Reformative social change doesn’t just happen overnight. It is a product of conscious and progressive effort made by certain individuals with the passion to effect positive change in the lives of people around them and in their community.
Writer and social activist like Archana Borthakur have continued setting the standards and carrying the torch when it comes to public good and bettering the lives of the common man.
Through her social welfare venture, Priyobondhu, Borthakur has been able to reach out to countless number of people in her community and beyond, with the simple aim to “improve the standard of life and economic welfare of people living in rural areas and liberating women, as well as bringing smiles to the faces of deprived children.”
She has also launched several platforms that give the average child a chance to have a good life. Her Breakfast for a Child initiative is one of many through which she feeds hundreds of underprivileged children breakfast every day.
“I always felt the need for children-related programmes. I observed that children who didn’t have a good breakfast in the morning were less attentive in school, less inclined to do well, and suffered from fatigue. Breakfast is considered to be the most important meal of the day. Hence, I started this survival programme Breakfast for a Child with the prime objective to eradicate child hunger by providing a healthy breakfast consisting of variety of foods that are rich in fibre and nutrient; such as whole grains, fruits, and dairy products. On August 29 2017, the project was implemented at Kailashpur LP School, Kahilipara, Guwahati. Since then I’ve been feeding 200+ children daily,” shares Borthakur.
Recalling how her Let Us Talk initiative started, Borthakur, born and brought up in Dergaon, tells us she realised that there’s lack of focus on the necessities of women and children in rural areas of Assam.
“I was moved by a particular incident of an adolescent girl at Chirang. During a clothes and food distribution programme, I noticed a girl in a corner who did not come up to us. She was the only one left to receive the items. I insisted, but the girl stood still. She was sobbing and seemed embarrassed. A friend later informed us that she was menstruating and had blood stains in her clothes. She had only one pair of clothes and was unaware of sanitary napkins. To buy one is unimaginable for this girl, who belonged to a poverty stricken family,” says Borthakur.
Thus began the Let Us Talk initiative, where she addresses menstrual hygiene and feasible management programmes that help promote proper menstrual hygiene for all. “Menstruation is a natural biological process faced by all adolescent girls and women. People still get embarrassed to talk openly about it. Menstrual hygiene management is an integral part of the Swachh Bharat Mission guidelines.
Menstrual hygiene management framework emphasises access to knowledge and information, access to safe menstrual absorbents, water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, and access to safe disposal of used menstrual absorbents. It is important we discuss these things and not consider as taboo. It will result in dignity for adolescent girls and women and the ability of adolescent girls to stay in school during menstruation,” she explains.
Her work takes a very holistic approach to menstrual health, where she emphasises the need for every adolescent girl and woman, and their families, including men and adolescent boys, to have awareness, knowledge and information so that menstruation is understood and can be managed safely with confidence and dignity.
“Every adolescent girl and woman must have easy access to sufficient, affordable and hygienic menstrual absorbents during menstruation. Every adolescent school girl must have access to a separate toilet with private space for cleaning and washing. This includes access to adequate and sustained water supply and soap. Every adolescent girl must have access to infrastructure for disposal of used menstrual absorbent, and should know how to use it,” she says.
Her good works also include the National Child Labor Project where she fights for exposed children. With the help of the Child and Adolescent Health Survey, she is able to pinpoint hot zones for child laborers and identify the reason for child labor in the area. For instance, under this survey, Kamrup Metropolitan District was selected and the target groups were child workers below the age of 14 years, adolescent workers below the age of 18 years engaged in hazardous occupations, and families of child workers in the identified target area.
The study was conducted in February, 2020, and a well structured interview schedule was used to collect the data. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were applied in the study. Many children within Kamrup Metropolitan District had participated in the survey. Most were into rag picking, street vending, and home-based jobs to support their families. Literacy in adult members of household reporting working children was quite low. Almost all of them were school dropout or have never been to school, and the reason being primarily poor economical condition. On January 2021, special training centres were granted to Priyobondhu for these deprived children for overall development.
Some of her other life transforming programs include; Loudly No, Mother and Child Health, Essentials distribution for Covid-19 and Flood-affected families, School Kit for a Child, Integrated Welfare for Women and Children, Legal Awareness Camp, Disaster Management Programmes, Environmental Programmes, Fortify Women and Children against Social Injustice, Women Empowerment Schemes and so on.
Ever since she started off in this path, she has encountered several challenges and difficulties but she persevered through it all. Today, her work has paid off and she delightfully shares a few of the numerous success stories.
“Our Integrated Program for Welfare of Women and Children started in July 2019 is really close to my heart, wherein we launched a non-formal education centre to assist women and children, with limited accessibility to improve their quality of life. The programme focuses on nutrition, education, women empowerment, women and children health, and community awareness. We have constructed a makeshift room for regular classes with 15 regular students. We provide daily breakfast and lunch along with educational supplies, clothes, uniforms, basic essentials etc.
We prioritise activity-based and experiential learning, thus the curriculum includes education on basic Assamese, English, Maths, Environmental Studies, GK and Current Affairs, Drawing, and Performing Arts. Apart from regular amusements, children are taken on day out trips for rejuvenation and social interaction. In January 2020, four children (Sunil, Rekha, Sunita, and Sita) of NFE Centre got selected at 2 No. Mathgharia LPS. They were once street children, who could never make their way to school due to poverty, ignorance of parents, other engagements such as rag picking to name a few. Now they are happy learners who enthusiastically wait for the school bell to ring,” shares Borthakur sporting a wide smile.
“Other major issues in the slum area were lack of clean drinking water, open bathing, open defecation in nearby railway tracks, ditches, wasteland etc. To resolve these issues, we installed a water storage tank for clean, safe drinking water, semi concrete bathroom, and semi concrete lavatory.
Simultaneously, I implemented the Garden Cultivation and Management Programme to engage children as well as women in the process of environmental education by helping them learn to produce their own source of food for improving their diet and health.
The programme is functional in four educational centres of Priyobondhu at Guwahati Narengi, Khetri Dharbam, Khetri Paschim Killing, and Khetri 2 No. Robingaon,” she adds.
Through Borthakur’s initiatives, women learnt the importance of wearing undergarments, using safe menstrual absorbents, maintaining hygiene during menstruation, and avoiding social taboos. The malnourished poor children now eat high-fiber and nutrient-rich whole grains, fruits, and dairy products with a balanced diet of three meals per day. Girls came to know about limits to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them, and how to respond when someone crosses those limits. They learned to empower themselves by respecting their choices and their right to say ‘No’.
She has continued to make progress in reaching out to people and transforming lives. The recently launched e-commerce platform, Putola, is an extension of her entrepreneurial side. She describes the platform as a gift products e-store website that was launched in September 2021. For her, ‘www.putola.com‘ is more of a story than a business. It started in difficult times during the pandemic lockdown, as the market began gravitating towards contactless and cashless economy. At the time, digital platforms had already begun fortifying their presence and relevance, so it became necessary to launch an e-commerce business which readily became a work from home business for them. The site deals in designer ceramic pots and planters, exotic plants, and handmade natural designer soaps. In the coming days, she has plans to include traditional costumes and crafts.
With social work on one side and a revenue generating business on the other, Borthakur is proving her worth as a complete entrepreneur devoted to the good of mankind through a potpourri of advocacies and philanthropic gestures for children and women in Northeast India.
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