Sabita, Juni and Rajni, of Munda village, Bissamcuttak, felt concerned when they attended one of the PLA-LANN meeting where Komala’s story* was narrated. Something within them resonated with Komala’s story and the idea that nutrition garden can help them retain their health and avoid expenses of buying vegetables deeply touched them. Grown up together with other girls in the village, all the three girls shared their worries with rest of the nine friends. Together they thought they can do something. Since many people in the community had the (Block Co-ordinator) BC’s contact number, Rajni contacted him and enquired about how they could prepare nutrition beds. Having understood the details, the task of finding a piece of land was the next step. But who would give their land to a group of young adolescent girls?
One of their friends Nirmata had attended the meeting with her mother, who together with Niramata’s father planned on converting some of their land into a nutrition garden. This opened up possibilities for the girls and they all reached Nirmata’s home to convince her parents to give them a chance to grow their collective nutrition garden. Since the parents were convinced with the idea of nutrition garden, it did not take long for the girls to persuade them. Once the land for cultivation was decided, they thought they might not be able to do this on own their own. They had always helped their parents in the farm but never done it alone with all the onus of something new as the nutrition garden on them. The 17 of them went door to door requesting and seeking help from the men folk of the village to help them accomplish their task but some refused, some promised to help but never turned up and some said they were too busy to help! Being refused by most of them in the village, Sabita somehow managed to convince her elder brother to help her plough the field. Even though the men did not help, mothers of these girls understood their plight and desire behind the initiative and joined hands to prepare 90 beds!** When asked why they made 90 beds, their answer was simple, “We made as many as the land could have!” Rajni then called the BC within a week for the seeds and he was more than happy to help.
Juni, Rajni and Sabita proudly counted the number of vegetables they will be getting very soon. The 90 beds now contain plants of around ten vegetables, raddish, pumpkin, green leafy vegetables, fenugreek, brinjal, cumin seeds, bottle guard, onion, carrot and beans. It is only after sowing all their seeds they realized that there were too many beds and so they created mulch on those beds to avoid loss of moisture.
“The 17 of them went door to door requesting and seeking help from the men folk of the village to help them accomplish their task but some refused, some promised to help but never turned up and some said they were too busy to help!”
“Even though the men did not help, mothers of these girls understood their plight and desire behind the initiative and joined hands to prepare 90 beds!”
One always expects little girls to be shy and altruistic but these girls from Munda village were confident and had their own plans. On asking them what they would do with all the vegetables that will be available in about half a month, Rajni says that she would distribute the vegetables to the pregnant women in the village. Among the 67 households in the village there is only one pregnant mother and may be a few lactating mothers so one would assume that they plan to distribute all the produce among the villagers. But the girls have a different plan. Sabita, Juni and Rajni laugh at this and she reveals their plan, “We don’t feel like giving the vegetables to people who did not bother to help us. We would eat our produce in our homes, make sure all the young mothers and pregnant women get fresh vegetables to eat and sell the rest in the village or in the neighbouring villages”. Now that they achieved something they desired, much to everyone’s surprise and very little support and encouragement, they wanted to use their effort for themselves.They plan to send their brothers to sell vegetables in neighbouring villages and create a group fund. When asked if they can trust their brothers to give them the money from the sale, Rajni says that they are confident that brothers will give them their money back. This group fund explains Sabita would help them buy sanitary pads whenever any of them needs it and if they end up earning more they plan to plant more fruit trees they like, like Papaya and lemon!
A group of 17 adolescent girls take the village by surprise by pulling of 90 nutrition beds all alone and have together devised a plan to help themselves in the future. It shows their remarkable sense of alertness towards what goes on in the village and their willingness to engage with what is being offered to them through those meetings unlike passive listeners. They use their agency to start something that only few actively encouraged them to do which teaches us that it might not be necessary to be in a position of authority to take control of one’s own well being as there are ways in which these 17 girls negotiate and carve out spaces and use opportunities to do something they wish to. This wish can turn out to be as simple and as radical as ‘I want to eat healthy and stay healthy’.
This story is inspiring because it shows the potential of the adolescent girls group to rise from mere passive dependents to active participants and change makers. Their sheer courage to take up something that no one encouraged them to do by working hard after long hours of school brings out an innovative approach that the programme can incorporate by focusing on making more adolescent girls groups as they emerge as unexpected change initiators and powerful actors within the community.