Shy and quiet, Tara joined the Self Help Group (SHG) mobilized by PRADAN nearly a decade back on the advice of her sister-in-law. She was newly married and a stranger in the village of Atarwa. The SHG provided her a platform to express herself and to know other women like her. Being the only literate member in the group, she taught her fellow women to sign their names and also introduced them to letters and numbers.
“It was my mission to ensure that all are able to sign and not give thumb impressions anymore. They should do basic calculations and count their savings on their own”, she says.
One day, SHG member, Santa chirped, “You should also teach our children in Anganwadi (pre-primary school) what you teach us”
However, the Anganwadi centre was always closed with no regular staff. Tara applied for the post of Anganwadi worker and started working with children below the age of 5 years. The existing space, near an open well, was not conducive for the centre. So, she negotiated with the school and got a makeshift arrangement there, thus marking the start of her journey as a change maker in the lives of children in her village.
Tara was thrown into an abyss in November 2014 when her husband died untimely. She was left alone with 4 daughters; the youngest was just a year old. She was shattered and her spirit broke. How could she raise them without their father? For weeks, she hid from the world unable to comprehend the change in her life.
The women of her SHG stood firm with her. This solidarity could withstand any tragedy.“For more than a month I could not even think of stepping out of the house. My daughters would ask for their father. The support I received from the women of my SHG at that point in time, was of immense meaning to me. It gave me confidence. I realised that if I withdraw, the children will suffer. I opened the Anganwadi centre once again.”
But, this time, there was a backlash. The fact that a young widow was going out of the house to work was akin to breaking all social mores of the area. The sisterhood of the group and an empathetic father-in-law helped her weather this storm.
Tara took up the Anganwadi work with renewed zest and her young daughters accompanied her to the centre as well. Every child’s birthday was celebrated, competitions were organised and children were given little rewards to cherish. The routine health check-ups and preventive measures were all done regularly.
In schools in the area, 3rd or 4th standard student failed to recognise alphabets or numbers adequately. In fact, identifying colours or shapes was also equally difficult for them. Tara decided to teach these skills in her Anganwadi with rigour, to equip them with knowledge necessary to navigate school with ease.“Anganwadi can help the children learn alphabets and other basic aspects of education much faster and effectively. I honour the statement ‘Anganwadi shala-poorva shiksha ke neev hai’ (Anganwadi is the pre-school foundation of education)”, says Tara proudly.
Many parents were simply indifferent to sending their children to Anganwadis. Tara, initially, had to go from door to door bringing children to the centre. Today, about 25 children visit the centre regularly. In many cases, their parents drop them there.
The momentum that Tara had built also spread to other villages. SHG members started engaging with officials to get their Anganwadis operational on a regular basis.
Seeing the effectiveness of her centre, Anganwadi instructors visit her to identify ways to improve learning outcomes and create a more conducive environment for all round physical and mental development of children.