Case studies

Lobbying for health, education

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The people of Kurdega, in the Gumla district of Jharkhand in eastern India, had an angawadi  (government supported day care) centre located in the heart of their village to provide basic healthcare and pre-school activities, but no anganwadi sevika (worker) to run it. It remained closed, leaving them without easy access to medicines or education. With support from PACS and partner EKJUT, the local self-help group lobbied the authorities until the matter was taken seriously and the centre was re-opened.

The anganwadi centre at Kurdega village existed but did not function.

A neglected resource

In Kurdega village, populated mostly by tribal people, the children had nowhere to learn their alphabets. Locals could not access medicines for common ailments, and pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers had to walk two kilometres for routine check-ups and nutritional supplements. 

Although an anganwadi centre – to provide basic healthcare, child nutrition and pre-school activities – had been constructed in the village in 2011, it had remained close because there was no anganwadi sevika to run it. The authorities showed little urgency in recruiting a sevika and did not appear to view it as a priority.

‘We had this centre built but it was not running, let alone giving nutritional food to children,’ explains Asunta Toppo, a member of Mahila Mandal, the village’s self-help group (SHG).

‘Even a person suffering from mild fever had to arrange medicine from the adjacent village. We were aware that this centre would give us facilities but were not aware how beneficial this could be for us, especially for women and children.’

Children in the village now get nutritious meals at the centre.

Voices ignored

Mahila Mandal SHG members felt their voices were unheard due to their status as members of a Scheduled Tribe (ST). ‘Somehow, we feel that officials, and even political leaders, ignored us because we belong to an ST community,’ says Maria Tigga. ‘They did not heed our demand unless we raised it again and again.’

Refusing to accept the situation, progressive women from Kurdega took on the challenge of reopening the centre. 

While the Mahila Mandal SHG existed before NGO EKJUT began working on the PACS project in the area, its work and influence accelerated with the support of EKJUT. Members of the SHG and of rural local government (Panchayati Raj Institution – PRI), plus proactive local people, started holding regular meetings to learn about their rights. In one such meeting in 2013 with members of Mahila Mandal and the Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Committee (VHSNC), the issue of the closed anganwadi centre was taken up seriously. 

The women's self help group in the village meet regualrly to take decisions.

Lobbying the authorities

SHG member Ohlibama Barla recalls that the group decided to take their cause to the authorities in charge of appointing a sevika at the centre. 

‘We first took the matter to a jan samvad (public hearing) organised at Basia block but no one listened to our demand,’ she says. ‘With regular motivation and support from EKJUT members, we again took the matter to a jan samvad and also informed the child development project officer (CPDO). People came from block level, took pictures and instructed the re-starting of the anganwadi centre, but it got closed within a few days. Finally, we took the matter to a jan samvad organised by EKJUT and the administration, with senior officials and people’s representatives there.’

She continues: ‘Zila parishad (district council) member Chaitu Oraon, from a nearby village, played a very important role in raising the issue before the hearing. In fact, the whole village and community supported us. Finally, a new CDPO visited our village and asked the gram sabha (village meeting) to recommend a person to be appointed as anganwadi sevika. The gram sabha selected Amrita Minj, and since 2014, the centre has been functioning well here.’

Nourishing local children

Amrita Minj, a mother of three, runs the centre, serving the women and children of the village. She says it gives her immense satisfaction to teach, feed and nourish local children. ‘For 0-3 year-old kids we supply packed food and for 3-5 year-olds I cook khichdi rice and pulses with soya beans and potato,’ she explains. ‘At the centre, we have medicines for fever, diarrhoea antibiotics, a first aid kit and vaccines. I have received training at block level for teaching and nursing small kids.’

Nelson Toppo, a graduate PRI member of the village designated as UP Mukhiya (an elected official) admits it was not easy to get the centre re-opened and to appoint a sevika. ‘It was the regular support, frequent meetings and encouragement by EKJUT members under the PACS programme that gave confidence to Mahila Mandal members to continue their fight,’ he says. ‘We have been regularly reminded of our rights and the ways and means through which we can get them. It is because of their positive attitude that the whole village supported the cause.’ 

Securing forest rights

Mahila Mandal SHG members now feel they have a voice that will be heard, and can lobby the authorities with greater confidence, according to Maria Tigga.
‘We feel confident that our demands will be fulfilled. Government officials and PRI members now listen to us. Most importantly, we feel more aware and empowered than a couple of years ago,’ she adds.

The Mahila Mandal SHG is planning to secure forest rights under the Forest Rights Act that gives local people ownership of resources and land in their area. The villagers have already asked EKJUT representatives to provide further information and application forms for this purpose. 

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