The name, 'Varsha', means rain. My parents named me Varsha. During rainy season it rains continuously in my region and greenery returns to the jungle.
We live in an area surrounded by jungle. Belonging to the Kotwalia Tribe, a tribe of Dangs in Gujarat, we lead a very simple life governed by our customs and traditional practices.
It is difficult to manage a family of six when my parents don’t have a steady source of income. Bamboo craftwork was our tribes' traditional economic activity but now due to less availability of bamboo our people had to find work elsewhere.
Like the others in our tribe, my parents too are agricultural labourers. During the planting season they go to the rice fields to sow paddy and weed the field. After the paddy is ready my parents go to harvest it. As daily labourers they do not get a steady income. Some days they get work and some days they don’t.
With a limited income, acquiring food for survival had been our main priority. Maintaining hygienic conditions never crossed our mind.
I remember the time when I was much younger. My days never included any hygienic practices as I was oblivious to its importance in my life.
The day used to start early. I woke up at 6 am did the household chores, as my parents went off to the field. After completing my household duties, I used to leave for school in the same condition as I woke up. Like me, other children in school too habitually practiced the same routine.
Going to school excited me because I got to learn new things and acquire knowledge. But constantly falling sick kept me from my centre for learning. Fever, diarrhoea and stomach pains were common illnesses that plagued me.
Who could I tell about my pain because there was no one at home? I had to wait for my parents to comeback. Then my father used to take me to the hospital to the get medicines. For four to five days I was unable to go to school and that made me sad. I didn’t know what was causing the sickness.
It was during one of my school programmes that I got to know why I was falling sick so often.
Children from my school were all made to sit and attend a sensitisation programme organised by World Vision.
They explained to us why it was important to keep ourselves clean. They told us how germs get into our body through unwashed hands and cause illnesses. They even showed us the different steps in washing hands.
This was the first time I heard how personal hygiene was important to survive and stay healthy.
To promote such sanitary practices World Vision also gave us hygiene kits. Each kit had an antiseptic soap,nail cutter, a comb, brush and toothpaste.
Gradually, I started practising the different techniques to keep ourselves clean and it became a regular activity. I see the changes in my life. My daily routine has changed. After doing my chores, now I take time to get ready.
I brush my teeth, then have a bath and wear clean clothes before going to school. Brushing the teeth preserves them from getting decayed and washing ourselves protects from germ attack. What I have learnt is valuable and it is important to share this knowledge with other children of my community so that they can protect themselves too.
I got the opportunity to share my experience at an event organised by World Vision India for International Women’s Day, in front of many people. I was a bit nervous before but when I went up on stage I boldly told everyone how I used to be and how I have changed. Speaking in public gave me more confidence and now I teach others.
As I grow up, my only desire is to learn more new and good things so that I can stand up for my rights and enjoy a healthy and secure life.
"Among the indigenous tribal communities of Dangs, Gujarat there was limited emphasis given to exercising hygiene practices.
The villagers were unaware of the direct correlation between unsanitary conditions and child mortality, malnutrition, stunting, and illnesses like diarrhoea, fever which were prevalent in the community.