Friday, December 22, 2017

Fellowship diaries: Adolescent girls driving community acceptance

Aditi Rao


Our fellow, Aditi Rao, worked on Jagori Kishori, our adolescent girls program in Jhalawar and Baran districts of Rajasthan. In this post, she chronicles stories of three girls who have inspired her:


Never Back Down


We often attribute most issues to a gap in knowledge. However, there are several circumstances where it is not a lack of awareness, but an absence of bargaining power that leads to these problems.

Radha is the Adolescent Girl (AG) Leader in Danta, Pirawa. Optimistic that the programme will bring about a change in the status of maternal health in her village, she carries out her duties with great dedication. On one of her visits, she noticed the beneficiary, a heavily pregnant woman, lifting something heavy. She advised her not to do so, and to take some time out to rest every day. To her surprise, the woman shot back, saying that she is aware of the do’s and don’ts, but cannot argue with her mother-in-law, who dictates the terms in her 'household.


Most people would have marked this as a dead-end and moved on, but Radha was determined to carry out her task. With the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife’s (ANM’s) help, she visited the mother-in-law and explained to her what inadequate rest and stressful workload, including heavy lifting, could lead to. The ANM took her through examples of cases which had negatively affected both the mother and the child. On listening to their stories, the unwilling mother-in-law slowly changed her mind, leading to a much better lifestyle for her pregnant daughter-in-law.

The focus of the programme may be on spreading messages of awareness, but it has, as a by-product, made leaders out of shy, quiet girls who are adopting a never say die approach to tackle societal evils, so that they may be part of a larger movement to change the status quo.
Building Acceptance, One Person at a Time


The traditional structure of our village societies is inherently damaging to women, who have no say in their own lives. This translates to their maternal behaviour, where they are forced to work hard while pregnant, eat last and not take enough rest. The only way to eliminate this problem is to alter the existing mindset, which is not an easy task by any means. However, small victories are often much larger than we realise, and this was evident in community meetings held through the Jagori Kishori Programme.
In Fatehgarh, Pirawa, one girl was hesitant to join even though she was interested in the programme, because her father was uncomfortable with it. However, after a visit from the Akshada program officer and the ANM, he reluctantly agreed. A short while later, he watched his daughter confidently perform a skit in front of a large village gathering during a community meeting. That was when he was completely won over.When he was invited on stage to collect the certificate for her work, he expressed appreciation for the programme, and gratitude that he had been urged to give his daughter permission. He acknowledged that the programme could be very beneficial in a place like Fatehgarh, which is located on the state border and home to several social evils like trafficking and addiction to drugs and alcohol, with minimal attention to maternal care.
Another instance from Harnavada, Dag saw a father volunteer to speak in front of the community without any prodding. While speaking, he declared that he was proud to have a daughter associated with the programme and concluded that it can only lead to positive results in the village’s health situation.
While these may seem like small examples coming from independent individuals, their open acceptance of the programme in front of the community meeting speaks volumes. To come out in support of a new idea and openly acknowledge it as a positive step is gutsy indeed. This act could prove to be one of the key pieces in solving the jigsaw puzzle that is maternal health care, by urging more people to take a step towards building more accepting and aware societies. After all, change starts with one person.

A Watchful Eye


In Harnavada, Dag, Ram Kunwar keeps a watchful eye on the women and children of her community, making sure to record insightful and important observations. Off-late, she’s noticed one particular child constantly exhibiting signs of a possible deformity and experiencing constant bouts of illness. Upon some questioning, she found out that the child had not been vaccinated in time. There were also some vaccinations that had been completely missed out. Concerned, she has brought this issue to the notice of the ANM, who hopes that she will be able to help the little seven-month old.
Without her notification, the ANM has admitted that she might never have found out about this issue, as she herself is an outsider in the village. Now that she has received the information, she is looking forward to work with the AG to actively monitor the child. Driven by her own small success story, Ram Kunwar has expressed an interest in carrying out with the program even after she leaves school.

Aditi Rao was a fellow with the Antara Foundation

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