It was a usual day for Laxmi Soren when the nutrition team from Welthungerhilfe’s partner Center for World Solidarity (CWS) visited her home in 2018. They wanted to interview Laxmi to become a community mobiliser for the newly introduced nutrition project in the area. But little did they know that Laxmi would become one of their strongest advocates – someone who had witnessed malnutrition from very close quarters.
Laxmi, in her early 20s had a rather shy personality and was an introvert. Although she never worked professionally until then, her weak economic family background compelled her to take up a job. She got particularly interested when she knew that the project was about addressing malnutrition in the area and strengthening dietary diversity amongst mother and kids. And as Laxmi now shares, “In the middle of every difficult situation lies an opportunity.”
Laxmi belongs to the Santhal tribe – the largest tribe in the state of Jharkhand. Coming from an economically weak background, she led a difficult life in Ghatshila block of East Singhbhum district. She is the youngest amongst her five sisters and was married off at the age of 17 years to Kaluram Soren, a 20-year-old.
The new phase of life was challenging for the young couple. Kaluram’s parent passed away and he not being able to secure a decent earing, left the couple without guidance. Added to this, Laxmi became pregnant at the age of 18 years with her first child, Gopal. They faced many problems such as poverty, lack of adequate food, irregular medical check-ups, and lack of proper guidance on what to eat and avoid during pregnancy. As a result, Gopal was born very weak. To nurture their son, Kaluram started working as casual labour but the earning was insufficient for the family of three. Eventually, Gopal’s health started to deteriorate. At the age of 8 months, ICDS workers identified him as a SAM child, and ASHA (accredited social health activists) workers advised the couple to admit Gopal to the nearest government run Malnutrition Treatment Center (MTC). Although he recovered, Laxmi didn’t want to return knowing that they won’t be able to afford a healthy nutritious lifestyle at home.
Despite the hard days and a malnourished son, Laxmi got pregnant with her second child, Chhita Soren, by the time she turned 20 years in 2014.
Laxmi’s life changed a lot ever since she started to work as a community mobiliser. She learnt about immediate, underlying and basic causes and solutions to address malnutrition. She was oriented on nutrition, agriculture and WASH. Laxmi not only used the knowledge in her professional life advocating nutrition security in her community but also applied the knowledge in her personal life focusing her children.
“I learnt about the root causes of malnutrition and how we can address them even with limited resources. It is very important for us to understand the problem and how to identify it,” says Laxmi. She is happy to share that now her family eats more vegetables and fruits from the nutrition garden prepared by her. Laxmi along with her son Gopal also do bottle irrigation to grow different vegetables. She also teaches her children the importance of hand washing.
“Even when I have a long day at work, I ensure that my children consume a nutritious seasonal diet every day,” shares Laxmi. Once malnourished, her son Gopal, now 7 years old is a healthy and happy child. Improvement in his health status made Laxmi more confident about her work. As she recollects, “During my initial days with two small children it was difficult to maintain a work-life balance. Also, I was working for the first time in my life. But I now strongly believe that every obstacle is often a stepping-stone. I now aim to bring every child suffering from malnutrition out of its vicious cycle”.
In 2020, Laxmi is much transformed person. She is a popular face in the community. Once shy, she is now a very confident, economically and socially strong and bold individual. The girl who was once scared to even step out of the house is now leading the progress in nine villages and counseling more than 130 families. During this time, she also completed her undergraduate education and is now a field supervisor. Laxmi’s only motive is to fight against malnutrition for a better tomorrow.