LENT SERIES | STORIES FROM CHETNA

By Sarah K. 

*The Easter Story is full of people running to talk about news of the impossible - news that changed the world. Kusum and Kiran's assertion that what you know isn't worth knowing until you share it with others reminds me of the Easter drive. May it inspire you to tell others what you know!

This is the last in our Lenten series with Chetna. If you havent' already, consider donating to Chetna's work* here.

Kiran oversees students as they recite pieces of the lesson from the day before. - Photo by Sarah K.

Kiran oversees students as they recite pieces of the lesson from the day before. - Photo by Sarah K.

Given the responsibility for her village’s anganwadi center meant that Kiran was supposed to be responsible for disseminating information to her village’s expectant mothers and teaching a four-hour preschool for all the three-to-six year old children. She was given the title, but without any accompanying training or resources. Since Kiran was unequipped to fulfill her role, her village was left without resources to support their youngest members.

The state of Bihar is enormous, with a population of 119 million people. The vast majority of its residents live in villages like Kiran’s - they lack basic sanitation or education facilities. Most people are subsistence farmers or day laborers and many families have sent at least one man outside the state in hopes of better work. Hoping to develop these areas, the government has provided for a five-person committee to be appointed in each village. The committee is supposed to include an anganwadi teacher as well as an asha – a basic village nurse who would be available to oversee serious patients, administer basic medicines, and give expectant mothers routine check-ups.

Quiet yet determined, Kusum oversees the healthcare for two -thousand people. - Photo by Sarah K.

Quiet yet determined, Kusum oversees the healthcare for two -thousand people. - Photo by Sarah K.

Kusum was the asha appointed in Kiran’s village. She had taken the job in hopes she could help her village, but like Kiran, she was given no training and thus was left with no idea as to how to fulfill her role. Faced with a nearly three-hour drive to the nearest hospital, most villagers had their babies at home and sick relatives weren’t taken to the doctor until they were extremely sick. For many, it would be too late.

Chetna has been working in villages in Kusum and Kiran’s area for decades. Their longevity and good reputation has earned the trust of local government leaders, who’ve begun partnering with Chetna to get local village committees running well. Chetna finds women like Kusum and Kiran – who just need some training in order to fulfill their desire to help their communities – and equips them to help their villages. Once they know how to access the resources the government is willing to provide and have the basic training they need, Chetna staff can move to another village while the committee continues to serve its village.

Kusum barely speaks two words together when asked about herself, but comes alive when advocating for a patient. She’s learned how to identify the most common diseases in their area - like tuberculosis – and takes people to the hospital herself. She’s known as the best asha around and has even taken on responsibility for a nearby village that didn’t have someone to do the job. She oversees the health care for two thousand people.

Kiran stands next to a chart that shows, among other things,the list of food that will be served to the children each day. The nutritious lunch is the largest meal many of the children receive during the day. - Photo by Sarah K.

Kiran stands next to a chart that shows, among other things,the list of food that will be served to the children each day. The nutritious lunch is the largest meal many of the children receive during the day. - Photo by Sarah K.

With training and some encouragement, Kiran took over the anganwadi center and found she loves teaching. “I love the kids like my own kids,” she says proudly watching one of the boys recite an English children’s rhyme. Now all the kids in her village attend the anganwadi and together Kusum and Kiran are increasing vaccination rates against diseases that have been killing children in their village for generations.

Kiran also loves teaching in the community, spending several hours after the preschool time to visit expectant mothers to answer questions or show new moms how to breastfeed or distributing food packets to at-risk families. Her goal is to tell fifty people a day something worth knowing about health and nutrition.

“I’m the only person for one thousand people,” Kiran reflects seriously. “But if I know how to help, then that responsibility isn’t heavy. I haven’t learned something worth learning until I can share it with at least twenty-five people.”



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