Mariamma speaks up for her rights

by Ajitson Samuel Justus, World Vision India

Struggle is nothing knew for Mariamma.

“When I was 12, I dropped out of school. Our family used to walk up to 20 km looking for daily labour work. We were so desperate one day that we agreed to work for less than 50 cents (USD). The work we did was weeding rice fields in the hot sun. We could only buy raw green wheat with that money. It is normally used as chicken feed. We would make a hole in the ground, and churn it until it became a powder. We used to boil it in water and eat it."

As she tries to speak again, her voice cracks. Her eyes have moistened with tears.

"There was this one day when we had enough food only for my father and my brothers. My mother and I only had hot water that day."

Mariamma was brought up with a fear of the outside world. As a girl she was not allowed to go outside the house, without her father's supervision. She was not brought up to ask questions or to take action. “We never had any knowledge of anything. We were afraid and we lacked confidence.”

Mariamma grows up

About two years ago, World Vision started working in Mariamma's village. The women initially never came to any of the programs. But slowly, World Vision's staff built rapport with them and encouraged them to step outside and be a part of their village's development. One such program was the 90-day feeding program.

"My Maheshwari was one of the ten children in my village who were under weight," says Mariamma. She is referring to her 7-year-old daughter who is a sponsored child.

World Vision engaged a local volunteer who fed the children nutritious food with locally sourced ingredients for 90 days. This programme ensures that malnourished children gain weight and improve in health. At the same time, it teaches the mothers that cooking nutritious food with cost effective, locally sourced ingredients is possible.


Little Maheshwari is now healthy!

Mariamma is also part of a women’s self-help group, started by World Vision, which meets together every month.

They save money together and every other month one woman can draw money from these savings for their various needs. Mariamma took a loan from the self-help group's savings to rebuild her home with bricks (earlier it was made of mud). The group is also part of World Vision's various training and awareness programs.

Mariamma's world used to be filled with struggle. But after working with World Vision, she has learned not to fear this outside world and grow in confidence.

"We took the signatures of the women in our self-help group and filed a petition. Our local political leader now respects us, and tells us to approach him if we need anything," says Mariamma.

"We learned how to be good leaders, like who to approach for our rights or what is the difference between a right and want. We learned that having access to water is our right, not a luxury," says Mariamma.

Mariamma and the women in her self-help group approached their local political leader. They told him that they needed a borehole well in their village. He never responded to their request, so they approached the district level leader.

"We took the signatures of the women in our self-help group and filed a petition. We spoke to the press. Finally, after this entire struggle, we now have a borehole well in our village. Our local political leader now respects us, and tells us to approach him if we need anything," says Mariamma.

There are many provisions that the state government provides to help poor households when it comes to water and sanitation, but not many people are aware of these. World Vision has conducted awareness programs about these provisions in 22 villages so far.

Sudha, a World Vision staff member who works in this village, observes that Mariamma's transformation has had a good impact on her village.

"She asks parents who don't send their children to send them to school, she does her bit for community monitoring," says Sudha.

"We need to work for the village. I have the hope and confidence now," says Mariamma.