If you haven’t please read the first part of the story here.
It had been four years since Sandhya had started the Balwadi. It was now recognized by an NGO and she was promoted to the post of Supervisor. It was becoming difficult for her to manage daily household chores, work on the farm and teach at Balwadi. Teachers in her village are referred to as ‘Bai’, and so was she. Kids loved her and their grades were getting better. Their parents were grateful to Sandhya for her efforts. Even her family had started appreciating her work.
Even after working for years as a supervisor, there was no increment in her salary. Sandhya was underpaid despite the increasing workload. She went to the NGO campus and asked for better wages. but the team did not entertain her. In fact, she would call it harassment as she fought with everyone for her right but low salary without increment was not justified. At the end, she resigned from her post.
Hopelessly, Sandhya came back to her home. More than income, she was worried about the fact that she will have to stay away from work. Call it fortune but later in the day, another opportunity knocked her door. An NGO, Population First, approached her with an offer. Their team was already working in the region for last 7 years, but none of the village women would continue for more than 2 months. Sandhya, with an NGO experience of 10 years, was the best choice for them. She joined as a village coordinator. Again within a span of 6 months, she was promoted.
Sandhya used to conduct surveys and FGDs on Health and Nutrition. She would visit five villages allotted to her, meet people every day and provide solutions to their problems. The output of her work was showing a positive response and a gradual change in these villages. Later, she got promoted twice and now handles a total of 35 villages. Even after much appreciation, she was still not content, as she wasn’t proud of her education.
It was then that she decided to continue her studies. Sandhya completed her Bachelor degree in Arts and went on to become an ANM for her village. Whenever she addresses girls around her and counsel them about their personal issues and career opportunities, half of them say that they want to become like Sandhya.
Meanwhile, there were people who did not want her to work. They were against the notion of a woman going out. Consequently, they started talking ill about her in her absence. This led to a number of issues in her family. People would taunt her for carrying a purse and bully her for several other reasons. Once a man visited her house and started yelling at her saying that women of the village are being negatively influenced by her and that she should stop working. Her mother-in-law took a stand in her support and told the man that she has no problem with Sandhya doing what she is doing. Tears rolled out from her eyes. Finally, after 8 years, she got the support of her mother-in-law.
Things got worse when men started troubling her on her way to work. The driver used to ask her every other day about where is she headed to and what’s her purpose. She discussed this with her husband and both of them went to the driver’s house where she scolded the driver and told his family to mind their own business.
Nothing could stop her from doing what she wanted. Sandhya started 7 women’s SHGs and 1 men’s SHG. She established School development committee in the village school, ran cleanliness drives, started reusing sewage water by developing 25 kitchen gardens. It was a revolution in the village. Every week, there used to be a meeting to make people aware about hygiene. She also worked on accessibility of clean drinking water and set-up a Vermicompost plant. Later, Dehena won the IDEAL VILLAGE award.
In a few years, ‘Population First’ invited Grassroutes Journeys, my host organization, to work on a rural tourism project in Dehena. Sandhya helped the organization in mobilizing people and negotiated with Gram Panchayat to establish the village as a hospitality center. The setup now brings a huge income to people in this village. Currently, she is serving as the regional president of Congress party at Shahpur Taluka. It’s hard to believe that she is the same woman who failed 10th class and got married to a man from a small village in a forest years ago.