Manka Behl

Nagpur: Sandhya Daharwal, a resident of Turia village, used to work as a daily-wage labourer on agricultural fields or construction sites to lend a helping financial hand to her husband, who is a waiter in a village resort. But their combined income did not suffice to meet the expenses of their two children.

Today, things seem a little better for Sandhya as she became one of nine women of buffer area villages who have been appointed as forest guides in Madhya Pradesh Pench Tiger Reserve. Perhaps, a first of its kind initiative. The step has been taken by Satpuda Foundation and MP forest department with an aim of boosting women empowerment in villages under the buffer zone. The Satpuda Foundation chief said that the idea came from strategy planning workshops, organized by the local self-help groups. "The tribal women mostly keep themselves away from the outside world...but we decided to generate employment opportunities for them so they become more capable and independent".

Pench Field Director Subharanjan Sen said that the idea behind involving women was also to ensure better protection and conservation of forests. "This will also spread a positive message among villagers about gender equality," he added.
Assistant director of Satpuda Foundation Anoop Awasthi said 29 women from nearby villages had applied, of which nine were selected. "The selections were made on the basis of attitude and personality. Being guides, they will be expected to have good communication skills," he said. He added that the training programme of the selected guides was over and they would be joining from October 1st. Of the nine selected women, six are appointed for the core tourism area and three for buffer areas.

By taking up a job usually associated with men, the women guides want to bring about a change in the mentality of villagers. "Though the villagers are trying their best to discourage us, we are confident about our choice. When we have an employment opportunity so close-by, why should people from outside take it? We are born and brought up here and are better acquainted with the place. We have a good idea about forest and wildlife," said newly appointed guide Deepika Daharwal.

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