Visiting the Communities, Part 2: Vikas Mitra Group Meeting – Blog Post # 5

Continuing to post all my blogs 🙂

Sunday, June 26th

In my last blog post, I described half of my first week in Purnea, where I got to observe the 3-day Life Education Sessions that Pathfinder holds for 15-19 yo adolescents. On Thursday, due to bad weather, I wasn’t able to visit the communities. Continuing on:

Friday – Vikas Mitra Group Meeting: We traveled to a completely different village, named Bhavanipur, to observe a Vikas Mitra Group Meeting. This was a truly eye-opening experience because this was the first time I had traveled deep into a rural village in India, but it was also the first time that I really saw poverty. Several Mahadalit women, ages 15-24, were called to gather at the “chabootra,” a common meeting place, to discuss SRH/HTSP. The group included pregnant women, women with children, and newlywed women, but I noticed that overall, most of the women were pretty young (which made sense because most were between 15-24 yo; but many seemed to be between 15-20 yo). Prabha (also a BPC) led the conversation, while the community’s Vikas Mitra sat beside her (this was the first Vikas Mitra group meeting the women had had I believe, so it was a demonstration for the Vikas Mitra, showing her how these meetings should proceed). Prabha introduced all of us very kindly, saying that I am currently in college, want to become a doctor, and really wanted to learn about all of them. She started off by talking about how girls get married at a young age, are pressured to have children as soon as they are married, and are not going to school or drop out of school early. She asked why this was the case, why their are misconceptions about contraceptives, why the state of the Mahadalit is the way it is, especially given the number of government schemes for the Mahadalit. The women started discussing among themselves. Prabha said that we are here to understand your needs and concerns, and to give you knowledge. She told the women that money goes away quickly, but knowledge is something no one can take away from you. “Do you know why spacing is needed and how much space there should be between two children,” she asked the women. One woman answered correctly, saying 3 years. Another said that although everyone knows that, the reality is that there is only 1.5 years of spacing between babies, and soon after giving birth, the girl gets pregnant again. Prabha said that there are a lot of methods that can be used to practice healthy spacing, and began using the picture book (given to all ASHAs and Vikas Mitras) to explain the different permanent and temporary methods of contraception. She said to the women that they were giving birth to children frequently, causing them and their children to be weak. Over the course of the conversation, Prabha always made sure the women were comfortable with the topic and that they were understanding what she was saying. Many of the women were paying attention, but some had to take care of their children and some started getting up and leaving. Prabha then began speaking with the women individually, asking each woman her name, her husband’s name, how many children she had, their ages, and some questions about spacing and contraceptive use. It was a bit tough to ask my questions, both because I was shy and nervous about interviewing women in the community for the first time and because I did not want to interfere with Pathfinder’s work. I decided to just play it by ear that day. Often the women were shy to say their husband’s name because it is not considered respectful. Most husband’s did manual labor, either working in the field or working in construction, often in a different state or city, often Punjab or Delhi. Some of the women were married around 18-20 years of age (18 yo being the legal age in India) while some were married at 15-16 years of age. It was really interesting to listen to their stories and hear about the realities for the first time. For instance, one woman wanted to be sterilized, even though her husband did not give her the permission to do so. Her husband got upset and told her to get out of the house once he found out (I don’t know if this actually ended up happening or if they resolved their differences). One lady had 5 children and said that her husband did not want to get the operation (sterilization), which is why they had 5 children. Not all the stories were like this, but these are just some of the things I heard. After the group meeting, I had the chance to ask the Vikas Mitra questions about her roles and responsibilities, why she got involved as a Vikas Mitra, her training, and what seem to be the cultural beliefs regarding early marriage. She told me about how she takes surveys of the community, helps people get pension, and now is working on health-related schemes for the first time. She told me that she holds discussions with the women like we did today, and said that she found out about becoming a Vikas Mitra from her block and the BPCs. She said that she liked how much Pathfinder is doing for the Mahadalit and wants to do the same.

The final part of this week is described in my next post (part 3)!