Although Calcutta Kids has a very close relationship with the women and children of Fakir Bagan, our efforts in community mobilization have been limited. Community meetings are held for pregnant women and mothers of young children, but these meetings are largely lecture style with information being given by our health workers. Our goal in organizing a women’s support group was to create a completely different type of forum, where women would come together as friends to support each other and discuss issues that are relevant to them in their daily lives. They would lead the direction of the group and decide what activities they would like to carry out for themselves and within the community. When we started our first women’s support group in mid-November, we had no idea what to expect as we sat on the mat and waited for the women to appear. One by one they came- Rekha, Santi, Sakuntala, Fulo, Rakhi, Priyanka, Sova, and Urmila, their young children in tow. As they sat on the mat, we offered tea and biscuits and asked mothers to introduce themselves to each other. Sumana, the program coordinator, explained about support groups and asked them to think about whether they were interested in forming such a group.
The women were hesitant at first, but with some encouragement from Sumana, they began chatting with each other about themselves and where they had come from. The discussion then turned to their opinions about Fakir Bagan. A few positives were mentioned: “We like being close to a school and close to shops.” One woman mentioned that she enjoyed celebrations like Durga Puja in Fakir Bagan. The majority of discussion centered on negative views: “We don’t like the water here. We don’t like the filth. Every time it rains it floods and water comes into our homes. It makes life very difficult. When this happens, the children get sick- diarrhea and vomiting. The toilets are disgusting and no one cleans after they use. It makes us feel sick to use the toilet.” Most of their concerns related to health, hygiene, and sanitation, but they all perceived a lack of community feeling in Fakir Bagan: “People only think about themselves. In our area people don’t help each other out.”
At the end of our meeting, the women told us that they enjoyed getting together and learning from each other, but most importantly they liked the idea of becoming a support group and becoming friends. Our senior health workers were very excited by this ‘different kind of meeting’, where women were able to speak and get to know each other instead of only sharing information with the health workers. As women were able to express their feelings, health workers were able to learn how they feel. At Calcutta Kids, these meetings are the first step in our community mobilization effort, and we hope that the group will encourage community-based initiatives that will help improve the quality of life in Fakir Bagan. – Danya Sarkar