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Saroj

Two years ago, Saroj got married. He was already a bit old, having delayed his marriage while he worked in his community. He’d been saving and planning for a wife for years. Relentlessly saving out of the small amount he made every month, he’d managed to buy her the nicest sari she could ever expect to own as a wedding present.

What Saroj’s future in-laws didn’t tell him was that she had a boyfriend in another village of whom they disapproved. They were hoping to get her married off to prevent her from running off with the other man, and so they forced her to marry Saroj. It didn’t work. Fifteen days after they’d married, she ran off with her boyfriend anyway.

Saroj was heartbroken, wondering what he had done to deserve such treatment. He began drinking – a habit he had quit years ago. He stayed inside and refused to take care of any of his duties. He wouldn’t speak to anyone.

Saroj had been one of Chetna’s community volunteers for almost a decade before his marriage. Chetna, a partner ministry of SIM, works with community volunteers to oversee community health and development initiatives. Their volunteers receive training in basic sanitation, healthcare, and government activism to help solve village problems.

Saroj had started with Chetna because he needed the small salary they offer for the work. It was a rough start. He was known in several villages for being a “gangster sort.” Chetna staff had to go with him around his own village to vouch for his changed behavior and ask people to give him another chance.

“People were always worried about losing their motorbikes when Saroj was around,” someone remembers.

Before working with Chetna, Saroj’s father had begged him to clean up his act and Saroj had tried, but couldn’t find any new friends who wouldn’t drag him back to the old way of life. He kept slipping back into the drinking, fighting, and stealing habits despite his father’s pleas. Saroj hoped, in addition to the money, working for Chetna might help him find a supportive community for leading a better life. Chetna was known in his village for their good work and service to the community.

Saroj slowly stopped hanging out with his old friends. He stopped drinking when Chetna staff arrived one day without warning to check on his work and smelled alcohol on his breath. The shame of being discovered drunk while serving his community caused him to stop forever.

That is, until his wife of two weeks ran off with her boyfriend.

By this time, Saroj was a trusted member of his community. People brought their concerns and problems to him and he used his training and experience working with Chetna to help them. The villages Saroj was responsible for were developing and flourishing as he led efforts to get children immunized, helped women save money and start small businesses, and initiate better education opportunities. But now, it was Saroj who needed some community support.

Chetna staff visited him often, crying with him and reminding him that it wasn’t his fault. They reminded him of how much the community respected him now – and how much his village needed him.

Saroj returned to work, throwing himself into it even harder. He still felt like he was working to undo the bad reputation from his youth. Everyone was surprised when the villagers approached Saroj and asked him to run for mayor of their district. Saroj refused. He didn’t have enough money to fund an election campaign and didn’t think he was charismatic enough or had enough education to win.

Saroj’s cousin, however, did have the education and funds to run a campaign and be mayor. So Saroj convinced his cousin to run and told the villagers to support him instead. Based largely on Saroj’s reputation for honesty and community service, the village elected his cousin as mayor.

Now the two men sit in the family home together, discussing current problems and future dreams.

“Our village will become a model village,” they say proudly. “It will be clean and healthy and have all the facilities a village should have.”

Saroj is planning to remarry in a couple of months. The entire Chetna team plans to be there to celebrate with him.