THE EARTH TIMES
DECEMBER 25, 1995
Five regional efforts focus on unique resources and traditions
By Ashali Varma
The statistics are daunting. Some 1.3 billion people, about a quarter of the world’s population, live in seven countries of South Asia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal,
Maldives, Sri Lanka and Iran and about 75 percent of this population is in rural areas. Illiteracy, poverty, poor infrastructure compound the problem and women have to travel
long distances to get good health care. Any successful program for women’s health, family planning services and education therefore has to depend on outreach programs that are community based.
Indira Kapoor, regional director of International Planned Parenthood Federation for South Asia said that the strength of IPPF is its strong volunteer base who work in the villages with local FPA staff.
“In 1994, we had 156,090 volunteers in the South Asia region,” Kapoor said. She did a
study to value their contribution and at $500 per annum, which would be the salary of a teacher in a village school, it came to $78 million.
“This is the contribution of the people in South Asia,” said Kapoor, “and it is never recognized.” The volunteers come from all walks of life, teachers, housewives, private practitioners and even small time village entrepreneurs give free time to the effort.
Describing a project started under the direction of Vision 2000 in three districts in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, Kapoor said, “It is a unique program because the people in the communities are themselves contributing to it along with the FPA staff.” The program is supported by the government and has measurable objectives. “By 1999 we will reduce birth rates in each district by 5 percent and increase the contraceptive prevalence rate by 15 percent,” said Kapoor.
She said that the family planning effort is also looking at improving the quality of life for the rural women. They have had orientation meetings for rural women where the importance of their empowerment is stressed. They also have regular decision-making
training sessions for women along with adult education. In some villages the results have been spectacular. “Women have responded to the challenge and are now heading the village council, which has always been male dominated,” said Kapoor.
The local family planning associations have also started nursery schools for toddlers so that the older children who used to look after the babies can now attend school while their mothers work.
“This project has been so successful in the nine months since it was started that we now have 400 women’s clubs, 506 youth clubs, 77 village betterment committees and farmers clubs, with over 12,000 people involved,” said Kapoor.
Creating agents of change within the village and community, is the most important aspect of the outreach effort because this is something that will be sustained by the local people themselves, even after the project is handed over to the government or to local communities.