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This is the story of how a mother-in-law brought about a behavioral change regarding health practices among her family members in Sarawan village in Tarabganj block of Gonda district in UP. The state fares poorly in terms of maternal and child health indicators, child feeding practices and nutritional status if children. The rate of exclusive breastfeeding for children under six months of age is only 43 percent. Rampati, a 55-year-old woman member of an SHG in Sarawan recalls the pain of losing a grandchild due to carelessness and ignorance about the threat and susceptibility of a child to infection from water-borne diseases resulting from giving water or other liquids instead of exclusively breastfeeding the new-born. She has now become the decision maker concerning the weaning practices followed by her daughter-in-law for the good health of her new-born child.

Through the SHG meetings and facilitated discussion on maternal and neonatal health care practices, Rampati garnered knowledge about the correct practices of breastfeeding – correct positioning of the nipple and the baby’s mouth, early initiation of breastfeeding, Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) and exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the child. When her daughter-in-law delivered her baby, this time Rampati pursued for early initiation of breastfeeding at the CHC and made it definitive to not feed any liquids or water to the child apart from mother’s breast milk till six months of age. The baby is now over six months old and is healthy weighing about 5 kgs.

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Tarabganj,Gonda

Divya is a member of the Durga Young Women’s Self-Help Group in Mohammedabad, Sultanpur district. Through her YWSHG, she has learned that health and hygiene are the foremost ways of fighting gender discrimination. A few years ago, there was no awareness regarding menstrual health and hygiene in her village, and used sanitary pads or clothes would be thrown away just about anywhere.

“But through our Young Women’s Self-Help Groups, we learned proper menstrual waste management,” Divya says. “Now we know the significance of a healthy diet and nutrition in our daily lives, and we throw used sanitary clothes inside a pot.” Once the pot is full, the waste is doused with oil and set alight. The holes in the pot prevent cracks while letting in air. Women and girls are therefore no longer compelled to hide used sanitary pads or clothes or sneak out under cover of darkness to dispose of them. Menstruation is no longer a taboo and girls do not hesitate to discuss how it is a normal bodily process and that there is nothing to hide.

“A healthy and happy period is everyone’s right and all taboos related to menstruation should be eradicated from society,” says Divya.

Divya, Amethi

Kiran is a member of the Lakshi Young Women’s Self-Help Group in Bhola ka purwa, Raebareli district. She is all of 18 years old but displays tremendous leadership qualities and passion for taking charge of her own life and future. Until a few years ago, Kiran thought that being married off at an early age was inevitable and that she would depend on her husband for the rest of her life.

Kiran joined the YWSHG in 2016 and realized that she can use her skill to stand on her own two feet. Through her YWSHG, she learned about the Usha Silai School initiative and immediately decided to enroll. Gradually, she accepted the challenging responsibility of opening her own Silai School in January 2018, displaying her inbuilt entrepreneurial qualities. She invested in two sewing machines and enrolled 15 young girls and a few women from her own village as students, charging Rs. 100 per month as fees.

She was driven to open her own school by the desire to innovate as well as to challenge gender norms, breaking barriers and carving a path for several other young girls and women. The school is an affordable and accessible alternative within the village itself and therefore has swiftly garnered the interest of girls and women around her. Kiran has become a role model for her friends and girls in her village. She plans to expand the initiative and hopes to enroll more girls, encouraging and empowering them to be the drivers of their own futures, just as she has been.

Kiran, Rae Bareli