Above: Rani Devi, a Surya Health Promoter, talks to young women in her community about the benefits of family planning and is now seen as a reliable expert in sexual and reproductive health.
Her parents forced Rani Devi to drop out of school and marry when she was only 15 years old. She was unable to find a job in her remote village of Pachwari Tola in Bihar State, and her husband was unemployed due to ill health. Soon, she gave birth to three sons. Rani feared financial ruin, and was always fretting about how to feed and educate the children.
In the midst of these dire straits, a relative told Rani about the Surya Family Planning Clinic Network and its team of Surya health promoters (SHPs) who receive financial incentives for referring new clients. Rani was intrigued but her husband was opposed. Eventually, Rani’s persistence and their dismal economic situation conspired to bring him around. She joined Surya as an SHP in 2009.
From day one, she was a hard worker and quickly learned the process of referring clients. Since she was a resident of the community, she understood the mindset of its residents and knew the right language to use in counselling them. She often uses the Hindi phrase “Chota parivar, sukhi pariwar” (small family, happy family).
Initially, family planning was a hard sell in her community. Rani lives in a society where the concept of “more hands, more money” is ingrained in the thinking, and her struggles to encourage people to consider managing their family size were epic.
However, with a strong will, patience and perseverance, she eventually succeeded in knocking down the myths on contraception, birth spacing and abortion and building faith in family planning and its benefits. Today she is seen as a local expert, to whom women and couples come for reliable advice and information.
Rani started earning good incentives and her financial condition gradually improved. She earned enough to send her sons to good schools. Now they have graduated and are able to support the family. They told Rani she should quit Surya, but she refuses to give up the work she loves.
“When I was poor and in trouble, the Surya clinic supported me,” she tells them. Her life is good today, she says, because she found Surya and wants to continue the work that has enriched her life.
Through December 2020, Rani has referred almost 1,000 clients to the Surya network for sterilization, and her own life, self-esteem and status has also grown.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rani was generating awareness in the community on the coronavirus. After lockdown was lifted, she made extensive door-to-door visits, promoting mask wearing and hand sanitizer and counseling communities how to stay safe. Rani has not forgotten her key role, however, and continues to send couples to the re-opened corona-safe Surya clinics for counseling and treatment.