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Project Urja was implemented in poorer regions of Maharashtra to better the living conditions and gender equal opportunities of the girls.
The most heart wrenching sight that I have ever witnessed in my life is the birth of malnourished children in the government hospitals of a tribal district of Nandurbar, Maharashtra.
The district is 80% tribal and a melee of aboriginal languages are spoken by the natives, which limited my communication with them. I toiled hard to learn the vernaculars and contiguous languages to make sense of the situation from horse’s mouth. While I continued the health service delivery through the existing health apparatus, that involved post natal weight monitoring and interventions to bring severely malnourished children into the normal category, I felt the problem is much deeper, and girls suffer more.
Gender discrimination has a far reaching impact, which is not just social but also manifests in biological forms. A woman not properly hand held during adolescence lands up being a fragile mother emotionally and physically, apart from being an under-confident woman socially. No amount of curative measures can fill in as a preventive measure.
This pushed me to delve deep and conceptualise a program to strengthen adolescent girls – physically, emotionally and socially. To embolden and empowered them and to tap the energy which youth is totally representative of. This gave birth to Project Urja which I could implement only in a new district I went to, called Osmanabad.
Urja means energy and this pilot project sought to unleash the energy of adolescent girls.
Being piloted in an entirely different district than where it was conceptualised, the challenges in field implementation too were varied.
Osmanabad is a drought prone district in the state of Maharashtra with poor social indicators. It has a population of 16,00,000 and poor female literacy. Many girls leave school right at the onset of menstruation and for the want of toilets in school, as personal safety takes predominance over education. In such rural settings empowering woman is a daunting task as it doesn’t receive support from women themselves. The very social fabric further deprived them of spaces to play, right to study and desires to be self reliant.
Urja was implemented in 1089 schools for the age group 11-19, impacting 1,80,000 young girls. It was conceived for the overall development of adolescent girls addressing problems and issues like- health, nutrition, security, lack of confidence, gender bias, taboos and social stigma attached with menstruation, apathy of parents towards female literacy and growth. The aim was to bring about gender equality, women empowerment, personality development, health and nutritional awareness leading to energised generation.
In this context it has to be highlighted that there are several programs for the above concerns but since various departments implementing them work in silos the challenge was to dovetail relevant programs under Urja. Thus, Urja was implemented through convergence of Education, Health, Rural Development, Water and Sanitation and Women and Child Development Department.
Mass mobilization through awareness camps was done, counselling of parents and sensitising school teachers towards gender concerns was undertaken. For personality development various immersion programs were undertaken to de-mystify the public and private service delivery machinery. This was supplanted by debates, essays, drawing and celebrations on the issue was done to provide girls to express their concerns.
Menstrual Hygiene Management was introduced in a layered manner to steer it clear of the social stigma and various taboos attached to it. Screening for cervical cancer was undertaken to raise concerns about reproductive health. Screening for detecting anaemia among girls made them aware about consequences of the same. They were made to do a week of internship with the Anganwadi (Women and Child Development Centres which houses many malnourished children too), which could make them relate to the importance of their reproductive health and consequences of ignoring their health now. This was in the spirit of Seeing is Believing.
Another significant feature of Urja was to also survey the number of school drop outs among girls, and to tie them up with vocational training centres. 3000 such school drop outs were trained, which filled them with a spirit of independence and empowered them in the process.
Taking a cue from Project Urja, UNICEF decided to follow it up with several other districts in the state.
Even today when the girls under Urja ring me up on the phone, a sort of Urja runs through me!
Image source: pxhere
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