An IndiaUnheard Correspondent in rural Gujarat successfully led a successful online campaign to secure immediate treatment for 40 victims of fluorosis in her district and solved crippling water and health issues that afflicted her district.Video Volunteers' Impact Manager Tania Devaiah writes about her impressions on how she worked with Community Correspondent Neeru Rathod to help bring about the impact. She writes about activism in the age of information, the process of change, simple pointers to keep in mind and the frustration and finally the elation of bringing about social change....
"When I joined VV officially as Impacts Manager in Aug, I was unsure about the designation. It sounded a bit presumptuous. What if, when push came to shove, I was a wuss? It scared me just a little bit.
It’s like they say, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it!
At the get go, one of issues I started working on was a report made by Neeru Rathod on the condition of villagers from Kashipura who were suffering for years from Fluorosis. Thus began a journey of research, iteration and numerous persuasive and sometimes confrontational phone calls.
From the PHC Doctor to the CEO of WASMO, we approached them all to address the various issues involved. Neeru diligently followed every plan / strategy we made, hounded the officials till we got a positive response from them. I spent hours on the phone first convincing some officials that we want to work with them to solve the problem, trying to understand their constraints, and then reminding others that they had a job to do.
Neeru and I forged a formidable alliance which, try as they may, the authorities involved could not sidestep. If they refused to cooperate with her on the ground, I would be there hounding them on the phone till they did. And if they wouldn’t respond to me, she would land up at their doorstep. I dare say it gave both of us quite the adrenaline kick!
Ultimately, we met people who ranged from apathetic to highly proactive and responsible. Neeru taught me about perseverance and courage. It’s not easy for a young Dalit girl from a little village in rural Gujarat to go head to head with chauvinistic local authorities who tell her that people have suffered in silence for years before her and that’s how it will remain. It was not easy for her to travel alone by local bus to Gandhinagar 5 hrs away to meet Mr. Pandya, the extremely supportive CEO of WASMO , Guj. She did this and more.
She involved the people of the village in every decision we took and facilitated independent water quality testing through the Panchayat which made our case iron clad. This was something we pushed for because true empowerment comes from communities taking ownership of their problems. The people of Kashipura were amazing to work with. They gave Neeru, a 23yr old woman, their 100%, unwavering support.
My job was to be there for her every step of the way. So I made use of the confidence afforded to me by my access to information through the Internet and other sources meant for literate people as my tools to backup the real activist who was facing the fire on the ground. A few solid facts spoken in a confident, female voice that can go from the vernacular to articulate English will make any officer sit up and take notice. Boy, were they surprised that Neeru and I actually knew what we were talking about!
After a two month struggle, with the help of a new alliance with Change.org and support from the District Health Officer and the WASMO CEO, we achieved our aim in providing better healthcare and increased access to safe drinking water for Kashipura. The entire process was enlightening for the both us. Neeru learnt that we CAN find solutions and that confrontation is not the only way. I learnt that, if you are smart about it, we really can make positive change happen.
The hurdles are everywhere. Red tape, corruption, Caste, class, sex, gender, education, tradition. It is in our power to understand stereotypes and use them to achieve our goals instead of allowing them to define/ limit us. Neeru is an example of that. I hope I can be too. That’s what I define as impact.
It’s safe to say that anything is possible if you believe in yourself and the strength of the community."
A few simple pointers to keep in mind while working on impact:-
Get your facts right and keep the issue simple. Do not address multiple issues at the same time.
Involve the affected population in your efforts at all times.
Do some research on which official has the authority to address the issue at hand and get a better understanding of what they can/ cannot do. all this information is freely available through government
Talk to the responsible official civilly. The first attempt should be cooperative as far as possible. Give them a chance to do their job with your help.
Let them know the facts you have collected and give them options of how they could help. this will help them see that not only do you know the issue , you also know what their responsibilities and powers are.
Confront when you know that the person is stonewalling you. Tell them its ok if they cant handle the issue, you will take it to their superior who can. That should get them back on track.
Don't give up. There are always multiple ways to address an issue.