Born in suburb’s of Patna as eldest of her siblings; the responsibility of the whole house rested on the fragile shoulders. Her curly hairs were short because she did not have any time to care for them. The pink and blue coloured suit which she wore often was her favourite one and she made sure it was always clean.
“Sumitra, where are you? Come here and feed Manish; your little brother. Is the food ready Sumitra; why is it taking so long?”
This 12 year old girl was ‘almost’ the mother of her 6 sisters and youngest brother. She was ‘on call’ all the time and as she herself tells us “I was the one who was consulted for any future plans for the family or even the daily menu! I used to be brilliant in studies and games as well. My father would often say that once I grew up, I would change the world!”
But the reality of life turned out to be different for her. She had just completed 8th when she was married off. Life did not become what she dreamt of.
Sumitra tells us “For my own future, none consulted me! I wanted to study more, do something for myself and my society. But my pleas did not find any place in my dad’s ears (who was otherwise the most caring person in my world!) That was the day when I sensed that my life is nothing better than that of a refugee.”
Her new home was in a remote village called ‘Kedalpura.’ Since she was the young wife, youngest of 4 ‘married’ brothers and hence was destined to be most submissive. Her submissiveness found a way into her husband’s heart who supported her when she wanted to apply as an Anganwadi worker. Sumitra says “One day at the village hand pump, I heard few women talking about some kind of work in the village itself - ‘Anganwadi worker’. I also came to know what one needed to be 8th pass for it.” It was then that Sumitra decided to approach her husband to help her fill the form for it.
It has been about 4 years since she has been working as an Anganwadi worker. Sumitra fitted into the role of teaching young kids, feeding them at the centre and distributing food materials to pregnant and lactating women perfectly. When we first met her, a lot of issues were on her mind; poor payment system, dissatisfactory government pricing of the foods to be distributed, unpaid incentives and extra work from almost all departments.
There was a lot of frustration in her; regarding her work and the system around her. Sumitra tells us “I would at times find my work to be too mechanical. Supporting my family was my initial thought about taking up the job, but then I started searching meaning in it. It was then we met people from CARE”
Operations of CARE had begun in Danapur block, one of the blocks in the Patna district in Bihar in April, 2011. The initial meeting included orientation to all the front line workers and follow up through block coordinators. The uptake of complete enumeration of families in the villages was the most difficult part. It was rigorous outreach activities that helped us make some space in minds and hearts of the workers. But then we met gems like Sumitra on the way, who were searching for a meaning in their jobs. It is true for many others out there who are self-motivated, just that little push would do! Who doesn’t need a purpose in life? Our interactions with AWWs on field soon initiated their home visits to beneficiaries’ especially pregnant women and young mothers. “We used to make visits to houses, but without any knowledge. Now we have an agenda and a clear picture as what we want mothers to know and do when we meet them” states Sumitra.
It has not been long in the project but there are many such stories which make you smile and wonder at how lives change through simple actions! It is not about how the system is working or what we are working on. It is about empowerment of people, individuals who are already in the system. It is not as much through putting in more resource we would be able to help them, but making them responsible for it. As finally Sumitra puts it “There may be a thousand problems in the job, but I find a unique happiness in looking into young healthy eyes. I feel proud and responsible for making a difference in their lives. I may not have changed the world, but I surely have contributed my bit!”