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Empowering Young Change-Makers in the Thar Desert

Vast stretches of arid and sandy terrain and scorching temperatures characterize the Thar Desert, a unique and challenging landscape located in northwest India. Rainfall is a rare visitor, making it one of the most inhospitable environments in the country. The extreme climate and geographical conditions of the Thar Desert have a significant impact on the lives of the people, particularly vulnerable women and girls who also face social constraints and limited opportunities. Despite these challenges, around 100 girls aged 15 to 19 are now emerging as catalysts for positive change within their communities. In partnership with our partner organization UNNATI (Organisation for Development Education), they have received specialized training to become nutrition and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) volunteers in order to share their valuable knowledge with girls and women in their village.

Among them, Anita Bose, an eighteen-year-old, whose volunteer work is also vital for her personal growth. Reflecting on her journey, she says: “When I joined the initiative, I did not know how to speak to people. It allowed me to learn and now I’m able to talk to others with confidence.”

Anita's newfound knowledge extends to providing guidance on maternal health, where she advises pregnant women by assessing their overall well-being, asking about the healthcare services they have received and conducting tests to determine hemoglobin levels. Additionally, she imparts knowledge on hygiene practices, sharing her learnings with other women in her village. Emphasizing the importance of menstrual hygiene, Anita addresses a previously taboo subject. Traditionally, cloth materials made of synthetic fabrics were used and discarded, but now the community has shifted towards making reusable pads from cotton, promoting sustainable menstrual hygiene practices. Talking about this crucial topic is a big step forward towards breaking the taboo around menstruation.

Anita's care and support for pregnant women primarily revolved around nutritional assistance and facilitating access to governmental programs. Initially, her young age posed a challenge in gaining trust from the women she assisted. However, through her extensive knowledge and dedication, Anita successfully overcame this obstacle, earning the confidence and respect of her community.

Age is no Barrier to Making a Change

Ina is one of the women who sought Anita's assistance during her pregnancy. After receiving a positive report from her private doctor regarding her hemoglobin levels, Anita tested her again and found out that her hemoglobin levels were very low, but Ina remained unconvinced: “You know more than the doctor?”. Having learnt that this poses a major risk during pregnancy, Anita insisted on Ina visiting a government health provider for a third test. The test revealed critically low hemoglobin levels, demanding immediate action. She was advised to take folic acid tablets and to change her diet. Thanks to these interventions and diligent monitoring, Ina's health significantly improved.

Because of experiences like these, Anita gained more trust and respect within her community. Devoting approximately three days per month to assisting women with their various needs, Anita also extends her support to the Anganwadi health center, where she interacts with women seeking nutrition-related assistance for their children.

Despite being the youngest among her nine siblings, Anita is fortunate to have the unwavering support of her family in her volunteer efforts. Currently pursuing her final year of graduation, where she studies politics and economy, Anita aspires to become a teacher in the future. Her determination and dedication serve as an inspiration to all, proving that age is no barrier to making a significant impact.

(July 2023)

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