‘Who says the sky can not be holed?
Try pelting once, with heart and soul to hold!!’
This is the refrain of a song sung by the women of Junia, a sleepy village dotting the rural landscape of Rajasthan. Dusty roads, hardworking farmers, perpetually busy women untiring in their efforts to make ends meet are a common sight. . But today the sight of women veiled in multi-hued tie’n’dye drapes, carrying heavy gunny bags on their heads, selling iodized salt from door to door is not an unusual sight.
Role of Bal Rashmi
The dusty road, coming off the NH 8 near village Dooni in Tonk district of Rajasthan, leads to the village Junia, where UNICEF has assisted a voluntary organisation Bal Rashmi to promote integrated development for women and children with involvement of local communities in the Integrated Village Planning project called “Gramsahkti” underway in the district. The project envisages that village development plans will be developed by the communities and local Panchayats in a participatory planning process keeping in view the key indicators for survival and development of children. As per thethe project, once the development plans are finalized, a group of four youth volunteers and local development committee will do a follow-up of the same.. One of the indicators promoted in this project is the improved access and consumption of iodised salt by families to avoid iodine deficiency disorders in pregnant women and growing children.
Bal Rashmi has forged good links with the village communities in the block and has also promoted the concept of self-reliance among the women by supporting the formation of women Self-help Groups (SHGs). These SHGs were then encouraged to promote the sale and consumption of iodised salt.
Making iodised salt available in village
According to a member of a local SHG, Mrs. Laadi Bairwa, the villagers knew that consumption of raw salt could cause serious diseases but continued consuming it as iodized salt was very expensive and sometimes ordinary salt was sold as iodized salt.,. The unavailability of iodized salt was tackled by Bal Rashmi by facilitating the supply of Tata Salt @Rs 7/kg through the network of village youth volunteers over a period of 4 months. However, many families of the village still could not afford it.
UNICEF Jaipur then took the initiative of convincing the salt traders of Nawa, Nagaur district to provide low-priced iodized salt to the voluntary organizations, who in turn, would supply the same to the community. An impromptu deal was struck between Bal Rashmi and Kailash Salt Industries for one truck load of Iodized sold (equivalent to 20,000 consumer bags of 1 kg each) for a mere Rs 24,000.
"The Iodized salt, including all expenses, costs us Rs 2.00/kg. It is sold @ Rs 3.50/kg by the women's group. The direct and net gain of Rs. 1.50/kg has been a great motivator of unprecedented enthusiasm in the women folk!" says Mrs Renu the local project coordinator of Bal Rashmi. The organisation has facilitated a formation of 60 women SHG within the Deoli sub-division and plans to provide a loan of Rs. 10.000 to each and every woman of these groups. The women members can thus contribute equally to collect enough money for buying the iodized salt. Every member of a group consisting of 6 members has to contribute Rs. 4000 to pool Rs. 24.000 which is required to buy 20.000 consumer bags of 1 kg each.
The villagers were so enthused that the Sarpanch ( Headman ) and members of the Panchayat Support Group who oversee the village development plans agreed to provide storage room for the salt. So, a makeshift storage arrangement was made in a room at a Government Senior Secondary School. Today, the salt storage unit of Junia named as “ Dundhar Iodised Salt Storage “ is providing Iodized salt to at least 1000 families of Junia and three neighbouring villages. The store is being managed by six members of the local SHG. They are also assisted by the Village Planning Facilitator Mr. Buddhiprakash, of the Integated village planning project, in book-keeping and accounting..
This initiative has stirred the imagination of the other villages. Currently iodised salt storage warehouse have started functioning in Nagarfort, Dooni and Deoli villages besides Junia, benefiting a total of 50 villages. This movement of iodised salt is expected to spread to another 50 villages, totalling to 100 by the end of this year. The ongoing movement has facilitated the sale of 1,00,00 kg iodised salt (20,000 kg per month) in about four months (May-August) across the villages. If the profit is calculated even at nominal rate of .05 paise / kg, it accrues profit money of Rs. 50,000/- to the women group. Bal Rashmi expects that within 6 months the women will be confident enough to run the show on their own steam without any outside support.
And so the story goes.. women can show the way.