Arti was one of five children growing up. As a female in what she called a “really backward district,” receiving an education was a contested issue. Like many female children in India, Arti was considered a social and economic liability, so neighbors warned Arti’s father against sending her to school. They told him that if anything happened “she would harm the family’s reputation.” Despite such objections, Arti’s father allowed her to continue her education until he had a better offer—a marriage proposal—and “made up his mind” despite her lamentations. At age 15, after Arti completed 10th standard in school, she was married.
Arti’s husband was a farmer who owned a modest piece of land. Despite their financial stability, their marriage was a dissonant one. Arti could not conceive, which provoked not just public shaming but also domestic violence. She endured this abuse for six years before having a son and then, two years later, a daughter. Arti was happy with motherhood, but economic hardship hit the village, and her family went into debt. Villagers suffering from similar troubles asked to borrow money from Arti’s husband. Unable to help his neighbors or his own family, the economic burden weighed heavily on his shoulders. He soon became depressed, but Arti didn’t realize it at the time: “It was before my training. I did not know the signs and symptoms of depression. I didn’t know what he was going through.” Soon after, he committed suicide.
Left alone with her two children, Arti contemplated suicide as well, but she found support in the village’s Women’s Group. Pushpa, the Village Health Worker, and members of CRHP’s Mobile Health Team “took care of me as if I were a family member, then and still now.” Their support and guidance carried her through the difficult months that followed her husband’s death, allowing her to emerge as a stronger version of herself and igniting in her the desire to serve her community.
With this mentality and her inspiring charisma, the community selected Arti for government ASHA training in 2008 and, six years later, for CRHP’s Village Health Worker (VHW) training. Though the two roles share a focus on community health promotion, Arti explains that VHW education differs in its use of sensory materials like songs and dances. This makes learning “more effective and easier to internalize.”
Transitioning into her role as a health worker had its bumps. Arti’s young age and status as a widow caused initial distrust and provoked gossip. Despite the opposition, Arti continued making her rounds and visiting the sick, “I remember the advice I was given. ‘Have patience. Never look back. Only go forward.’” Her perseverance was rewarded when she took a man’s blood pressure and realized it was dangerously high. She urged the patient to go with her to the hospital, but he denied her help. When he died, the community realized that Arti’s medical advice should be trusted. Slowly but surely, her relationship with the community improved.
Since then, Arti has increased her involvement as a VHW. She is currently engaged in the Adolescent Boys/Girls Program and considers herself well-versed on topics including diabetes, hypertension, and maternal care. Mental health is also an issue of particular importance to her. Because depression is a prevalent but unspoken problem in rural areas, Arti considers it her duty to talk to her patients, be their confidant, and support them “anytime, no matter what.”
Arti has done more than emerge as a resilient woman and mother; she has gained the respect of her community. This past year, with the community’s support, she was nominated to be sheriff of Padali. As a token of their endorsement, they turned her application in for her. If it is approved, Arti will become the first female sheriff of the Jamkhed Block.
Arti confides that there are still times when she feels people do not care for her work. However, she considers saving lives and promoting social change more important than appeasing everyone. Daily, she confronts the realities of being a widow, a female health worker, and a parent with both inspiring humility and energy. “I am educated, I have support, and through all of these challenges I was able to succeed. Sorrow is inevitable, but we need to find joy despite those sorrows.”
Written By: Yudi Liu; Revised By: Annalise Tolley