In March 2019, 19-year-old Jemma Holden travelled from the UK to India to see Opportunity's health programs for herself. She reflects on her journey below.
Jemma with Jessica Carter (Opportunity International Australia's Asia Health Program Director) and Poonam Kumari, a Community Health Leader, in Aurangabad, India.
Photo by Jemma Holden.
I had always wondered how a week in rural India would pan out and had thought about what sights and scenes would affect me most.
I assumed I’d find the intense poverty and the harsh daily conditions these villagers live in striking and bitter. Although this was certainly the case, I was surprised that one of the main sentiments I took from this trip was a strong impression of empowered women.
We spent our time travelling through Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, visiting villages where women have taken the initiative to educate themselves through programs established by Healing Fields and Opportunity International.
These programs provide previously uneducated women with a breadth of basic health training that highlights the importance of crucial topics such as a balanced diet, effective hand washing and menstrual hygiene. The training not only allows these women to improve their personal lifestyle habits but they are also able to pass this knowledge on to their community members through monthly meetings.
Entrepreneurship and first aid training is also available, creating sustainable incomes for many and providing villages with more accessible healthcare.
When talking to the women who have participated in the program, one of the first questions we’d ask was how it had changed their lives personally. Without a doubt, a recurring answer was that it granted them their own voice, a sense of status within their community and ultimately allowed them to feel empowered.
Imirty from Buxar was one of the inspiring women who openly shared her personal experiences.Since completing her training, Imirty has more confidence sharing health information with her daughter. Photo: Jemma Holden and Siri Wrigley
Imirty was trained to become a health leader amongst the first batch of women, nine years ago. Since then she has found a steady income selling 50–100 pads every month, has helped inform many local mothers on the importance of breast feeding, and has been able to support friends and family members when they have been ill.
But most importantly, she has gained confidence. She now feels comfortable holding discussions with all members of her community: men, women, familiar faces and strangers alike. Within her town, her newfound knowledge and expertise is now tied to her own name – she is not simply the wife of her husband.
Throughout our hour conversation with this wonderful lady, the theme of empowerment came through strongest. It was evident that this is why Imirty feels so proud to be a part of these programs, and to me, it was so powerful to see Healing Fields and Opportunity’s work having this effect.
But it was not only Imirty who associated her qualifications with a sense of pride, a promoted status and boosted confidence. Poonam Kumari is a Community Health Leader from Aurangabad who supports these programs because she believes in women’s empowerment. To her, despite the main aim of these programs being to promote healthy living standards, to educate women from these poor communities and to encourage economic activity, the empowerment of women that these programs stimulate is what means most to her.
Another day, we spoke to Usha, from Ambedkar Nagar. Usha travels up to 18km to visit her patients. It was heartening to hear that to complete these journeys, it is her husband who gives her lifts on his motorbike, allowing her to do her job.
Most people generally understand that sadly, as a country, India is far from achieving gender equality. Therefore, it was both uplifting and promising to hear these stories and to see how access to health knowledge and support to share that can help these women rewrite their story, allowing local women to take centre stage.
You can find more information on Opportunity's work in Health here.
Jemma Holden volunteered with Opportunity International
in March 2019.