…this was the most important learning for Deboshree Roy, a third year Bachelor’s student of Lady Shri Ram College in the summer of 2000, when she went for fifteen day exposure visit through Pravah to Shri Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram (SBMA), Garhwal Hills.
Continuing with our series on bringing to you, dear reader, inspiring stories of transformation, of young, ordinary adults, who gambled on walking the thin line from ‘ME’ to ‘WE’, not knowing what the outcome would be like. They walked away in the end, with an experience of a lifetime!
Volunteering for SMILE in-turn-ship brought about a sea change in Deboshree’s world-view too as the ensuing ‘change story’ will reveal. Deboshree was able to through this exposure form a profound understanding of the issues plaguing the people of the region viz. lack of education, an orthodox mentality and the challenges brought about by the mountainous terrain of the region. In her own words, “Empowerment is possible only through awareness and education.”
Learning about the hardships of the community-folk, especially the women, was had a humbling effect on Deboshree’s young, perceptive mind. Working on micro-planning under SBMA’s Watershed Management Program, she got a chance to interact closely with the people there and learn about the nature of the problems they face in everyday life. The concern in her words is hard to miss, “…in these rural villages no labor can be spared and there is no alternative for the women but to walk all day in search of fodder, fuel wood and water.” She concedes, in a despondent tone, how the women have to stick to an extremely arduous schedule. They have to take care of all the cooking, cleaning, feeding children, working in the fields and collection of fodder and fuel by themselves.
A survey among the womenfolk of the village revealed that the building a village hospital was the need of the hour, followed by the establishment of a sewing center for women by means of which they would have an alternative avenue for income generation. That SBMA has been like a harbinger of hope for the villagers was another immense understanding that this SMILE volunteer brought back from the visit.
A pleasant moment for Deboshree was at Didsari village where the ‘Swajal’ implementation phase was nearing completion, which would lead to important changes – availability of drinking water that would save a lot of time and effort for the village women. Construction of toilets was another amenity, she observed, that had greatly ameliorated the living conditions in the village.
The creation of Mahila Mangal Dals (MMD’s) in the region has been, according to the young volunteer, the most important ‘stepping stone’ towards achievement of a bigger purpose as, “The women of Garhwal have long been recognized as the backbone of the community and their empowerment would definitely bring about significant change in the region.”
Grateful for the helpful and accommodating people she met, and friends she made, at SBMA, Deboshree took away a lot of positives from her experience. One hopes these learnings have stayed with her, and that she has been spreading more ‘SMILE’s even as we read her story, more than a decade after her tryst with the womenfolk of the Himalayas.
(Students Mobilization Initiative for Learning through Exposure), is a national program which was started by the Indo Global Social Service Society (IGCSS). Pravah facilitates SMILE journeys for youth across India as a way to engage young people to create their own 5th Space and become learners from life. For more on SMILE, visit www.pravah.org or just check into our Facebook page at http://tinyurl.com/cj9wmkt
Registrations for the Summer SMILE In-turn-ship are ongoing. Come, join us on this passage from ‘Me’ to ‘We’, come, SMILE with us!
 SBMA is a registered non-profit organization working in the Garhwal Himalayas since 1977. It started with a focus on women who are the pivot of the region’s economy, a focus which has now primarily shifted to children, while keeping their original vision intact.