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By UNICEF, Maharashtra
Ask anybody about any child in the village Wandhli, and you will be directed to Savita Chaudhari’s house and not the family of that child. Savita is a 26-year-old married woman managing family and agricultural work. She volunteered to work with children and women when the Gram Panchayat decided to focus more on the women and children’s development.
She receives no monetary returns for this work she has been doing since 2017-18 in an initiative called ‘Child and Gender Friendly Panchayat’ supported by UNICEF Maharashtra. Ask her why she does the work which does not give anything in return, and she replies “Who says I get nothing, I get respect and satisfaction of doing something worthwhile.”
The children in her village are her strength and motivation, and she ensures that they are safe and happy during COVID-19 pandemic. Children’s life has been disturbed a lot due to this pandemic which led to the closure of schools and restricted them to their own houses.
Savita was determined to ensure that children are engaged in constructive activities during this period too. She organised ‘Bal Sabha’ for children to come together in small groups where all the norms of social distancing are followed. She used this platform to spread awareness on COVID-19 and the safety and preventive measures one should take like frequent hand washing, physical distancing and wearing a mask.
The session did not limit to just explaining the concept but also how to practice it and follow it all the time. To keep children engaged in meaningful activities, Savita has also started a tree plantation drive with the support of Gram Panchayat. To increase the awareness within families, she also organised sessions with women from self-help groups and supported the Panchayat in creating awareness about COVID-19. Since masks were hard to get in the villages, she facilitated the production of masks by SHGs.
She continued to support the Panchayat in all its initiatives; the blood donation camp organised by them saw Savita actively promoting it. She convinced the young people in the village to donate blood by leveraging her respectful status in the village. However, she doesn’t forget to add that “Sarpanch, teachers, citizens especially youth, are to be appreciated for their efforts and contribution towards the successful organisation of the blood donation camp.”
The lockdown period also happens to be the period when the Gram Panchayat revised its Development Plan and seeing this as an opportunity, Savita facilitated a Bal Panchayat meeting, where children discussed immediate issues concerning them. The demands raised by Bal Panchayat included initiatives on COVID-19 management and health and hygiene issues. Savita made sure children’s voices are reflected in the GP Plan.
Accordingly, GP distributed dustbins, sanitizers, soaps for better personal and household hygiene. All lanes in the village were equipped with dustbins for wet and dry waste. Long-standing demand from children for pure drinking water was met during the GPDP plan revision, and now, a filter water purification plant is installed, and everyone is getting filtered water. Sanitizer spraying happens frequently, thanks to Bal Panchayat demands, strategically facilitated by vigilant and proactive volunteer Savita.
The saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ perfectly fits Savita. Sensing food insecurity of some needy families, she started collecting food-grains from affluent families to be distributed to the needy ones. Seeing these small but important efforts, GP extended further support and collected food-grains in large quantities, a surplus of which was handed over to the police station for further distribution to those in need.
Heroes like Savita are the need of the hour, especially in times where people are panicking, and there’s so much stigma and fear that’s keeping people apart physically, and in some cases, socially too. She is the hope, motivation and asset any society can ask for. Risking one’s life when most prefer to sit at home, keeping motivation levels high while most are feeling low, and finding ways to address immediate problems despite having no resources, could only be done by souls like Savita. People like her are the real corona warriors. UNICEF is proud to have worked with such volunteers.
Savita is one of the voluntary facilitators trained by UNICEF under the Child and Gender-Friendly Panchayat programme piloted in Chandrapur. Many facilitators like her are working in many GPs in Maharashtra to inform children about their rights, creating platforms for them to interact with their respective panchayats and making sure their voices are heard. She supports the Gram Panchayat in their journey towards being child- and gender-friendly.