Sisters of the Holy Spirit "revolutionise" the life of 10,000 people in Rajasthan tribal villages

In 2011 the Missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit opened the mission in Goeka Baria, which includes eight villages. They taught irrigation and new crops, created support groups for women, and taught personal hygiene. Local leaders accused them of religious conversions but change their minds when they saw that their work was beneficial.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A group of Indian nuns has “revolutionized the life” of some Bhil ethnic villages in the State of Rajasthan.

The helped build a school and a dispensary, repaired and deepened 85 wells, introduced cutting-edge irrigation technologies and new crops, helped women who wouldn’t recognise each other form self-help groups, promoted personal hygiene and helped reduce child mortality.

The sisters belong to the Missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit in the Diocese of Udaipur. In 2011 they started the Child Focused Community Development Project at Goeka Baria, a mission that covers a total of eight villages in Sajjangarh, a block (subdivision) in Banswara district, where 95 per cent of the population is Hindu and Muslim.

In all, the nuns helped about 10,000 people from tribal communities. They encouraged water and micro-credit projects, supported biodiversity, taught how to plan the harvest and introduced new plants and seeds, countered migration, in particular towards the more industrialised Gujarat, as well as "social evils" that have kept women subjugated, like child marriages.

When they arrived, people “lived in unhygienic and subhuman conditions and could not send their children to schools,” Sr Jaisa Antony said. One of the main problems was the lack of water. The nuns helped repair the local bunds (dykes) and showed people how to store rainwater.

Working with the Krishi Vigyan Kendra, an agricultural science centre in Banswara, they experimented with new crops such as corn, chickpeas, vegetables and rice, where only wheat was grown.

Another problem they tackled was gender discrimination. Deemed inferior, local women were forced to cover their faces, couldn’t look at others in the face, and had to give birth at home.

The sisters convinced 900 women to join 72 self-help groups and organised courses for tailoring, bamboo work, poultry farming and goat rearing.

Kamala Devi, 32, is one of those who now earn 4,000 rupees (US$ 55) a month as a seamstress. She has been able to save some money for her children’s education.

"Before the sisters arrived, we recognised each other just looking at the feet, the edge of the sari, or the tone of the voice. Today we smile," she said.

Krishna Chandra, a retired teacher who lives in Goeka Pargi, says the Sisters' work encountered several obstacles.

“Some local leaders tried to oppose the nuns’ work, saying it was a façade for religious conversion,” she explained. But “As people began to experience the benefit of the sisters’ work, their opponents did not succeed,” he added.