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India: Anganwadi workers make a difference in rural Rajasthan

Dec 18, 2009

Poverty, ignorance and a patriarchal mindset often leave women in rural India in despair and apathy. By becoming Anganwadi workers, three women in Rajasthan's Churu district make a fresh start towards self-reliance and knowledge.

Churu: Anganwadi work in rural India has proved to be a beacon of hope for women. In Rajasthan’s Churu district, these government centres have motivated women to bring changes in the lives of their families and communities through knowledge on health, nutrition and child care. Three women, having been inspired by their own work, are now inspiring others to follow suit.

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A matter of choice

One such woman is young Sona Devi from a small village called Hasiawas. Lack of knowledge and economic deprivation caused many unfortunate events to unfold early in her life. She was married off at the age of 16, and became pregnant for the first time at 17 and for the second time at 18. A lack of awareness and money made her deliver at home at both times. She did not take any care of herself during her pregnancies. In both instances she lost her child during delivery.

The third time Sona Devi was pregnant, she was 19. This time she went to the hospital for a single check up in her seventh month. She even delivered the child in the hospital, but she had not completed her run of misfortune. Her child, a girl, was born with her head inside her body.

These experiences were enough for Sona Devi to take a break from her recurrent pregnancies for the next two years. This is when she became an Anganwadi worker. The job gave her not only some financial support, which helped her save for her next pregnancy, but also the knowledge that she required about child care and maternal care. She now understood why she had lost all her three children.

At the age of 20, she planned her next pregnancy. This time her financial condition was better with the money that she had saved up. An older and much wiser Sona Devi now went for regular checkups and delivered a son in the hospital. Even today she takes her seven month old child every fortnight to a good hospital located 60 kilometres away from her village, for regular check ups.

“I don’t want another child,” says Sona Devi. “I have had enough. My parents-in-law want me to have more children but my husband supports me.”

Valuing the girl child

Bidya Devi, a young mother of five children, hails from Seowa village. Her fifth child being a boy, after four girls, shows the high preference for male child in this region, where women keep having children till they are able to produce a boy.

Although Bidya Devi comes from a well off family that can afford to take care of her five children, she decided to become an anganwadi worker to help bring a change in the lives of poor women and children in Seowa. She feels deeply disturbed by the lack of awareness that women in her village possess. She makes it a personal responsibility to visit every pregnant and lactating mother and make sure that they are well aware of prenatal care.

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“Only when the standard of living of every woman changes, my village can move forward,” says Bidya Devi. “Being an anganwadi worker made me realise that children are the same, whether a boy or girl, and both deserve to have the same kind of life.  I should not have waited to have a son.”

A fresh start

Parmila became a young widow at 23 when her husband met a fatal accident. She became the sole guardian and bread winner of her family of three boys, the youngest a three month old baby. Tied down by sorrow and economic hardship, Parmila became an anganwadi worker in her village Dadrewa to earn money.

Very soon she realised that being an anganwadi worker was much more than just a job. “At the anganwadi centre, I would meet all the women and interact with them. It helped me overcome the loss of my husband,” says Parmila. Her insecurity and low morale was mended by her new role.

At the centre, Parmila learnt about health care, hygiene and sanitation which helped her give a better standard of living to her own family. An anganwadi worker for the past 12 years, she is proud of the responsibility that she carries because all the villagers now know and respect her.

“There was a time when I was struggling to manage, and today, my two elder sons can operate the computer,” says the proud mother.

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