On Work Wednesdays we bring you news about our programmes and stories about our people working in the community. For today’s daily dose of Saath this is the story of Devuben Parmar. Devuben is the co-ordinator of the Urban Resource Center in Vasna.
Devuben was born in a traditional family and brought up in a small village called Sapar, near Rajkot. At the age of 21 in 1985 she got married to her husband.
Life after marriage was a bit difficult because in Sapar they faced lot of draught and therefore the farming land was not doing well. Very shortly the business went under because his customers where not paying for the jobs he was doing and was left with a debt.
In 1990 Devuben and her husband decided to move to Ahmedabad in order to clear the debt and for a better life so decided to move to Pravinnager Guptanar, a slum area in Vasna.
Devuben’s first job was making khakras (a Gujarati snack). She stayed in this job for 2 to 3 year. Her monthly salary was low and to make ends meet she even sold her gold to pay off the original debt. Even then they were left with debt because of the interest, which incurred. She took up extra work in order to clear the debt, and joined a sewing class. To pay the fees she did small jobs around the school. As soon as she learnt to sew, she started to receive small jobs from the colony that helped her cover the cost of her household expenses.
She came in contact with Saath when she was pregnant with her first child. Saath was providing nutritional goods for the expectant mother to help nourish the unborn child.
In 1992 Devuben joined Saath as a teacher on the Balghars Programme. This is a programme, which offers young children up to the age of six in the slum areas basic education, health, and nutritional services. When Devuben joined the programme, she lacked enormous confidence; frightened of people around her because she did not feel as if she fitted in well and thought that she cannot speak on their level. However, her desire was to be able to offer a better future for her family one day. Devuben, her husband and her six-month-old daughter lived in rented accommodation in Vasna.
In the beginning it was very difficult to convince the local residents, however she managed to recruit 32 children in the class. Here she worked for almost four years, from which she received good feedback from the local community and people from the area started to see the benefit the education system was having on the young children. The children started receiving educational support and from this, they learnt discipline, cleanliness, numeric, and alphabets.
Rajendra Joshi, founder of Saath saw the impact that Devuben was making on the local community and suggested she got herself involved in the slum Networking Project for Guptanagar where she would gather local the community and talk to them about the upcoming facility they can have i.e. access to clean water, drainage facility, legal electricity etc. In this role, Devuben received a lot of verbal abuse from the local residents where they started to talk about her, and call her all sorts of names, this then resulted in arguments between her and her husband. These arguments went on for a while until he realized what a good job she did for the community.
After all the hard work of daily pursuing the community, Devuben managed to get some people on board and small payments was taken which was in the Seva Trust. Several months went by and no work had been started so people started to put pressure of Devuben and once again rumours started, this time, they were saying that she has taken our money and no work will be done in this area. The information was relayed back to Rajendra Joshi who then put pressure on AMC for the work to start. Soon after, the preparation started and the local community started seeing people from the local government attending the area to measure up and take relevant structural information.
Local women started approaching Devuben for work and useful knowledge, i.e. learn to read and write Guajarati, sewing, computer classes etc. Many women in her area did not leave their homes but having seen what Devuben has achieved, encouraged other women to follow her example. Devuben started a women’s organisation whereby they would come and talk about issues the women are facing. This was being operated with only 13 women from different communities and religion and now they have around 165 women. There were issues ranging from husbands who were addicted to alcohol and gambling to obtaining ration cards and registering birth etc. They would go back to their colony and talk about the support they are receiving to other woman and that is how the awareness was raised.
Devuben does not feel as if she is working, to her, this is her family and life; it is what she enjoys the most. She finds it rewarding and therefore will go out of her comfort zone to support people around her. Devuben’s vision is to be able to offer many slum areas in Ahmedabad the support she has been able to offer over the last 18-years. Increase people’s awareness and responsibility on handling money. She would like to obtain information about the ownership of Guptannagar’s land so residents can purchase where their homes are currently standing. This would help the residents in Vasna to upgrade their homes and have a better long-term future for their families.
Nutan Patel wrote up this story.