From the field.
Since she was a child, Nioma Sadler dreamed of being a reporter. Life’s experiences eventually brought her to working alongside the women and girls of the Thar Desert. It was there that her two passions — raising awareness of women’s issues and journalistic filmmaking — coalesced. See her interviews and contribute to changing lives.
I remember the day I arrived at Gavra’s one room stone-slab hut in Dayakaur, a village in Rajasthan, India. A new house was under construction next to her residence. Gavra’s husband, Ram Lal yelled down to me as he was laying down stone slabs, telling me they were grateful for the taanka. I too felt grateful especially for the opportunity to interview his wife.
Before receiving her taanka, Gavra would wake at 3 am to make the six mile walk to collect water at the village naadi, a rainwater catchment pond. She made the walk five times a day in the debilitating heat. Each load she carried consisted of two pots, each weighing 45 lb., balanced on her head.
When Gavra invited me into her home, she took off her purdah, (a scarf used to veil her face). I admired her strong, serene beauty. She offered to make us tea, but I politely refused, not wanting to add more work to her household duties. I felt a sense of anxiety from Gavra because our meeting was taking her away from her work, but as our conversation unfolded, I could sense her relax for the first time as she realized she had an opportunity to tell her story to another woman in her own voice. With the help of a translator, Gavra shared her hardships, her tears, her emotions, and, finally, her joys with me (especially now that she has a taanka).
I visited Kamala Devi, the widowed wife of Bhera Ram, in the village of Dayakaur located in Rajasthan, India. She has lived a painful life full of loss. As a young girl both her parents died. Her aunt and uncle raised her, and she was married as a teenager and sent to live in her current home with her in-laws. She was widowed at the young age of twenty-five with seven young children, five sons and two daughters.
Recently, Kamala’s eldest son was killed in a motorcycle accident, leaving her to care for his widow and two children. Her four sons (two of which are married) also live with her. All told, twelve people live together in two small huts. Her two daughters are now married and are living in a different village. While I was there, Kamala’s eldest daughter was visiting with her children.
Before they were married, Kamala’s daughters used to walk with her for water every day. Each round trip to the canal or the naadi, (a rainwater catchment pond), was a two and a half mile walk that took three hours. They would make this trip at least twice a day carrying 45 lbs. of water in pots on their heads. Kamala’s daughters never had the opportunity to go to school.
I can also use my bicycle to do other things besides riding to school like I go to the farm field and visit my friends to study.
In of Rajasthan, 51% of girls are married before their 18th birthday. There is strong son (male child) preference that is connected to the custom of the dowry. Families traditionally pay a dowry comprised of money and property to the groom’s family when their daughter is married. Many Rajasthani families choose to educate their sons but not their daughters, preparing them to be married at a young age. Consequently, many girls never go to school.
It was 105 degrees outside and the American students we were hosting could feel the oppressive heat of the Thar Desert as we toured Sododada, a village in Rajasthan, India. I sensed they were also overwhelmed as they saw and heard the stories of women and girls who struggle with water shortages, illiteracy and lack of opportunity.
To witness this change in action, I invited the students to come with me to meet Mamta, one of the bike recipients, and her family. I wanted them to hear her story first hand so they could learn how a simple bike can change the future for girls like Mamta in this region. There is a wave of change riding through these desert villages that is powered in part by bikes (a Revive Project initiative WomenServe is championing).