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An Indian Mother's Call for Change (For Us All)

June 24, 2013

When Save the Children presented its annual report this year, I was aghast at a few points.

  • India ranks # 1 in the top 10 countries with the most first-day deaths.  It is  responsible for 29% of the total number of first day deaths. Really?

India with both a large population and a high first-day mortality rate – is home to more than 309,000 first-day deaths.

  • Another report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) says India is the most dangerous place in the world to be a baby girl.

Newly released data shows that an Indian girl child aged 1-5 years is 75% more likely to die than an Indian boy, making this the worst gender differential in child mortality for any country in the world.

As a woman myself and as a mother, these were too painful.

The UN has a deadline of 2015, for the 8 MDGs (Millennium Development Goals - a set of goals by the world's governments to reduce extreme poverty). They hope to get some action done with support from government and non-government organisations and mere mortals like me. MDG # 3 (Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women) and MDG # 4 (Reduce Child Mortality) closely related in this case in India seems so bleak to work upon with respect to the above reports.

But who am I kidding? Isn’t India the same country which was declared Polio free in 2012, by WHO? India is actually a determined nation, though it has its own share of problems in all socio-economic-cultural-political aspects.

And then recently I chanced upon a novel way of doing things here in this very rural village in Rajasthan state, India.

In the tiny village of Piplantri, the local ruling bodies ensure that it saves every girl child which is born, empowers women by employing them in the small scale industries and at the same time increases the local greenery. That makes it 3 MDGs (#3, #4, and #7) at one stroke.

One stroke? How?

This village plants 111 trees for every girl child who is born. Now there are over a quarter million trees here. They ensure that as the girl child grows up, the trees attain fruition in a symbolic way. The community has created ways and means to ensure that these trees are tended to and taken care locally, partly by the family and partly with the help of local panchayats (local governing body).

Additionally, for every girl child born, the villagers put in a fixed deposit sum of INR 31,000 (approx. $620) with a maturity period of 20 years. That is a good amount which can be used for a college degree.

And this is not all. The village planted a lot of Aloe Vera around the trees as a natural pesticide. And then with the abundant Aloe Vera supply, it came up with ways to create employment opportunities and industries for processing and marketing these Aloe Vera products.

It has also banned open animal grazing, plants 8 trees for any family member’s death, has incorporated total and school sanitation and hygiene programmes, has its own drinking water plant and has listed down all the development work it has done in the field of education, environment, road laying and community work, and health and social good work.

It all started with a single man’s sorrow of losing his only daughter, Kiran. The village’s former sarpanch (head of local governing political body) Shyam Sundar Paliwal, was instrumental in starting this initiative in the memory of his beloved daughter. One man’s sorrow metamorphosed into being an agent of change. And eventually this has grown into a self-sustained model village for the whole world to see and take inspiration from.

This scheme in the remote rural village in Rajasthan state is a wonderful community effort. Change does not come globally at one stroke.

Piplantri village or not, Fixed Deposit and Aloe Vera or not, change comes by one individual’s mission of being an agent of change. Empowerment and social uplifting comes with one individual’s effort in his (or her) small local community by a simple thoughtful gesture. It expands and enfolds the globe slowly.

You can be that one agent of change in your local hub. Just think about it! Won't you join me in stepping up to do something, whether big or small, towards helping the UN reach the MDG goals?

What do you think of Piplantri's model for change?

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