Being the change she wants to see – the journey of Nageswari

When I first spoke with Nageswari on the phone to learn about her journey so far, the cool confidence in her voice was unmistakable. One of the aspects about my assignment as a writer, which I thoroughly enjoy, is interviewing different people with the objective of understanding their journeys as much as is possible within the short span of time I am allocated.  Nageswari’s journey has been a series of milestones in the field of social work! Currently, she is holding an exciting yet challenging assignment at the S M Sehgal Foundation, an NGO, which focuses on vital areas of food security, water security and good rural governance. Her role: a community mobilizer.

Says she: “I started my professional journey in 2005 with an NGO called Krushi, where the crux of my work focused on health and nutrition awareness programs for both mothers and children. Thereafter, I took up another challenge with an organization called Prajwala, which was active for the cause of human trafficking with focus on women.  Though the threats received were intimidating, I never gave up on the cause. I carried forward the counseling of survivors, conducted awareness programs and was also responsible for implementing livelihood programs for survivors.  My journey did not stop there. I, subsequently, joined Chetna as an advocacy assistant, where I was deeply engaged with the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project. My motto is similar to the one: ‘always more and always better’. Being involved with different causes has helped me broaden my horizons and reach. In all my earlier assignments and others with the South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies (saciWATERs), involving training master trainers; or with Bhumika Women’s Collective as a counselor for distressed women and girls; or with Mahita  where I  worked as project co-coordinator for adolescent girls’ empowerment, my fields of intervention and expertise have been diverse.”

I could not agree more with Nageswari on the fact that diverse exposure one gets in multiple assignments builds capacity and personality like nothing else. Of course, the challenge lies in the constant upgrading of skills as per the profile, but adaptation, unlearning, learning, and relearning are vital aspects thereof.

Currently posted in Nuthankal, Telegana, she is working on enhancing the participation of rural women in governance, especially since the attendance of women in gram panchayat (village council) and gram sabha (village general body meeting) meetings has been quite dismal. Through consistent interaction and sensitization, Nageswari has been able to build a bond with the women and their families, vital for mobilization. The result of her consistency, tenacity and patience is for all to see: an increased participation of the women folk in community matters, with even the ‘sarpanch’ (village council head) attending the meetings. The process is slow, yet steady.

Her second challenge in the work she does has been the pressing issue of the use of toilets. “When I came to Nuthankal, I learnt that the village had 100 percent toilet construction under the definitions of Individual Household Latrine (IHHL) and thus declared Open Defecation Free (ODF). The use of toilets, though, was abysmally low. I noted and discussed this aspect during each opportunity I got: Anganwadi meetings, self-help group meetings and gram panchayat meetings, and, particularly, with the sanitation sub-committees. Schools were another target audience for me.  Besides this, the suggestion of ‘dhandora’ (public announcement using drums) was also actively made to spread the message of the use of toilets. In fact, the latter was highly effective. It is satisfactory to note that through these consistent approaches, behavioral change has been initiated, which is an important requisite to bring about change,” elaborates Nageswari.

The challenges have been many, but then community mobilization has never been easy, as change is almost always met by resistance. Heartening, however, is her never-say-die attitude, which is so essential for bringing about sustainable change.

“I am now working towards the strengthening of health and nutrition committees or Arogya Laxmi within anganwadis. Explaining the importance of nutritious food, health, sanitation, immunization etc. is one of my main responsibilities. Now the committees are slowly strengthening and conducting regular meetings. As a community mobilizer, I want to change the society by focusing on curtailing alcoholism, eradication of child marriages and strengthening the self-esteem of adolescent girls.”

Nageswari’s journey brings to mind the adage, “It takes only one person to change your life: YOU.” And, with the change in your life, you can facilitate the change in the lives of many others.

  • The yellow shade was added newly to the sealier.

-Sarah Berry


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