Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Hope for Women in a Remote Village in India

May 14, 2013

I have blogged before about one of the most rewarding parts of my job – going to communities in the poorest parts of the world to talk with moms and their families about their concerns and hopes for their children.  There is no substitute for this kind of learning, and no better way to engage with communities to develop and introduce solutions that they need and will want to put to use to improve their lives. A couple of weeks ago, on such a trip to Bihar, India, I saw something that surprised me, and served as a poignant reminder of the transformative power of hope in our lives.

In a remote village in Gopalganj district, I was with some partners and colleagues taking part in a women’s self-help group meeting. The discussion with these women was far-ranging but centered primarily around their hopes for their group, their community and their families. We talked about health services for them and their children, newborn care, access to family planning, sanitation, good nutrition options for their families—essentially all the things that the Ananya project is focused on in this community. It was an inspiring conversation.

Mothers talked about the health care that they have more access to now. For example, previously the local ASHA worker (health care worker) would not travel - across caste boundaries - to visit them; now, using new tools she employs to ensure that she reaches every household in her catchment area, the ASHA was interacting regularly in this village, helping to link them to childbirth and primary care services.

 They could envision a future and dared to dream for their children in ways not previously imaginable. And they believed that it might come true.

As we concluded the meeting and were preparing to depart after about an hour-long conversation, one of the mothers quietly approached our Deputy Director, Usha Tarigopula, and brought forward her son, explaining that he had never been able to speak, and asked if we could help. This surprised me because the issue of disabilities had not come up in our conversation up to that point. With the help of our local partner, CARE, we were able to make plans to link up this boy with services in their area that she hadn’t felt she had access to before.

Later that day after a similar meeting with another women’s self-help group, the same thing happened! After a lengthy discussion, as we prepared to depart, another mom quietly called Usha over to ask for help. This time it was for her daughter who had never been able to hear. Again, we were able to link her to referral services, arranging for both families to go together.

Of course, on these trips, we often get asked for help. But what struck me from these experiences is that now these mothers had hope. They had seemed to wait until enough trust developed, spurred by hope, that they ventured to bring forward their most precious requests. They could envision a future and dared to dream for their children in ways not previously imaginable. And they believed that it might come true.

Imagining a future for you children should not be an amazing, surprising idea. But three years ago, on a similar visit to Bihar, I didn’t see hope. I saw extreme poverty, people living a daily existence, striving to survive that day. Mothers didn’t concern themselves with next year’s schooling for their children because there seemed to be no opportunity for school at all. And at that time, mothers couldn’t reach out to seek help for their children’s disabilities because daily life was enough of a burden, and help just seemed too distant to imagine.

Now, there is hope. Mothers have embraced the expectation that things will get better; they are gaining confidence that their children may yet have the opportunity to grow up and be healthy, productive adults. Basic health care is improving; they have better access to frontline health workers; they have more knowledge of healthy behaviors. And with their basic needs better met, they can now consider improvements in other areas, like a better life for their children who, in the past, would not have the opportunity to be assessed and possibly learn to speak or to access services for hearing impairments.

“Ananya” means unique or boundless in Hindi. As the name of this project, it represents the importance and potential of each and every person in Bihar. And for these women whom I had the honor to meet, it represents the new possibility of a better future for their children, even those with disabilities.

 
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