Bhubaneswar: Cheers and applause erupted in a small Odisha village as the news arrived that its woman sarpanch will participate in a three-week international leadership programme in the US next month.

Arati Devi, 28, perhaps the country’s youngest sarpanch, was delighted when the US consulate general in Hyderabad told her that she was the only Indian selected for the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) on state and local governments for current and emerging leaders sponsored by the State Department.

People made a beeline for her house at Dhunkapara – in Odisha’s Ganjam district – about 200 km from here, to congratulate her and many distributed sweets to celebrate Arati’s success.

“I was surprised when I got a call from the US consulate. They told me that my work impressed them and they wanted me to participate in the programme,” a jubilant Arati told IANS.

“I never expected that such a great opportunity will knock on my door. After a series of interviews they selected me,” she said.

IVLP is one of the US’ most prestigious professional exchange programmes.

Many prominent Indian politicians have participated in the event in their earlier years. They include former prime ministers Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former presidents K.R. Narayanan and Pratibha Patil.

Arati will speak on state government functions, government transparency and accountability at the programme to be held at Springfield in Illinois.

“The trip will help me understand development models in that country and I will try to implement the best ideas here,” she added.

All expenses related to her travel will be paid for by the State Department. In addition to Washington, she will also visit a few other US cities to observe the country’s diversity.

Arati quit her job as an investment banker at IDBI bank to become a sarpanch, the elected head of a village-level statutory institution of local self-government, called a panchayat, in 2012.

Arati, who holds a MBA degree, said village council leaders can make a lot of difference if they work honestly and sincerely.

“When I took charge as sarpanch, I found many villagers were not aware that a public distribution system exists. I created awareness and now all are availing wheat, kerosene and other items at subsidised prices,” she said.

“I have started an adult literacy programme for women by diverting a small amount of panchayat funds. We are appointing one educated youth in each village ward to teach adult women how to read and write.

Source: IANS