Urmila - From troubled life to Torch-Bearing role-model. Seen selling mushrooms to supplement her income.

From Troubled Life to Role-Model

Urmila started as a clinic attendant in one of CORD’s subcenters. She was referred by the villagers because of her husband, who would beat her every day after a bout of drinking. He was a poor village carpenter with meager earnings that he splurged entirely on alcohol and other addictive habits. He was also a minor village bootlegger, a gambler, and a womanizer. One night, he even tried to sell Urmila to his drinking mates. That was when she ran away in the middle of the night with her four little children to her inlaws’ home, about five miles away, where she began to stay in a very small room given to her by her in-laws.

She had no money to feed the children. She would earn a little on some days by doing odd jobs in certain homes in the village. Her husband did not leave her alone. He would visit her from time to time. On some days, her husband came home drunk and kicked the food she and her children were about to eat after having been hungry all day and, as usual, beat them all for no reason. Expected to be the traditional bread winner of the family, he did not like the fact that she was the one who was earning some money and feeding the family. In fact, her condition was so desperate that the villagers advised her to live with some other man. Urmila did not want to get into any such type of relationship. Nevertheless, the villagers constantly kept pestering her to enter into such a relationship.

At that juncture, when CORD first met her, she was hiding her face behind her veil, emaciated, unable to utter a word except for an occasional nod. Then, Urmila started working as a clinic attendant on a wage of Rs. 50 per month! She was soon promoted because of her diligence. She was trained as a Village Health Guide by CORD. Her readiness to learn and transfer her health-related knowledge, and her ability to help implement the program with efficiency, enabled her to rapidly grow from a part-time worker (working twice a week for a few hours only) to a fulltime worker. CORD devoted much effort to build her knowledge and skills. Before long, she emerged as an excellent community-development worker and a team leader.

During her work with CORD, Urmila started learning, practicing, and transferring the skills and knowledge to change her own as well as other people’s lives in the community. In her free time, she worked with her growing children to earn extra income from her own microenterprise. She grew mushrooms at home and sold them to make a reasonable profit. Through CORD’s facilitation, she formed, nurtured, and strengthened CBOs of women called Mahila Mandal — Self-Help Groups for Microfinance Access; Adolescent Girls’ Groups; Farmers and Youth Groups; and Children’s Groups.

Urmila then started leading a team of women group facilitators at CORD as a supervisor and later as Chief Community Development Worker. Besides having that role, she herself won people’s confidence in her village through her consistent and persistent selfless work. She won the election and became the ward representative in her Gram Panchayat. She soon began to train others on how to function resourcefully in the Panchayati Raj Institution and promote local self-governance.

Urmila coaching community workers

With the Guru’s Blessings

Both Urmila’s and Kaushalya’s (see next topic about Kaushalya) children are well settled today, and both of these women have managed to build their small comfortable homes. What they treasure most is their special moments with Gurudev, who gave them love and encouragement, which Guruji now continues to give. Urmila Devi recalls the time when, during a workshop on environment at Solan, Himachal Pradesh, she and her friend Vidya Devi won a cash prize of Rs. 500 in a speech competition about the ‘Environment.’ They were very excited and decided to offer this prize money at the feet of Gurudev. When they were trying with difficulty to reach Gurudev through the crowd of devotees around him, Gurudev noticed them and said loudly to the devotees, “Please give some space so that my people can come to me.” He then introduced them to the crowd, said that they were doing very good work, and blessed them. Later, Gurudev wrote to Urmila a letter which she still treasures today and says, “This is a letter to me from God.” (See the original letter and the typed version below)