Women’s World Summit Foundation annual Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life 2013 to Ms. Suchismita Majundar                                                                                                                                                            Ankur Bora

    WWSF, a humanitarian, secular, non-governmental and international, non-profit organization based in Geneva , Switzerland , with United Nations consultative status works for a new development paradigm with and for women and children. The WWSF Prize is a recognition of achievements, awarded every year to women and women's groups around the world who exhibit exceptional creativiy, courage and commitment in improvinga the quality of life in rural communities . The award (US$ 1000 per laureate) honors creative and courageous women and women's groups around the world for their contribution in improving the quality of life in rural communities, for protecting the environment, transmitting knowledge and standing up for human rights, development and peace. Established in 1994, WWSF has awarded 395 prizes to-date in over 120 countries.

              

    Ms. Suchismita Majundar, Founder of Swabalambi , is among 10 Laureates selected by the WWSF International Prize Jury this year. Ms. Ankar Bona, from the Assam Foundation of North America, USA, nominated Majundar, as a candidate for the Prize. AFNA has been supporting Swabalambi for the last few years. AFNA volunteers Partha Gogoi , Hitesh Kalita , Anu Baruah of Washington DC have regularly been communicating to Ms Majundar,  through emails / audio conferencing. Mr. Satyajit Nath of Seattle originally proposed the name of Ms. Majundar for the award. Mr. Hitesh Kalita who visited the office of Swabalambi located at Dimoria , Sonapur , provided detailed activity reports. Based on the recommendations and also references from acclaimed writer, columnist, and journalist Ms Indrani Raimedhi and Dr. (Ms.) Dimpy Mahanta, Assistant Professor of Delhi University  , the nomination was submitted in the month of April.   

     

    WWSF , in an email communication to myself on behalf of  Assam Foundation of North America, 17 September 2013 ,  announced the 10 winners of its annual Prize for Women's Creativity in Rural Life 2013 to the media and to the international community. We hope that the stories of Ms. Suchismita Majundar inspire and encourage others to make their mark in promoting the human rights of women, ending poverty and marginalization, preserving the planet, and achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals

    Link to the award page

    http://womensection.woman.ch/index.php/en/prize-for-women/10-suchismita-majumdar-india

    Nomination article

    I came into contact with Ms. Suchismita in the month of January 2010.  I am a volunteer and ex- office bearer of an organization named Assam Foundation of North America (AFNA). It was during my organizational involvement with AFNA, I received a proposal from Swabalambi requesting financial support. I followed with the due diligence including references from prominent personalities, site visit reports from AFNA volunteers and verification of Government of India rules and procedures. We were satisfied with the running of the organization and it was in month of May 2010, AFNA began the organizational relationship including supporting and rebuilding of the training center of  Swabalambi damaged by a severe hail storm. I have been communicating to the founder, Ms. Suchismita Majumdar since then. During my interaction, I came to know about the life story of this remarkable woman who with her sheer endurance, creativity and compassion is able to bring hope and meaning to the lives so many individuals with disabilities.   

       In Assam, especially in rural areas, support for disabled and special needs doesn’t exist or is limited, very often they are treated as burden to the family. There has been a long history of negative stereotypes, about people with disabilities and limited expectations of their capabilities, resulting in social and economic discrimination.  These problems are exacerbated in absence of support groups or institutional systems and as a result, most people with disabilities have been neglected by their families resulting in sad outcomes and tragedies. At a time when there was little public conscience or concern for those with disabilities, Ms. Suchismita had the courage and foresight to open new doors for people with special needs. She guided the organization Swabalambi as a director, playing a major role in its growth and success. Suchismita had the energy and drive to accomplish which is hard to imagine for others. I  got the opportunity to watch numerous video recordings, to read newspaper reports and online articles and through that have experienced the inspiring and stirring account of this remarkable woman’s struggles and triumphs.   

    Ms. Suchismita was afflicted with polio at an early age and had to go through several corrective surgeries. While she had the support and encouragement of her family and  her husband, her physical disability taught her important self-advocacy skills and provided her with a strong foundation for understanding the special needs of the disabled.  Suchismita, later on, had in- service training at an Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Assam and after a series of trainings outside Assam, she earned the License of a Rehabilitation Personnel from the Rehabilitation Council of India, New Delhi.   

       

    She founded Swabalambi and in the year 1997, she started working for the disabled by organizing health camps in a rural area of  Dimoria blocks in Kamrup district. It was a tremendous task to convince people in the villages that disability is not a disease and can be corrected or minimized. Suchismita decided to take the help of Medical Professionals. At her request,  surgeons from various departments of the Guwahati Medical College offered voluntary service and met the families at the Health camps. Suchismita , in presence of the doctors , tried to explain to the villagers - A two year old with cerebral palsy could not walk as he had tightness in muscle which could be loosened by a surgery or a boy who falls down frequently while limping required a hip surgery. However, despite their best efforts and offer for operations free of cost , the parents were not ready – they asked , what if the disease is not cured after the operation or worst still , if the child dies. Suchismita and her team took it in their stride to convince them ; She motivated them by the success story of herself  ‘ being alive’ even after the numerous surgeries she had to undergo for polio and being able and hearty to work for the disabled population! Finally they nodded yes to operations in the Medical College and the Swabalambi team was relieved and happy to assist them daily in the hospital. It was a turning point for her, the successful facilitation of health care and corrective surgeries led to the establishment of a wonderful rapport with the village community and they began to trust Swabalambi and anyone working for the organization. It was the beginning of a wonderful journey, Suchismita and her team set themselves in right earnest and till now has been able to identify and rehabilitate around seven hundred disabled. They are also coordinating with other agencies that directly give out aids like the artificial limbs, hearing aids, wheelchairs, tri-cycles and other appliances.

    Ms. Suchismita believes that social and economic opportunities for disabled are both humanitarian and economic. From a humanitarian perspective, it is intended to secure for people with disabilities what are generally considered to be their basic human rights. From an economic perspective, it is expected to increase the human capital of disabled, and thus enable them to reduce their dependence on family or public support. It is the economic aspect which led her to the formation of a training center. Here, children and adolescents with disability are trained for pre vocational and vocational skills in design of bamboo, cane and jute craft, handlooms, embroidery and tailoring, soft toys, screen printing and painting. The local area of  Swabalambi is generously endowed with abundant natural resources including jute and bamboo. The local tribal artisans are known for their beautiful handicraft. Ms. Suchismita came out with the training curriculum after careful consideration of the disabled. The training is divided into various groups: People with mild and moderate mental retardation are selected for Pre Vocational Training which includes sorting of raw materials, identification of shape and sizes, basic colors, basic counting, concepts of time and money and others. On the other hand, the adolescents with moderate and mild physical disabilities are selected for design and technical development in various vocations, such as cane bamboo and jute craft, weaving in handlooms with Jacquard Machine, tailoring and machine embroidery and making soft toys of viable designs in a time bound schedule. Visitors to Swabalambi are greeted with beautiful bamboo/cane furniture, bamboo and jute artifacts and colorful handloom dress materials woven by disabled girls and boys. These products have been exhibited and marketed in various exhibitions, International Trade Fairs and through Fabindia , an Indian chain store retailing ethnic products. Ms. Suchismita  is also guiding the organization to adapt with changing times , recently the original simple bamboo basket has been diversified into unique bread basket, fruit basket with cane knitting, laundry Basket with cane frame holder and wine caddy. With innovation, creativity and marketing, Swabalambi is able to provide a constant source of income to the disabled, many of them became primary bread earners in their families.  It is a great achievement for them as they have ‘transformed’ themselves from ‘liabilities’ to ‘assets’ for their families. 

    Swabalambi hosts a wide range of visitors including college students, visiting doctors, resource persons from Funding Agencies and well wishers from all walks of life. The food provided by the inmates are ethnic and oil free cooked in raw bamboo tube segments and banana leaves, thereby promoting an eco-friendly environment. It has  also been observed that the contacts with regular visitors have enhanced the psychological development of the disabled youths. The youngsters eagerly wait for the weekend to arrive and to interact with the visitors and share their world . It's all part of an atmosphere of spreadable joy. There is a special event called  Abilympics ( Olympics of Abilities of Persons with Disabilities ) held every year in Delhi , the national capital of India and Swabalambi  is able to send the highest number of participants , many of them became   winners of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals

    “Ms Mazumder has not only been helping disabled people to become self-independent, but also been able to assist in consummating happy married lives among them. I was excited to attend such an event during my visit when a disabled person got married arranged by Ms Mazumder.”, Mr. Hitesh Deka of Washington DC, USA told me recently. In another email communication, Dr. (Ms.) Dimpy Mahanta, Assistant Professor of Delhi University stated “Suchismita is leading a trained staff of 15 and 35 Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs) at village level, village Panchayat level and at Block level in the 140 villages of Dimoria Block, Kamrup District.   The uniqueness of this organization is that it is led by a woman overcoming her own disability and that in turn has motivated the village community to come out openly and support the movement.”

    The United Nations Convention for Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) act has undertaken the obligation to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedom for persons with disabilities without any discrimination. Suchismita and her team of workers have under taken the task of translating this into act into vernacular language and have organized workshops and public awareness of Disability rights. The Census 2011 and inclusion of all persons with disability is another positive fall out of the UNCRPD. In the Census of 2001, it is estimated that the record of disability was just 2 % and so there was a very meager budget for the disability sector. Realizing it,  Ms Suchismita  worked round the clock meeting the enumerators for recording the households with disabled members. Because of her persistent effort, accurate figure was received in the Census of 2011, which in turn enabled the policy makers to increase the budget allocation for the disabled and also a better coordination of disability policies, strategies and activities.

    Suchismita Mazumdar is a youth icon who has inspired countless people find meaning in life. I am honoured that she has agreed to feature in a book I am writing on remarkable women of north east India. Her life has been a struggle against great odds as she has endlessly battled to overcome her limitations. She has single handedly changed the general mindset of the public towards the disabled.” Acclaimed writer, columnist, and journalist Ms Indrani Raimedhi reflected on this exceptional woman . The story of Ms Suchismita illuminates how life’s adversity can be transformed into a priceless jewel. Just as a pearl evolves from an invading grain of sand, the intrusion of misfortune can be turned into a thing of beauty and value in each of our lives

    Ms. Suchismita Majumdar is trying to advance a cultural change in a meaningful, positive and long-lasting way on how we perceive and treat people who are considered different and are labeled as such. In one of the conversations she said, “It is not a ‘them versus us’ scenario. We are all one. We all have abilities, and we all have disabilities.”  Instead of the compartmentalization of disabled people in segregated institutional systems, Ms. Suchismita is advocating social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities. It’s a bold initiative; this incredible story of Hope, Triumph, Everyday Joy, hopefully, will inspire others and encourage them to get involved. Together, we can stand for and offer our support towards a global commitment to equalizing access to social and economic opportunities for people with disabilities.

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