“The pandemic affected not only my family but also other community members. We were in a very poor economic state and we barely had an income. We were struggling”, said Sarita, an 18-year-old from Karnataka State, India.
Sarita is one of many people in India that struggled before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The young woman’s parents were daily wage labourers and were directly affected by lockdowns in June 2021.
The financial condition of the family deteriorated as there was not enough work thus reducing their family income and putting them in a vulnerable state. This also placed Sarita at risk of being exploited in the Devadasi system, a practice that puts young girls to prostitution.
However, Sarita is not as vulnerable as she may seem. Over the past two years, she had been an active group member of the Mother Teresa Kishori group, a youth group of 35 members. These youth groups were initiated by Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ GOOD programme and it is where child rights and services are taught and shared.
The GOOD project’s training in advocacy, social awareness and social responsibility has driven Sarita to take this initiative forward and help her community members, gaining respect for the Devadasi community as a whole.
When additional lockdowns were announced and many people were struggling to earn their livelihood, Sarita learned about the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme which provides 100 days of employment to people from rural areas. This awareness took place in a Kishori Club session conducted by the Children GOOD project.
After two days, she visited the local government office with a list of 150 people, along with a request letter addressed to the lead official. The lead official was impressed by her dedication. After the procedure, the unemployed villagers (including Sarita’s parents) started working from the very next day and received about 283 rupees (3.40 euros) per day for the next 100 days. Sarita displayed immense courage, kindness, and dedication to take up the issue of unemployment. She fought for the community people and was appreciated by the villagers, community leaders, Panchayat Development Officer, and others.
“I am very happy that my personal life and my youth group improved. I was not able to speak to my teachers in school and college before joining the group, but I am now the leader. I am ready to work harder to help my people”, Sarita added.
Along with local organisations such as the AMMA Foundation, Terre des Hommes Netherlands is aiming to give voices to marginalised communities such as Sarita’s. Girls and young women are often not given an opportunity to speak on important issues that concern them. By encouraging them to form youth and self-help groups that also include boys, dialogue, understanding, and empowerment of children is possible in places where it is needed.
“As the GOOD project staff has taught me, I want to continue my education, learn more and help the community. I would like to teach and support the community in getting what is rightfully theirs from the government”, Sarita ended.