POSTED September 26, 2022
Sharing the joy of seeing communities lead their own transformation
I was awestruck by the transformation I saw on a recent visit to a remote Children Believe program community in Andhra Pradesh state.
I saw well-dressed children attending beautiful schools, buildings with sanitation facilities, a water tank where everyone was fetching water without fear of discrimination — the list goes on.
Then, I met women and men who discussed their lives with confidence and respect for each other, regardless of gender or caste (class). They challenged existing harmful practices and made their village child marriage-free.
What challenges did these communities face before Children Believe started helping?
The villages in our program within Andhra Pradesh run through three state borders and were cut off from social protection and government entitlements for years. When we started working in the communities in 2015, the families predominantly lived in mud and straw homes called kutcha houses. They couldn’t easily access water, sanitation or electricity and the roads were in disrepair.
Children walked or biked 3 to 20 km to school, so many dropped out. Meanwhile, child labour and child marriages prevented children, mostly girls, from getting an education. And, 10 villages didn’t have early childhood care and education centres.
Poor health facilities meant many mothers gave birth to stillborn or sick babies while they risked their own lives. The traditional beliefs and practices followed by antenatal and postnatal mothers yielded neonatal deaths within a month. The malnourishment of children under five was estimated at 33 percent, according to the National Family Health Survey in India.
The Dalit (a low caste or class) and tribal communities were trapped in patriarchy and social hierarchy. Women and girls faced domestic violence, were underpaid and discriminated against. They were blind to their rights.
Women who had to walk 3 km to fetch water from a dominant caste member’s property faced humiliation and exploitation as social hierarchy led to aggression and exclusion from accessing water, sanitation and adequate shelter. The social hierarchy also excluded them from participating in developing their community.
How a paradigm shift completely changed the outlook
With the technical support of Children Believe, ROPES, our implementing partner, strategically supported positive change in 32 villages.
The narratives of change inspired me. Women with euphoric and confident expressions voiced joy for their newfound power in decision-making within their families and villages. Below are just a few of those voices…
- Balapuram Manju, 32: “Our community no longer has child marriages, and our kids attend school. When I learned a child was being sexually assaulted, I went to the school to address the situation. This brought the problem to light, and the teacher was fired. Instead of being powerless, I now know how to take action. I want our kids to be safe and follow their goals.”
- Eruvaram Prema, 24: “There is no maternal and infant mortality in our village and (newborn) deliveries happen at the hospital.”
- Mogilivollu Devaki, 47: “I was a victim of child marriage and of the opinion that I had to ensure my girls should marry when they reached The awareness opened my eyes…. Now my children are well educated.”
I marveled at the metamorphosis of these women and their journey to facilitate change intentionally.
I talked to Naraginti Ethirajulu, 39, who revealed the difficult journey for women in his village. “We could not accept women coming out and tried our best to [stop] them in the beginning,” he admits. “As time passed, and we witnessed they have the power and ability to change things, we began to appreciate their participation and support them.”
It was an absolute transformation, making it possible for the next generation to thrive.
Communities see triumphant change in realizing basic needs, education and healthcare
There have been many community achievements in our eight-year journey, thanks to our partner ROPES and committed children, youth and families.
- Support through the government made it possible to: transform 950+ huts into brick-and-mortar houses; lay cement roads in 24 villages; build eight small dams and 10 water tanks with 89 street taps; erect 17 early childhood care and education centres, install 1,250+ toilets in homes and fix 3,300+ street lights.
- Approximately 8,000 women were connected with nearly 400 self-help Through these groups, they learned about financial literacy and had access to credit to start businesses — such as selling milk, tailoring and goat rearing. Now they’re contributing to their household income, earning about half of the average monthly cost of living in rural India.
- More than 5,000 children were encouraged to learn their rights to protection and participation to steward.
- More than 40 community-based organizations with 840 members, including nearly 600 women, began resolving social, gender and development issues together. As a result, five villages became child-marriage free and nearly 190 kids were liberated from child labour.
- Nearly 100 percent of babies are being delivered in healthcare facilities, postnatal care is being given within two days of delivery (up from 64.2 percent to 100 percent), immunizations are being administered (up from 54.2 percent to 100 percent) and the infant mortality rate has declined (from 28 deaths to three).
- The distribution of birth certificates (1,400+), identity cards (2,000+) and ration cards (380+ families) is giving families access to social protection and other government benefits.
Inclusion is making it possible to break barriers to create lasting change
Gender inequality, caste-based discrimination, violence against women and fair access to critical facilities among Dalit and tribal communities are deeply-rooted challenges. So, it’s gratifying to see communities lead their own transformation, accepting women and children.
Change is possible due to individual empowerment as well as clubs and groups whose members advocate for their rights through different social spheres. And, access to social protection and government benefits is improving infrastructure and more.
It takes between 12 to 15 years to prepare, grow, mature and graduate our programs. So, it’s encouraging to see that after eight years these communities in Andhra Pradesh are filled with people already beginning to live freely and fearlessly. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when the community is completely self-sustained in a few years.