When IAS officer Sweta Mohanty was appointed as the District Collector of the Wanaparthy district in Telangana, she knew that she had her work cut out for her.
The poverty-ridden district was plagued with several problems, but Mohanty zeroed in on the most urgent ones like severe anaemia, lack of menstrual hygiene and a below average income, which invariably were affecting the women.
“This is exactly the kind of opportunity I wanted to grab from my position,” said Mohanty, in a conversation with The Better India.
Since then, Mohanty has successfully implemented several initiatives to make the lives of students and women easier, healthier and happier.
From empowering women self-help groups to spreading awareness about anaemia amongst young girls, the IAS officer is leaving no stone unturned in helping her jurisdiction blaze a trail in socio-economic progress.
Out of the several successful initiatives, take a glimpse at the most inspiring ones:
Awareness about anaemia amongst young girls
Pregnant women would come to the government hospitals in Wanaparthy and as many as 40 per cent would test positive for anaemia. Mild anaemia is common during pregnancy but if it gets severe, it may lead to several complications for the mother—including preterm delivery.
Mohanty decided to correct this alarming statistic.
“Our plan is to teach them young instead of waiting until the woman gets pregnant to check for anaemia. And so, under project ‘Samatha’, we conducted blood tests on over 8000 girls in 110 government high schools across the district. Health issues like anaemia are read about in textbooks or spoken about as conjecture but seldom are they personal talking points. And that was our aim—to make it a personal issue so it is taken care of as soon as possible,” Mohanty told TBI.
Menstrual hygiene was another crucial point that needed to be addressed while tackling anaemia.
Mohanty and her team taught the girls how to manage a menstrual calendar. This helped them keep a track of their periods and mark any irregularities. The teachers in the district schools were charged with the responsibility of distributing medicines, tablets and looking after the diets of the young girls to check the rising levels of anaemia. The efforts paid off when after the next round of tests conducted after six months of this exercise the number of anaemic girls had dropped to 4 per cent!
“We are in the process to start the next phase of Samatha wherein we provide cost-effective solutions for biodegradable sanitary napkins. In our research, we discovered that about 50 per cent women in Wanaparthy use sanitary napkins and even more shocking was that 40 per cent of them bury the used pads in the ground, thanks to the religious and social stigma around it. We are working ways to provide a sustainable solution to these issues that cut through the socio-economic factors and provide guaranteed hygiene to our women,” Mohanty added.
Teaching the young
“Mine is a largely rural district, and I feel it is absolutely unfair that students are not properly introduced to computers in school. They are taught the basics—what a keyboard, a CPU and a mouse are. But there is only one—or if the students are lucky—two or three computers in school. No child ever gets to learn about it in the detail that is expected in the outside world. So, we decided to teach them that,” shares Mohanty.
The DC and her team targeted the students of classes 8 and 9 of a government school. “My position as an IAS officer gives me the opportunity to work in issues that need to be addressed urgently. I feel that the opportunities that my children can get should also be given to rural children who come from a less privileged background. And so, we started this project in schools wherein we show the children the infinite opportunities of the internet.”
Volunteers bring laptops to the school and teach children how to search for information on Google, send emails and utilize the World Wide Web for a positive change.
Besides these activities, mental math problems are also introduced from classes 3 till 10 to improve the performance of the students in exams. The volunteers especially stressed on word problems as they are more challenging for the kids. To their pleasant surprise, the number of students being able to solve math problems shot up from an embarrassing 8 per cent to an amazing 75 per cent in just a year!
Finding gold in groundnuts
The geographic and weather conditions in Wanaparthy are perfect to grow groundnuts and thus, it is the widely sown crop here. The nuts are in high demand in markets as raw materials for oil and sweets among others. Waranparthy farmers earned a meagre profit from the sales of their crop.
What they did not realize is that groundnuts might make them small amounts as raw materials, but they can fetch better rates as finished products. It was left to the self-help groups in the district to take up the challenge of turning groundnuts to gold for the farmers.
“We make export quality groundnuts that are used to make oil, cold pressed oil and peanut butter in big cities and even abroad. The crop is in high demand but a lack of awareness became an obstacle for our farmers to earn huge profits. They were making small profits but the big boys in cities were raking the actual benefits. So, we opened a groundnut processing unit in the Dattaipally village and employed about eight homemakers to operate it.”
The processing unit produces Wana Chikki (a Telangana sweet), oil and even peanut butter and these products have already seen a rising demand in the market!
The women running the unit may have not received any education from schools but within a month of its commercial operation, the unit received a blanket order from a Telangana corporation.
“It is too early to estimate how much they are earning but the response might be the answer in itself,” the IAS officer mentions proudly, adding, “With a little bit of effort and thinking, the former homemakers now have an additional source of income. The fact that it is run only by women is even more empowering, in a sense.”
From involving school and college students to encourage adults to vote to ensuring that the senior citizens and the differently-abled are provided extra services to reach voting booths, this tireless government servant is doing all she can to do justice to her position.
Since her tenure as Waranparthy’s DC began, the district has seen a steady trend of development and social awareness among students, young girls and women. A trend, we can safely say, is worth emulating!
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)