It takes a household and a community to raise a leader

Biraguda is quite far from the district headquarter of Kandhamal, the ride is bumpy, yet the natural beauty of the place overwhelms us- Dense forests on both sides of the serpentine road, hills and beautiful valleys. The scenic beauty hides the grinding struggle for survival and poverty that is the pervasive in these parts, more so in the case of  Phiringla Block-, where we witnessed serious livelihood constraints that people living in this desolate  locality face.  It is here that we are able to bring hope through our work  

In the Biraguda village, we are welcomed by Surja, a CARE India’s PATHWAY initiative trained village animator. Within the last five years, Surja has travelled a long distance- from coming as a bride in the village to becoming respected leader of the villagers. In addition to being a village animator for PATHWAYS, Surja also leads the 14 member Self-Help Group (SHG) and is the Resource Person for the villagers for their lives and livelihoods.

The members of the SHG told us that, through Surja (who has received CARE India’s PATHWAYS training) they have learned ways to improve the quality and quantity of agricultural yield through use of innovative technologies. The SHG members also told us , “ we now know how to do summer ploughing, line sowing, insect trapping and many more techniques, and just by adopting the line sowing technique alone, each of us gained an extra yield of 2 to 3 sacks to rice this year”. For many, this could be considered as insignificant, but to petty and small farmers, extra yield of 2 to 3 sacks is a breakthrough.

Surja attributes her success in handling multiple roles due to understanding, support, and respect she gets from her husband, her mother in law, and the villagers with whom she works. At such times, one is reminded that this is the essence of Equality and Dignity, we try to pursue in our work … at all times and at all places. Sometime later, pointing to an old lady standing on the other side of her small farm, Surja says aloud, “she is my mother-in-law and she takes care of my child when I go out to the other houses to help them with the basic agricultural extension services”

Being the only women in the village with education up to grade 9, the story of Surja also underlines the importance of ensuring that girls get at least basic education to be able to play a higher level of leadership roles in their families and communities. Her ability to read, write and comprehend were critical in PATHWAYS Program promoting her as a young leader.

I was enthralled to see this response and involvement of both, our project participants and our team members working on the ground.

On my way back while I was retrospecting the linkages we need to work upon between our partners, donors and beneficiaries, and how each ones contribution can bring in the desired change; ssomewhere in the array of the images, I recollected an image I had taken. It was a picture of a little boy. The boy is standing alone and is looking at the horizon. His gaze reflects uncertainty regarding the known and the unknown- it forced me to think-   Would our efforts offer him a more assured future? Would his basic needs be fulfilled? What about his sister? Does she even dream of what her brother may be able to dream? – The next generation of the historically marginalized communities, Schedules Tribes (STs) and Schedules Casts (SCs), needs answers to these questions… The answer is embedded in Surja- the leader, in the grandmother who earns an income and able to use that for “right purpose”,  and in SHG interacting with markets on equal terms.   

By Dr Musa