I always go back by almost a quarter of a century to remember what prompted me to change my career from running a for profit business to something more responsible and gratifying to my inner self. Even today, I feel emotionally connected with the women and children of the urban slums and villages surrounding Delhi, Haryana, and Rajasthan. They have added unique perspectives to my thought process regarding designing programs to address different social issues at the grassroots level.
Policymakers in India initiated several programs that have been undertaken since its independence to bring about positive change in the health of the citizens of India. A considerable amount of money has been spent to provide quality health services to the country’s rural population. However, there is still a large proportion of the rural population deprived of it.
My long association working with peri-urban slums and villages started in 2001 when Sukarya began directly implementing its health care program in the cluster of villages in Taoru and Nuh blocks with a total population of more than 50,000. One of the essential learnings of our first-hand experience working on health and reproductive rights issues in communities in Rajasthan and Haryana was the criticality of viewing efforts at improving women’s health as closely entwined with more significant social and economic issues that women in traditionally male-dominated societies face.
As we all know, poverty and health are connected. The accessibility of health, among other social resources, is conditioned by several other economic, social, and cultural determinants. Women in rural areas have little control over their lives. They have little power to take part in decision-making in family matters. They depend on male family members in almost every sphere of their lives, including their health. In part, women’s lower status in the family and lack of decision-making power can be ascribed to the almost complete economic and social dependency on men.
As a grassroots-level NGO, we always collaborate with government agencies, village heads, community leaders, and Anganwadi and Asha workers, but depend on support from individual donors, foundations, and corporations. We always undertake projects for at least three years to make them impact-oriented. Given an opportunity with the consistent backing from businesses and corporations as part of their CSR, Sukarya has expanded its outreach to more significant marginalized populations with its programs and services on Maternal Child Health & Nutrition, Gender Equality, and Economic Empowerment of Rural Women through women’s self-help groups.
The projects that we are currently running are as follows:
- We continue with our mission to fight against the prevalence of anemia and malnutrition for mothers, children, and adolescent girls.
- The Gender Equality Program is an intervention for adolescent girls, giving them their voice. The program educates them with basic digital skills, enhancing their abilities and employability. In addition, it enables them to understand gender discrimination, social stigma, and issues and challenges, including early child marriages, early motherhood, and physical abuse.
- The Education on Wheels program brings school to slum children, providing them with non-formal education and preparing them for formal schooling through the National Open School System of the Government of India.
- The Economic Empowerment of Rural Women through women’s self-help groups building entrepreneurship.
I remain personally involved in all the on-the-ground activities. My interaction with thousands of women has been exhilarating. It gives me immense satisfaction to know that we can fight for mothers and children to keep them safe. It is gratifying to see the slum children, who have been given primary education, be mainstreamed. It is enthralling to see adolescent girls being able to have a voice of their own.
Charity always focuses on eliminating the suffering caused by social problems. Most social problems and issues are global and are present in many countries and communities. But giving is not just about donating; it is about making a difference. So, each of us can make a difference where there is a need worldwide.
Meera was born and brought up in the state of Odisha in India but spent most of her family life in North India and Delhi. Around 1992 she started her own business before getting into the advertisement business a few years later. However, it was in 1998 that she established “Sukarya,” a women-focused and women-centric NGO when she was at the peak of her career after witnessing the challenges being faced by mothers and children living in the slums around Delhi, Haryana, and Rajasthan with a mission to provide them with quality primary health care services. Because of her vision, passion, and strong commitment, Sukarya has reached around 6 million people living in more than 620 villages and 120 slums over 23 years. This noble journey continues under her leadership.