We all talk about being a part of change, but when an opportunity comes by, how many of us actually go ahead and take it up?!
Having just finished her B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from NIT Jaipur, Anneka Majhi wanted to contribute more actively and get some grassroot experience of working in a village with perhaps an NGO, that could make her more aware of the problems that plague rural India. A chance came in the form of the SBI Youth for India Fellowship, something she describes as akin to “winning a lottery“, because it gave her the chance to get the genuine and rigorous experience she was looking for, as she tells Youth Ki Awaaz of her experience…
First things first, as a Fellow, what was your experience of living in a rural area?
Life in rural areas is interesting. I noticed a vast difference in availability of basic needs such as toilets, water supply, variety of vegetables and good health care. Along with that, we had to travel really far in order to go to an ATM, get photocopies, colour print outs or even some chocolates!
Throughout our fellowship, we cooked on a single kitchen stove which ran on kerosene, which we had to buy off people who were BPL card holders. They would sell it to us for Rs 20-40 per litre and it would last us for four to five days. We had a chance to experience the drudgery involved in using such a stove when fumes filled our house and it would make our eyes water and almost impossible for us to breathe. We had other options such as the electric stove but, refused because the electricity bills could get too high. You might ask why all this is necessary, but this was one way in which we really learned to empathize with those in the same situation as us.
As a Fellow, what is the project you’ve been involved with?
My project with NGO DHRUVA-BAIF in the Dixal Village of Kaprada taluka (Gujarat) is based on promotion and implementation of a sustainable model of home gardening along with awareness generation on good nutrition.
Wherever I went for community meetings in the village, the women I met had pale faces and sunken eyes. On talking to them, I found out that they were suffering from anaemia and malnutrition. Some had even lost their first born children due to complications from anaemia. The story of malnourishment of mother and child replicated itself in the case of the tribal women present. What was also visible to me was that the women did not have variety in their diet. Green vegetables were rarely grown due to water scarcity, thus rarely included in the daily diet. Keeping this in mind, I decided to promote a model of a kitchen garden which used low cost bucket drip irrigation equipment and could grow at least seven types of vegetable, one for each day of the week.
And this is a community based project. The community meetings help to promote gardening and also educate the women about good nutrition. The women contribute 25% of the cost of the kitchen garden kit which includes the seeds and drip irrigation equipment. To grow this further, I also go out and approach community leaders such as the ASHA and Aganwadi workers and the Sarpanch to try the same in their areas.
During the course of your work, what sort of change have you observed through your work?
The process of change has been slow but we try our best to bring changes through strategic measures and through all the opportunities available to us. During the course of my work, I saw NGOs and even government organizations use monotonous methods to promote health and nutrition. So when I created some participatory games on nutrition for both school students and tribal women for weekly meetings, I saw the increase in the responses by both the groups. The NGO staff also expressed that such game based methods made their work easy and more effective.
What are the key things that you’ve learnt from your experience, and what is your advice to people looking to give back to the society?
The list of things that I have learned grows each day. I learned the importance of unbiased research, systematic approach and the need for creativity and adaptability in project formation and implementation. Along with this, I analysed the limitations to my intervention from the point of view of the women who could not grow a kitchen garden, hence, it helped me form a project which would cater to all women despite their economic status and amount of water available to them.
To those who are looking to give back to the society, my advice would be to know which subject area you are interested in, and whether you can apply your skills to make your intervention better. It would be best to research as much as possible, and not go out into the field with assumptions. The fellowship gives you the freedom to construct your own project in accordance to your skills and also helps in improving the project with advice from expert mentors on field. One year is a short time, so try to learn as much as possible beforehand. It will be over, before you know it.
Any interesting memories?
I met a girl called Lalita during the training on kitchen garden and nutrition. Five months after I gave the training, Lalita spotted me at a weekly haat and ran after me to have a few words. She told me – “Didi, bohot koshish kari par hua nahi” (Didi I tried a lot but it just didn’t work). She lives in a hilly region of South Gujarat where water is so scarce that children find it difficult to take a bath in summers. It might sound like failure but it was not. It showed me that I have been able to convince many like her that I will be able to find better solutions for them in case one doesn’t work. It has been times like this, that I felt motivated to find a solution rather than just give hope.