Meeting Sister Rosie, I quickly realized she is a force. Her infectious smile, empathetic eyes, and fierce determination makes her presence known to everyone when she walks into a room – by visitors, by her peers, and by the poor in rural Meghalaya she has been working with for the past two years. However welcoming her physical presence is, it is her unwavering dedication to the social mission of the North East Diocesan Social Service Society (NEDSSS) that commands the utmost respect from the community.
In much of the North East regions of India, many rural communities lack adequate healthcare due to constraints in government resources. Through their innovative and holistic Community Health in Assam and Rural Meghalaya (CHARM) program, NEDSSS has been working in these remote areas to bridge that gap and reduce malaria and maternal and infant mortality. They have already helped 22,000 families throughout 300 rural villages in 18 districts.
NEDSSS’ hard work is not without amazing, well-documented results with significant impact. Over the past three years, over 6,500 cases of malaria that would have gone untreated have been detected. Institutional and health center deliveries have increased to over 1,800 and almost 4,000 children have been immunized. While numbers and statistics speak volumes, it was the stories heard in Umsohlait, Meghalaya that truly highlight NEDSSS’ impact. Prior to their arrival, infant mortality was high and villager after villager explained to us how common it was for children to die from diarrhea, dysentery, and malaria. Now that they are equipped with the knowledge of prevention and treatment of these diseases, the villagers explained that the streets are filled with children playing and laughing.
Sister Rosie has been working in villages like Umsohlait for the past two years. While she loves her work, she knows it is project-based: the funding will end, and slowly, but surely, they will stop their frequent visits. Regardless of having to move on from these villages they have come to know and love, the villagers understand this reality too. They are now armed with the knowledge and supplies needed for long term health practices and, most importantly, the power and belief to demand these crucial services from the government.
For the 2014 India Development Marketplace, NEDSSS proposes to scale up their programs to 30 villages on the border between Assam and Meghalaya. Due to a lack of resources, people are not receiving essential government services and live with poor infrastructure, transportation, education, and ethnic conflict. They plan to establish three health centers for four districts within an 80 to 90km radius where they will provide training to health workers, ambulance services, MIS training, and medicine to communities that are in dire need.
As we concluded our visit to the second village, Sohphoh, Father Varghese, the director of NEDSSS, spoke to the villagers. His words rang particularly true: “Social work is the entry point that lets people stand on their own legs and demand their rights. Villagers can now ask, ‘What are our rights?’ This is about more than health care. It’s about the people’s power to become agents of change.”
This post is part of a mini-series from the DM Team, who recently conducted on-site visits of our 22 finalists for the 2014 India Development Marketplace. NEDSSS has been short listed as a finalist for the 2014 India Development Marketplace, all of whom have proposed incredible projects that truly help the poorest populations in India. Winning organizations have not been selected yet, and an announcement of those selected will be made soon. In spite of which organizations are selected, the DM Team wanted to make sure that these innovative stories were told.
Carolyn Marie Florey is the Operations Officer for Innovation Labs and the Development Marketplace at the World Bank Insitute. In addition to telling the amazing stories of social entrepreneurs, she also blogs about Information and Communications Technology (ICT).