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Marathwadi women show the way how to cope with challenges posed by COVID-19


By Moin Qazi*
The COVID-19 crisis has spurred an entrepreneurial wave across the country. Rural women, particularly the farmers among them, have also latched on to this bandwagon. They are, in fact, better placed to cope with the crisis as their own uncertain lives poses every day challenges and keeps testing their resilience. They carry the greater burden of nature's cruelties and also have matching emotional abilities to come up with amazing responses.
Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) has been one of the front rank nonprofits that has been training rural women in drought prone Marathwada belt of Maharashtra to adopt climate-smart and drought-resistant farm practices. These women are now stewards of a new revolution that is resurrecting traditional farming and reviving traditional knowledge that has sustained these communities over centuries.
Many of these women saw COVID-19 as an opportunity to scale their work and use their insights to prepare their communities for the long battle ahead and steer them through the impending food crisis.
Here are a few stories from villages in Maharashtra where women are serving as beacons in the smog that envelopes the hinterland.

Cultivating nutrition gardens during the #COVID19 pandemic!

Jijabai is an Arogya Sakhi (health friend) from Madki village in Nanded district. With her training on nutrition gardening, she grows her own vegetable and fruits. With her knowledge, she empowered other women to start their own gardens. Today, these kitchen gardens are helping families cope with the hunger crisis.
Arogya Sakhis, members of self-help groups and community leaders in partnership with government front-line workers are helping vulnerable families in rural villages by creating awareness about crucial aspects like prevention, hygiene, social distancing, combating stigma and providing dry food & hygiene essentials.

Families in our village are aware about the seriousness of COVID-19, exclaims Geeta Chavan

Geeta Chavan is working in Mohtarwadi village in Osmanabad district as a Community Resource Person. She works with Gram Panchayat as a leader in her village. She has been creating awareness about pre & post safety measures about COVID-19 pandemic. Through demonstration she has increased awareness in her village.
With the support and contribution from her Mahila Shetkari Gat (Women Agriculture Group) members, she collected grains and vegetables and distributed to the neediest families. The group also collected funds from big farmers from her village and distributed to over 80 families. The members also stitch masks and distribute in their villages.

Leadership is the key to success, says Priya Khot

COVID-19 Lockdown paralyzed the life of the poor and people are finding it very difficult to survive every day. Panchincholi is such a village in Latur District, Maharashtra.
"Why people are not coming to help in time for the poor?" asks Priya Khot, a Community Resource Person of Swayam Shikshan Prayog from the village who gave her PDS allocated food items to three poor families as a sign of solidarity. Motivated by Priya’s action, 14 women from Mahila Shetkari Gat (Women Agriculture Group) came forward and mobilized food for 25 poor families and distributed. She runs a flour mill and provide free service for everyone in the village for making wheat powder on 15th and 16th of every month.
Encouraged by the response from the people, a training on mask making was provided by Bhagyashree Mahila Griha Udyog, an NGO in Nilanga. Back to the community, Priya trained six women for mask making. The group made 600 masks that is being collected by the NGO for distribution. When Panchincholi Gram Panchayat Sarpanch, Mr. Shrikant Salunkhe noticed Priya's commitment and action, he recommended neighbouring Panchayat to use her skills in community mobilization and relief effort.
"I was so shy and hesitant to go out and meet people. The changes happened in me when I started getting involved in SHG meetings and activities and become a Community Resource Person.” Priya is overwhelmed with the response and recognition she got from her community and Panchayat to do more work for the community. She has encouraged CRPs in her neighbouring villages also for working with communities and support to GP.
"I am proud of what I am doing. Panchayat and community has given me respect and I have to give it back to my community", says Priya Khot.

Selfless, in the times of crisis…

Work from Home has hit the widows in Marathwada, the most. They had lost their daily jobs and small businesses faced closure. When people do not have enough, who is to look out for widows and their children?
In neighbouring district of Solapur, twenty widows in Boramani village had no one to look to. They would lose their dignity, if they asked their neighbours.
Seeing their plight, Usha Gurav urged the members of self help group to step in. She said “wasn’t mutual aid the reason why we formed this group?“ She motivated her group to dig into their precious savings and made a plan to support twenty widows and others. In presence of their Panchayat, they procured and distributed fifty grocery kits enough to feed well over 200 people.
Unstoppable, these leaders went on to help the Panchayat to look after migrants who have travelled back bringing back nothing with them. “They are not outsiders, they are after all, our people”… says Usha about people who have returned from cities.
---
*Development expert

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