Our field visit on my Business Chicks Leadership & Immersion Program with The Hunger Project, today took us back to Bhimtal where Elected Women Representatives traveled for 6-8 hours stuffed into Jeeps to join us and share the work that they’d accomplished in their local areas during the course of their service.
For some context, the area we’re staying in Nainital, the capital city of Uttarakhand in Northern India is at an altitude of 2,084m. Australia’s tallest mountain, Kosciusko stands at 2,228m and Everest at 8,848m.
Little Pushpa sat by me cross legged in the unheated hotel room we met in. And, she may have looked like the quiet retiring type when we first met, but as turns out, she’s hard to keep quiet once you get her started.
She was married at 19 and 31 years later, is still going strong.
She’s currently president of her local panchayat (council/community area) having worked with local self-help groups for 15 years prior. She’s always been very community aware but was unable to do more before quotas were introduced for women to be elected. She wanted to take on a political role and make a real and bigger difference.
She’s proud of having constructed a Marriage Hall in her area as there was no facility for weddings, and 7-8 local marriages have already taken place there.
She’s also managed to have water supply brought to her village from over 6 kms away to stop women doing the trek daily. In the mountainous area she lives, this is incredibly difficult and often extremely cold, as you’d expect in the far north of India by the Himalayas.
Apart from that, she’s lobbied for a local creche and now around 26 children attend daily.
There’s a small river that also runs by her panchayat and she’s worried about flooding in the monsoon season, so she’s determined to have a retainer wall erected to protect the village.
After training with The Hunger Project’s local partners in Uttarakhand, she now has the confidence to head off to her local capital city and petition for help.
Pushpa has been in her role and accomplished much in the past 5 years and is hoping to stand again for re-election later this year. Her request? “May all our wishes come true.”
And, if you were worried that she really hadn’t done enough to qualify again, she’s also had 110 toilets constructed, but needs 15 more, along with a safer method of sewerage disposal. She’d determined to be back to finish her work!
As she beautifully put it, “I will do this work to my dying breath.”
What a beautiful lesson in humble leadership she was for us.