Rajkumari is seventeen years old and belongs to Khuladi village of district Shivpuri of Madhya Pradesh, the central Indian state. She had completed her studies till class eight and wanted to study more but could not. School in her village teaches upto class eight while the school which has higher classes is quite far away. If she had a bicycle she could have traveled on her own and fulfill her dreams.
Thanks to the process of village planning initiated by a non- governmental organization namely Centre for Integrated Development with support from UNICEF and district administration she could avail of the benefit of the scheme of the state government which got her most needed her bicycle.
Radhabai, her face partially hidden under a long veil, beams broadly as she shows the roughly hewn soak pit in front of her house. A pit has been dug at the base of the drain bringing out the wastewater from the house thus preventing the huge mess of slush that ran through the small village in Radhogarh block of Guna district in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
These visible changes in the lives of girls like Rajkuamri in Shivpuri and Dirouli village of Guna have been the result of the Village Planning initiative of UNICEF in partnership with District administration, which began in June 2005. Two districts in Madhya Pradesh namely Guna and Shivpuri have been selected for this unique initiative. The method adopted is quite simple and based on the norms of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) system.
With the help of local NGOs, social maps are prepared to assess the distribution of the available resources in the villages and areas identified where services such as hand pumps, anganwadis or health centers are needed. Household /family surveys are conducted to collect basic information about the village, communities and needs of children primarily in the areas of health, education, nutrition, drinking water and sanitation in addition to information on socio-economic conditions. These issues are then taken up as a basis for preparing village plans by the community groups for presentation and approval in a special Gram Sabha or a Village Meeting.
Though state Government has announced many new schemes for the benefit of girls and people living below the poverty line. But, many a times beneficiaries are unaware of these schemes and cannot avail of the benefits provided by the state. In this case the communication process of village planning makes that possible. Communities participate in preparing village development plan with special focus on women and children. The village communities are also given regular information about the various services available to them, mainly in health, education, nutrition and sanitation and encouraged to demand timely, effective and uninterrupted provision of these services. The villagers are sensitized towards the importance and utility of the services like vaccination, birth certificates, institutional delivery, immediate and continuing breast feeding, nutritious food, regular health check-up, cleanliness, sanitation and education.
Rajkumari is not the only one in Shivpuri but village planning has benefited many others. Conviction and determination of the villagers of Dirouli and other villages in Guna speaks volumes about their newfound belief in themselves and their ability to change and shape their own destiny. One notices a palpable difference at the level of the community empowerment in the villages which is reflected in the planning process, which now needs to be backed significantly by the service providers in delivering the services needed most.