From homemaker to changemaker

Jemali is helping to transform health care for women in her community. (Photo: Saraswathi Rao)

Growing up in a traditional family in rural India, Jemali Bai never thought of herself as a changemaker. But her actions are making life better for women and children in her district.

Concerned that the local Anganwadi (health) center for women and children was not meeting her community’s needs, Jemali sprang into action. She began attending meetings of the village council to learn how to improve the center. Then she developed and presented a plan to the center manager. Her persistence paid off and she worked with the center manager to improve services.

It was her local self-help group that first taught Jemali how to be an advocate.

The wife and mother of two had initially joined the group to help her family save for lean times. Although her family grew wheat, corn and beans for their daily food, it was not enough to provide a consistent nutritious diet. But to earn any additional income, her husband had to travel almost 400 miles from their home to work.

As a member of the savings group, Jemali began setting aside $1.60 per month for her familya small amount to be sure, but more than she had ever saved before. And, soon, another exciting opportunity opened.

Jemali’s self-help group was also part of the Rajasthan Nutrition Project in northwest India.  The program was designed to improve nutrition, food security and health among poor families. Grameen Foundation, through the Freedom from Hunger India Trust, partnered with local organizations to train community nutrition advocates to educate self-help groups in nutrition, agriculture, health, and financial management.

The community advisors taught more than 8,000 women how to improve their health practices and access health services. Recognizing that change would come only when the women had a greater say in household decisions, the women were also taught how to advocate for their needs. The training has already benefited more than 30,000 people.

Now Jemali cooks all meals in an iron pot to give her family additional nutrients. She grows and  preserves vegetables to ensure there would always be food in the house. And she reminds others in the self-help group, especially pregnant women and new mothers, to get regular check-ups and eat healthily.

Equally important, she is using her new confidence and skills to advocate for her community, earning the respect of her peers.