community, delivers all six services to the best of her abilities, but also constantly looks to upgrade her skills as a worker. Getting the children to the Anganwadi was a struggle. But her biggest breakthrough was to convince parents to bathe the children every day and get them to wash their hands before their meals, cleanliness or hygiene being missing from the priorities of the Birhor community.
Three years ago, Anita Devi used to run the Anganwadi centre from two benches in the area in front of her house because though the centre had been approved by the government, the Anganwadi Bhavan was not. Through these three years, she built an extra room in her house with the help of the villagers and has now donated it to the Anganwadi. The centre now runs from there.
“The way we treat our children today will determine how they turn out to be when they grow up. How can I make sure they are getting the right start if we cannot give them enough space to even sit comfortably?” she asks. Because she cares for the children of her village, Kataiya, the mothers have stepped in to help her and the villagers have become keen to support her mission of ensuring healthy childhoods to their children.
And behind all these super efforts is the untiring hard work of another woman who has been pushing them, training them, spending time with them every single day to make sure they do not cut any slack in their jobs.
“It used to be difficult to make them understand that it was more important to make sure we give the right start to our children than worry about the meagre salaries and the poor infrastructure. I am so happy to see that years of hard work has paid off and now so many of our children live a healthier, happier childhood. In the Birhor colony for instance, the custom is to isolate the pregnant woman in the last few weeks of her pregnancy.
She used to deliver her own baby, and cut the umbilical cord by herself. They feared vaccinations would kill them. Now they not only go for vaccinations regularly, maintain hygiene, but also have institutional deliveries. Witnessing these changes are what keeps me going,” says Josephine Ekka, the project staff of the CRY supported project.
Mohua Chatterjee, the Programme-Head of CRY (East) says, “CRY has always believed in the power of community to bring lasting change. People like Lila, Mirabai, Pinky, Anita and Josephine are inspirational examples of how passionately the Indian women can engage themselves in ushering in the quintessence of social change, without even the least hankering for making it to the newspaper headlines.
"Instead, they keep on working, as silently as possible, to make social change a palpable thing, right in front of your eyes.”
“CRY – Child Rights and You was born out of this belief that every single ‘you’ may want to make sure that each child in India gets access to the rights they are entitled to. The idea was to bridge the gap between ‘you’ and the millions of children in the most marginalized and resource poor parts of our country. In all the projects we support, we come across a lot of such change-makers who are passionate about children.
This is why we invest in individuals, not only to create positive role models but to give a platform to anyone who, like us, believes in “What I can do, I must do,”” Mohua added.
Source: CRY/ www.justearthnews.com