Vandana Patekar is currently a Deputy Manager (Social) at our Regional Resource Centre in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. She has been with WOTR since 2000.She shares her story in September’s ‘WOTRian of the month’.
‘I am a native of Ahmednagar district and I grew up there, in Ahmednagar city. My father was a doctor and mother a homemaker. He used to work in the Social Centre, Ahmednagar, and I would accompany him there and see him work with the people. I gradually realised that I had an interest in working with and for people, especially women in the rural areas. My father himself noticed this and suggested it to me as a career option. So after doing my BA in Geography, I chose to do an MSW, in Ahmednagar. I passed out of MSW in 1992, and then was placed with the NGO Abhivyakti. I was at that time working in the area of early child education, especially in trying to make learning more enjoyable for the children. My father had also started his own NGO, and this made me even more determined to join an NGO myself. Then I joined AFARM (Action for Agricultural Renewal in Maharashtra) in Pune, as a Sociologist in 1998.
Later, when I came to know about WOTR I became interested in joining this organisation. I applied and was selected, after the interview process. On 6 November 2000, I joined WOTR as a Senior Social Development Officer. I am now Deputy Manager (Social).
Over the past 20 years, at WOTR, I have played many kinds of responsibilities, from training module preparation to creating awareness and conducting training myself, as well as other kinds of administrative work. I have worked extensively in the field of village development, including working with women and children. My favourite work was and is training people at the village level. I love talking to people and this offers me that chance. At present, I am overseeing work in the social development sphere. I have had the opportunity to work in diverse cities of Maharashtra, from the tribal dominated district of Nandurbar, from Sangamner, to Ahmednagar, and the industrial city of Aurangabad. These have given me diverse experiences.
A question arises, when people generally prefer engineering, law, medicine or government service, especially in smaller towns, then why did I choose the social sector? One major reason is that in my family, everyone has gone into serving the public in some way. My own siblings are teachers and doctors. I myself was initially interested in becoming a nurse. So this career was very much to my liking.
Of course, working in this social sector has its own plus points and drawbacks. Essentially, the NGO sector in India sprang up to fill in the gaps left by the government. There are many government schemes but these cannot reach everyone; NGOs therefore are needed. Working in such a sector makes us feel that we are doing something meaningful, that benefits the people. When we see the impact of our work, it makes up for everything. In terms of challenges, maintaining and improving the gender balance in rural society is difficult. Even today, in rural areas, women are not looked upon at par with men. It is not always easy to motivate women to attend programmes or take part in different activities in such a gender stratified society. This is something that I grapple with even today.
As far as WOTR is concerned, I dream that we should spread our wings to the urban areas. This should be our next focus area, in particular community awareness and healthcare services. WOTR must slowly orient its focus in that direction, to work with disadvantaged communities in the urban areas. Skill development of the youth should be our second focus area for the future, as this is a burning issue in India.
On a lighter note, my hobbies include reading, sculpture, gardening and writing. I like to do sculpture in clay and mud. I have made the Ganesh idol in my own home as well. I like reading Marathi books, in particular historical fiction. I enjoy listening to old Marathi and Hindi songs.
When I reflect upon the last 20 years, I realise that I have learned a lot from the different kinds of opportunities that WOTR gave me. I am grateful for the same. My wish for the future is that I should be a cooler, calmer person who can remain untroubled even in challenging times. I am an emotional person; I am trying to work on the same. In conclusion, there is a lot more, in the field of gender equity and development that I wish to learn about and enrich my knowledge. Going forward, this would be my area of focus.’