Work Wednesdays: Sanjeedaben’s story

For today’s Daily Dose of Saath we share Sanjeedaben’s life-story with you. Sanjeedaben has been working for Saath for 11 years now. She’s an inspiring and empowering woman from the Sankalitnagar community. She has been working with several programmes, but mainly with the Balghars (non formal pre-schools) in Juhapura.

Sanjidaben was born in1962 in Pune into a family of five brothers and three sisters whom are all in Pune. Sanjidaben moved to Ahmedabad in 1980 when she got married into a family whom where living in slum called Sankalitnagar, Juhapura.

In 2001, Sanjidaben lost her husband through a heart-attack, at a very young age she became a widow. She was living with her in-laws extended family, however the shock of her husbands death lead Sanjidaben into a sever depression, where she would not leave her house. She lost all hopes and felt she would be better off dead.

This meant that her daughter was running the household; she had to go to work-study and do all the housework, as Sanjidaben was not in a state to do anything.

After the communal riots in 2002, SAATH had started a project, informing the local residents of Sankalitnagar, Juhapura about access to support and encouragement to live on. When her daughter came across the project, she forced her mum to attend and join them. At first she was very reluctant but eventually when her daughter accompanied her and Sanjidaben saw what the people of SAATH where doing gave her hope. Initially, Sanjidaben had a condition ‘that she will only work from home’, which will allow her to stay in her own comfort zone because she still did not have the confidence to go out and speak to the people in the community. She, herself was inspired by Sukinaben who used to work for SAATH at the time and who also encouraged her to get out in the community.

Each day she saw a brighter light and slowly Sanjidaben started leaving the house, initially it was only in her neighbourhood and then went further as her confidence level increased.

Initially when Sanjidaben joined the Balghars, she did not get a great amount of response from the community. People where afraid of sending their children to school and thought it was a waste of time. Families in Sankalitnagar had never seen a school being run from the area, so it was very hard for people to trust organisations.

Sanjidaben received some basic training on how to speak to community members in order to build their trust. Soon after the training, Sanjidaben went around the houses in Sankalitnagar, explaining to the parents the benefit it would have if they where to send their children to Balghars. Sanjidaben managed to recruit enough children to start two classes, each one with 15 to 20 children in them whom came from families, which Sanjidaben and her family knew of.

Despite the rumours and names being called, Sanjidaben continued recruiting more and more children. She enjoyed what she was doing and the positive impact it was having on the children.

Her day use to begin with teaching the children prayers, followed by songs in which they would use body parts, colours, objects etc to help children recognise and understand the basics before entering 1st standard education.

Sanjidaben started to training to new Balghars teachers who would show an interest; however only to those women, who thinks and see her philosophy, which is the interest of the young children and how they would benefit from the additional education the children would receive.

Sanjidaben started hosting parents meeting where parents would be informed on the progress their child is making. Providing information on nutritional, cleanliness, immunisation and difficulties children are experiencing at home. Sanjidaben has been able to remove barriers between Hindu and Muslims by cross working with two communities and involving both religions in decision making that affect the area where they live.

Once the girls reached 18, they were housebound; fathers did not feel comfortable in letting their daughters leave the house, in case they got up to no good. For this Sanjidaben went from house to house, explaining to parents the benefit it would have if they let their daughter leave the house, make friends, awareness of things around them and so on.

With couple of other women within SAATH, Sanjidaben started a focus group for people to meet and discuss family issues, how to obtain a ration card, election card, and registering birth/death. The facilities in Sankalitnagar got better from what it was before Sanjidaben joined SAATH.

Sanjidaben tells me that her maternal family and her in-law are so proud of her because she has been able to do a lot to help many people around her turn their lives around for better.

During Sanjidaben’s time with SAATH, she has participated in various training around handling young children between the ages of 3 and 5, counselling services to those affected in the riot during 2002, counselling services for physical and mental abused women including field work.

With all these skills, Sanjidaben has built enough confidence that she has been taking two coaches full of people on a day trip around the Gujarat Sate. For this she would use one of her day-leaves. Many people in the community has been able to build confidence because of this trip. Many people have not even been able to go outside Ahmedabad. She has managed to show people different locations around Gujarat and places, which they have only dreamt of.

Sanjidaben managed to arrange the whole wedding for her daughter five years ago, from getting the wedding invitation to venue arrangements and food. She had built enough confidence to be able to handle all the technical issues, which only a husband would do. Over the last year, Sanjidaben has also managed to do things alone, which previously she would not do.

For Sanjidaben, the guidance she has received from SAATH has helped her recover from her depression, build confidence, put her own children through good education, and learn the things, which she may not, had done so if it was not for the organisation. Sanjidaben comes in everyday because the work she does is rewarding and the salary is not important to her.

Sanjidaben is a voice amongst the people in Sankalitnagar, she will encourage the people in the community to live a better lifestyle and bring their children up in a good environment.

Nutan Patel wrote this story up.


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