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Story by Amit Khan | Program Coordinator | MGVP
Edited by Parth Sehan | Volunteer | Heifer India
Photos by Anjani Kumar Harsh | Program Officer | Heifer India
Sulekha Devi is a tribal woman from the Musahar community, in northern Bihar, India. Musahars are a scheduled caste tribe, which is a government categorization placing them as one of the most vulnerable groups of people. Members of this tribe have no land of their own and work as sharecroppers or agricultural laborers. Sulekha was married to her husband Bhogender at a very young age, and they have four children. Both Sulekha and Bhogender were illiterate; however, Bhogender had received some primary education. Living in poverty, Bhogender had to migrate to Punjab and Delhi in search of jobs to make ends meet.
The Musahar community is getting a new opportunity through the Mithila Women Empowerment and Sustainable Livestock Program. As part of the project, women were offered formal training in animal health care to become Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs). Initially, the tribesmen were skeptical about sending the women to a faraway place, fearing for their security. However, after considering the recent history of the activities of Heifer and partner NGO Mithila Gram Vikas Parishad (MGVP), five women were allowed to participate in the training for nine days. A few men, including Sulekha’s husband, went along to ensure their safety. This proved quite valuable, as the men also received animal health care training. In addition to providing knowledge, the program helped the participants achieve more independence and gain confidence.
Since successfully completing the training, Sulekha has earned Rs. 2,200, or about $40, for treating animals. In addition, she felt confident enough to start a business supplying mineral blocks to the general market, earning her an additional income of Rs.450, or about $9, in a couple of months.
Dr. Vishnu Dev Yadav, a local veterinarian, appreciated Sulekha’s efforts during an animal health camp and was kind enough to give her some medicines. He was amazed at her dexterity in vaccinating and treating goats and said, “A poor woman who could not learn to read and write, she is an expert on medical issues pertaining to animals. The organization that trained these women as Community Animal Health Workers deserves admiration.”
Sulekha learned gradually and became an expert in diagnosing veterinary problems in animals and efficiently treating them. She also pursued other trainings to better her future economic condition.