Asha Kumari completed her residential training to become a VV-PACS Community Correspondent in July 2013. Prior to this Asha had been a part of various local organizations in her community. Married off at the tender age of 13, she is a mother of 5 children. Her life epitomizes the tenacity of most Indian women. Negotiating her independence in a community where women have been known to be killed if they so much as dare to raise their voice, Asha has emerged as a role model. Her video documenting corruption at the local childcare center resulted in an immediate change in her village. She narrates the events in a phone interview:
“When I first returned home from the training the reactions I got were really funny because nobody knew what I had gone for. They thought some NGO was going to give me a massive camera and a bike to go filming from village to village. They couldn’t imagine that I could achieve anything with my little Flipcam. In fact, even I wasn’t sure I could do much with it.
Even before I went to the training I was facing many issues with the Sevika (in charge) of the anganwadi (Child-care center) in my village, Dharawte that is in Makdoonpur Block of Bihar. She refused to admit my youngest child to the day care center and women from my community used to complain that she did not treat them well.
This anganwadi was set up in 2002 and is located right across my house. I can clearly see what goes on there. The anganwadi is supposed to provide educational and nutritional facilities for children under the age of 5 and to the adolescent girls and pregnant and lactating women in the area. Each anganwadi caters to a maximum of 40 children.
The Sevika would give them just 1-1.5kgs of rice instead of the stipulated 2kgs of rice for lactating mothers; 2.5kgs for pregnant women and 3kgs of rice for malnourished women with children under the Integrated Child Development Services program.
The Sahayika (helper and cook) in the anganwadi also confirmed this to me. They agreed that something had to be done and that we should make a video on this. So, I held two meetings in the village, one during the daytime and another the next night. The aim was to meet as many women in the village as possible and get their support to take this ahead. When we went to the anganwadi to ask the Sevika why the rations weren’t being distributed correctly, she argued with us and said she will not talk to us. She accused me of working with a TV channel for commission.
The helper was supportive but scared to speak out alone. So we both went to the Supervisor at the block level to report the matter. She advised us to take the issue to the Child development Program Officer (CDPO). On 2nd August, I went with a written application to the CDPO and asked her to investigate the issue. She directed the Supervisor to do so on her next visit and to ensure that I was present too.
On 15th August, the Supervisor informed me that she was on her way to the center. I ran over and recorded the surprise visit. The women gathered there told the supervisor firsthand about the problems at the center including the fact the Sevika used a mug to just scoop out the rations instead of weighing them. The supervisor checked all the records and made sure the Sevika weighed all the material before distributing it. At the end of it, the Sevika received a formal warning and she promised not to allow this to happen again.
Since that day, 40 women and 40 children from my village receive the services that they should rightly receive from this center. The Sevika is still upset and is taking it out on me by not enrolling my child in the anganwadi when a vacancy emerges. I feel that there is a need for another center in my part of the village as the present anganwadi can cater to only forty kids and there are more.
Honestly, the hardest part of making this video was getting the footage across to the office. Where I live it costs anywhere between Rupees 300-500 to burn a DVD and the person who helped me tried to edit my video and send it! It was such a mess but somehow with the help of Manish (Program Manager, VV) we managed to salvage the video. There is such a lack of resources in my area so it is hard work to ensure our videos get sent.
It was a difficult and nerve racking process for me. My camera skills still need to improve a lot. My husband is also trying to help me. But I do feel more confident now because I was able to have a meeting with the CDPO and even got a surprise visit done. People in my village look at me a little differently now, mostly with hope.”
Written by: Tania Deviah
About the Partnership: The Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Programme and Video Volunteers have come together to create the Community Correspondents Network. The videos generated by the network will be able to highlight voices from the margins, providing skills to social communicators to provide advocacy tools to community based organisations.