By Vidya Kulkarni
‘I do not view my work with rural women just as a part of my job responsibilities. I find it very educating and reassuring. It has helped me in many ways and I will continue doing it no matter where I go’. This contemplative expression by Sunita Patil speaks volumes of the work she is engaged in since 2001. Sunita’s work, as a Sanghatika or group organizer for 20 villages in Ghatanji block of Yeotmal district in the state of Maharashtra, means a lot to her. It is nothing less than a mission. Similar feelings are shared by other group organizers who perceive their work with rural women as being empowering for themselves.
The women organizers have emerged strong by facing arduous challenges and have developed a courteous bond with the communities they are working with
At the inception of UNICEF’s work in 2001 in select blocks in Yeotmal district, a group of local women were identified and trained to work with village communities. A Sahayogini or village organizer was assigned to work with 5 villages, whereas a Sanghatika or group organizer was assigned to work with 20 villages. Together there are more than seventy organizers working under the leadership of Sadhna Dube, the district level coordinator for UNICEF interventions. According to Sadhana, ‘these novices have indeed come a long way. It is not easy for an outsider to work within a village unless you win the trust of the community. The women organizers have emerged strong by facing arduous challenges and have developed a courteous bond with the communities they are working with.’
Both the Sahayogini and Sanghatika work to mobilize village communities, especially women. They visit the villages frequently, organize meetings and enable women to address issues concerning them. Almost all of them agree that the work was very difficult in the beginning. The women neither had any experience nor any idea on how to make things work. Building a friendly bond with village women proved extremely helpful.
‘A feeling that we are not alone is what empowers us’
Suman Madavi says, ‘I could easily identify with rural women and the problems they were facing. I was like one of them before taking up this work; equally unsure and unaware of my abilities.’ Suman’s words represent feelings of many. Most of these women have never stepped out of their home or travelled alone. Their aspiration to work had its share of problems within families, which they have successfully overcome. Engaging in a social change process has changed the lives of these women and made them more confident. It has also contributed in improving their status within their families and communities. ‘A feeling that we are not alone is what empowers us’, admits Surekha Lingarwar.
‘Passing on simple information to women can make a difference’, shares Suman Gavhankar who works as Sanghtika in Patan Bori block. ‘Women want to know what they can do to improve their village, how can they develop a road or bring sufficient water for its people. Women respond positively and the energy they put in to bring about the changes is what keeps us going,’ Suman adds.
Thus the work of Sahayogini and Sanghatika to spread awareness has led to their own awakening making it a mission to reckon with.