Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why Community Institutions of the Poor are Essential!

The distinct feature of poverty in India is that the boats of the poorest are nailed to the sea bed. When the tide rises, they sink. Often treated as dispensable commodities by those in power, they are helpless and unaware of even their basic rights.

This is where initiatives like RGMVP come in.

The Community Institutions of the Poor not only provide an interface or channel between the poorest of the poor and development initiatives, but also provides them with an opportunity to come out of poverty by helping them help themselves. Having said that, it is important to note that there is yet to exist a proper delivery mechanism, in terms of the Government and its agencies being able to implement schemes and programmes. Thus, there exists a wide gap between government initiatives and their actual implementation and delivery on ground.

RGMVP is not an extension of the aid delivery mechanism to the poorest. It is the yanking out of the sea bed of the chains that tie the bottom 30% of India firmly to the ocean's bed, which is a far more powerful and radical outcome.

We are not only helping them release themselves from the clutches of poverty and subordinated social status, but also helping them help themselves to unleash their true potential- through their own initiative.

Community institutions of the Poor bring together women, who voluntarily organize themselves, not only to practice micro-finance, but also to engage in awareness building and information dissemination activities (like government schemes, safe hygiene practises, agricultural practises, importance of education, etc.) and also citizenship based activities (helping them form a formidable force in fighting for one's rights, with respect to government schemes, entitlements, remedies/redressal or otherwise).

Women from within the three federations further volunteer to get trained on SHG formation (they help raise awareness amongst non-SHG members on the usefulness and importance of institutions of the poor, mobilise them and help them set up their own SHGs), issues of health, hygiene and nutrition (including maternal health, personal hygiene, menstrual health, latrine system and sanitation, child care, etc.), bank linkages (help women from SHGs set up their accounts and access loans, etc. and help them out with the procedure), etc.

The process is effective because the trainings capacitate these women to convince other women like them about the benefits of organizing the poor, as well as spread awareness and information on best practises, like the ones mentioned above.

We, thus, need to work towards helping the poor organize themselves. Over the last 10 years, we have reached out to over 350,000 households, forming over 30,000 SHGs in some of the most backward areas of Uttar Pradesh. We’re now striving to reach out to more and more poor women and help them overcome poverty and unleash their true potential!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How RGMVP Changed My Life!

Asha Devi is a married woman with two children. She lives in Rasoi village of Jhansi district. Over a year back, her life revolved around waking up early in the morning, cooking food for her family, sending her husband to work, working in the farm till evening and then returning home to cook again. This was her life, day in and day out. She didn’t step out of the house for anything else. She didn’t speak to any strangers.

One day, a group of women from a very different region visited her village and knocked on her door. She opened it. They came in and asked her to listen to them for a while. She didn’t pay any heed to them. But they were persistent and so she reluctantly agreed. They took out some chart papers and explained to her the state of rural women in India today and what they could possibly do about it. Their concepts and ideas of organizing the poor to save money and solve problems really impressed Asha. She asked her husband to let her form a ‘samooh’ or self-help group. He didn’t find her plan worthy of any attention and argued that it’s a waste of time. Later, however, she did manage to convince him and formed a small group with women from her neighbourhood. Gradually, they found solace and solutions for all their problems in their weekly meetings. As they started openly discussing various aspects of women’s development, their inferiority started fading away and they felt more and more confident and empowered!

Things started to change for Asha. She borrowed a sum of Rs.600/- from her self-help group and bought a bicycle for her husband, who used to travel to work as a labourer, in a town 6 kms away from their place. Till date, she has borrowed Rs.35000/- and paid it all back. She has used the money to take care of her family’s health, children’s education, food and also to generate income by investing in buffaloes and growing cucumbers. She has also travelled to Andhra Pradesh twice- to see the condition of rural women there, observe how they fought
poverty from within their community and to get trained to become a Community Resource Person.

Today, a year and half later, Asha is a woman who confidently and fearlessly speaks to representatives of her area to solve local village issues and problems. She mobilises women from various groups and encourages them to lead better lives! She’s a known name in her village- not only as a good leader, but also as some one who wants to inspire other women to be good leaders!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How Meera Devi Fought For Her Security

Meera Devi, Khajurah Kedi, Babina Block, Jhansi District, was a poor woman living with her family in a small hut in an isolated area close to her village. Residents of her area were prone to regular harassment by the customers of a cheap liquor stall nearby. After a lot of toleration, Meera got fed up with her insecurity and raised her voice against their business and filed a complaint against the stall at the local police station. This, in spite of solving her problem, made things complicated for her. The police did not help her and the owners of the liquor stall turned violent and injured Meera. She was helpless and thought she could do nothing but face it for the rest of her life!

However, one day, a few women from her village approached her and told her about the Self Help Groups that we help organize and suggested that she join it. Meera reluctantly agreed. Today, she proudly admits that she has gained a lot awareness and confidence from the activities of the ‘Samooh’ or Self Help Group. She knows very well now that self-confidence and unity that can do wonders for women.
Apart from solving her security problem, she has also progressed very well economically after joining her SHG. She has borrowed Rs.5000 to clear a loan she took from a local money lender. She returned the borrowed money and then took Rs.4000 and opened a small store of accessories for women. She borrowed Rs.5000/- again and invested it in growing ground nuts, which gave her a profit of Rs.25000! Now she is poor no more! She is independent, economically well of, able to educate her children well and also has security, for which she once struggled very hard! Meera’s story tells us that organizing poor women not only helps and empowers women themselves, but also her entire family and community!

After a couple of months, she gathered a group of 50 women and went to Babina Block’s police station in a tractor and demanded security. This move was quite effective. The police finally intervened and ensured them security from harassment.

Things were solved for her within a couple of days. She’s happy now, leading a peaceful life. Once in a while, she looks back at her dark days and says to herself, “how would I be now if there were no SHGs?