We at TCT firmly believe that volunteerism is a powerful tool to catalyze development in India. Looking back at TCT’s history we can authoritatively state that the backbone of our work has been our volunteers.
Our model is simple: When you enter the community with any “service”, ensure that it is a priority for the community, not your priority. Ensure that the community provides you with a volunteer who can do grassroots work with you. As it has been proved time and again, it is through a woman that you can reach an entire family and for any change to be sustainable, the community has to be involved and this is possible only through women. We started with this as our philosophy and our experience has more than reinforced our belief in the power of women.
TCT has established a convention of utilizing village women volunteers to serve the community effectively.
They are trained after the community selects them. They start with an assigned activity to meet a program purpose and as they get involved with the people, they become agents of change.
Many of them continue as volunteers doing different kinds of development work, while a few continue with their initial activity. Their enrichment and empowerment and their contributions are visible. They were proud to be part of the change. They became opinion leaders. They formed local action committees, gathered the women and youth for education, engaged them in discussion on a variety of issues – roads, street lights, cleaning of wells, immunization for children and mothers.
Over the years, women volunteers have emerged as catalysts. In every community-based program embarked by TCT, these volunteers have played a crucial role in getting it off the ground. TCT-trained women health workers managed 8 local health centers. Health Centers became points to coordinate these volunteers, offer extension service to villages, and serve as treatment centers for minor and chronic ailments.
As we expanded our programmes and reach, we continued to rely on women volunteers. We trained a number of volunteers for health, study centres and veterinary services.
When we started Self Help Groups for women, we trained their group assistants for bookkeeping and local bank transactions. Leaders of Self Help Groups and groups assistants were periodically trained for empowerment for basic literacy in reading and writing and functional literacy for their family activities. The Self Help Groups helped Women to start microbusinesses and some of them became entrepreneurs as well.
It then became a practice to employ local women and train them for all our activities. From health to development of any kind, our organization became one of, for and by women. With women, children also received attention. Women education for health and development was essential and this got in-built into our routine work. As we studied the problems of women and families, alcoholism in men and the plight of disabled persons caught our attention.
When we carried out programmes for rehabilitation of alcoholics, as men received treatment, their wives were also empowered with concrete guidelines to rebuild their lives with the goal to improve the status of their family, irrespective of their spouses’ drinking or nondrinking behaviour. Similarly, when we found mothers trapped inside their homes because of their differently able children, we reached out to them and enabled them to help their children and themselves in their daily routine activities. In our NCD care and prevention programmes, we educate the women caregivers on importance of diet, exercise and monitoring the conditions to prevent complications and we also impart messages for everyone to stay away from alcohol and tobacco to prevent NCDs. We help them see these aspects as important for the health of the entire family. Thus, in our history, women empowerment became an integral part of our work.
Since starting the hospital, we have had a Family Care Volunteer (FCV) selected by the community for every 50-75 families. These volunteers are brought together on a monthly basis at the cluster level ad offered training in health-related work and provided information about our programmes. They are visible action silent heroines, well recognized in their community. We also felt the need to provide support for them in their villages and we banked on the human resources we had created in our three decades of work. We create a unique integrated nodal delivery point for our action with volunteers. After a series of discussions with the community and staff, this manifested in the evolution of the new Community Based Organization (CBO) called the Annam.
In every village, the composition of Annam is an average of 15 members, mostly women, drawn from our beneficiaries and our former volunteers and Self Help Group members and differently-abled persons and their family members. These groups are in villages that have more than 200 families and the FCVs coordinate their activities. These groups meet on a monthly basis to discuss local issues and go through education sessions organized by our field staff. They work with the local Government officials like the nurses, Balwadi (day care centres) teachers, village officers, and representatives to ensure delivery of service.
The CBOs help in many ways, most importantly, they enable participation and ownership of our programmes. They update us on census data in the villages, identify those requiring care and support and provide referrals and help in conducting village programmes. They also participate in the Grama Sabha meetings and engage with the Government for some of their local issues.
Similarly, in a more proactive manner as individual volunteers, the FCVs engage with us. They conduct the CBO meetings, provide alerts for key issues, assist our staff in their village level work, participate in mass campaigns and participate in training meetings. They communicate about TCT’s camp and other programmes, help identify who need them, refer them and often even accompany the patients to the hospital and camps, and also provide a valuable service in educating and ensuring the required follow up for them.
Starting with 96 FCVs in 2009, the number grew to 470; the Annam groups were 90 in number in 2013 and this has grown to 138 by 2020.
Now, we have TCT-trained ‘multi-purpose’ women workers visit people in their homes on a regular basis to educate the families on health issues, identify those with problems, and render suitable advice. They work with Family Care Volunteers and Annam, the community-based organization.
To sum up, all our activities foster women empowerment and towards that we work through women volunteers and community-based organizations. We look at every problem in the community from a women’s perspective and include them in initiating change for sustainability. We organize education sessions about health and development for groups of women in every village.
We strive to organize specific programmes to usher in women empowerment in the long run as a natural outcome. Our programmes, ‘Just for Girls: Coaching in Football’ and our training for ‘Adolescent boys and girls’ are in this direction.
We have started to coach girls from 4th to 8th standard in village schools after school hours. We have employed coaches to train them. We encourage the mothers of the girls to take turns being observers for these coaching sessions. We get the local school or the community to allocate a playground for the activity. We are collaborating with Great Goals Academy, Chennai for this programme.
In separate groups, adolescent boys and girls in high schools attend our specially designed gender sensitivity education sessions that are activity-based and fun oriented. These sessions aim to break the myths of years of social conditioning about gender roles in society that mostly treat women as second-class citizens. We are hopeful that this training will usher in a better deal for women when they become adults, and specifically shun domestic violence. While men learn to respect women’s roles, grant them space and enable them to function with independence, women learn to be assertive as they discharge their chosen responsibilities both in their families and workplaces.