We, as women, have earned freedom of speech

Our volunteer Geraldine of innocent foundation shares her insights into how our project with our partner JRP works on the ground.

JRP supports villagers in strengthening the ecological resources of their environments. In Barhampur village, they have set up self-help groups for women, to train them on farming activities so that they can make a living.

How do self-help groups work?

JRP supports 6 self-help groups (SHG) of 15-20 members each.  That’s 100 marginalised women members getting together to improve their situations. Each woman gives 20 Rupees per month to belong to the group. JRP gives a revolving fund of 10,000 Rupees per year. A revolving fund means that funds remain available as they are invested in activities which repay the money used from the account. Self-help group members can start intra-lending towards productive activities. JRP also assists them to set up a bank account so they can save money there.

Self-help groups are empowered to make change happen. For example, when latrines need to be built, SHGs receive the money and organise for artisans to complete the work. JRP has learned it is safer to give the money to SHGs and train them rather than to individuals (e.g. a co-ordinator) as, this way, there is accountability and the money is well utilised.

india toilet

Some self-help groups have also put rules together, which their members have signed up to: if someone commits a crime, for example, the person is judged and need to pay 3000 Rs.

What was life like before the project?

Some self-help groups were put in place before the project started, and they had received money from the government, but the money was badly used, in some cases siphoned off to feed individuals’ addictions. There were also relationship problems whilst the groups were forming.

They weren’t able to save much money.

What has changed in the village since the project started?

The project has brought security to the whole village. Now, thanks to JRP training, the villagers are able to make much more profit from their activities and save money in the bank, which they can use when needed. They can also get microcredit from rural banks and loan schemes which provide cheaper access to finance than traditional money-lenders.

When I asked one of the self-help group members about the achievement she was the proudest of, she initially sounded self-deprecating: I haven’t achieved anything in my life. Then she thought about it and added: Actually, we as women have earned the freedom of speech. Before, in my family, I wasn’t able to talk to make decisions. Now I can give the money to men.

The sanitation system is improving as latrines have been built. On one of them, the following message was painted: Jeevika Trust/JRP with this toilet have improved our dignity. Another message read as follows: I am only going to give my girl [for marriage] to a house which has a latrine.

Ten women were trained to build smokeless chulhas. These stoves are replacing the old chulhas, which create smoke women inhale whilst cooking, leading to respiratory problems.

smokeless chula

They have planted lemon, chili, papaya, banana and coconut trees to both generate income and protect the island from high winds and exposure to the Bay of Bengal.

Education is improving as some teachers received support from JRP. The number of children going to school is also rising. The school now has one computer and a cooking stove, latrines and solar lights.

One thing they also organise is a deep clean-up every couple of weeks in the village: they get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and divide themselves into groups. One group goes to clean the school, another one to the port, and so on. They have brooms, kerosene and matches. Anything that can be burned gets burned so the village stays clean and there is less ground for mosquitoes to develop.

What was the impact on women’s lives?

One of the women explained that, as a self-help group member and small enterprise owner, she was empowered to make decisions. Belonging to a self-help group and generating profit is a truly empowering process for women previously excluded from economic processes.

Women have got together to learn how to cultivate the ground. They can now communicate with each other and work together.

Villagers are so enthusiastic they’ve become entrepreneurs and are keen to expand. For example, women have asked to mill flour. JRP has listened to their needs and organised for 10 group members to be trained on using flour milling instruments. Women have already divided the different tasks between themselves: some will get the wheat, others will be using the flour milling machine, and others will be selling the flour.

They plan to import wheat from other villages in order to produce more than 200kg of flour each month. They can then use this flour to make sattu for example, an Indian sweet nutritious paste. They also plan to rent the instrument to people from other villages who are keen to make their own flour. This activity was not part of the original brief and is very promising.

What are the challenges?

Cyclone Phailin, which hit the Orissa coast in October 2013, has had a devastating impact: 1000 coconut trees were uprooted, fishing nets of more than 100 fishermen were washed out in the seas, 100 boats were damaged, 12 vermi-compost pits were completely destroyed, 100 kitchen gardens were destroyed as well, and so on. The villagers received extra money thanks to an emergency appeal made by JRP and are now re-building everything.

Now other villagers are keen to get involved in self-help groups and income-generation activities. 12 new self-help groups have been formed, even though they are not supported by JRP. At this stage, JRP can ‘only’ support 100 members, who were identified through a needs assessment at the start of the project. They currently can’t afford to help the other self-help groups.

There is very limited access to healthcare. When women are about to give birth for example, they have to go a long way to get medical support. JRP organised health camps after the Phailin cyclone in October 2013: a team of doctors came to the village to provide free emergency treatment. They came twice and had a huge response. They gave antibiotics and treated people for infections and injuries following the cyclone.

What are the villagers’ hopes for the future?

In the future, they would like health assistance to be provided in the village. They would like even more toilets in the village so everyone has access to a latrine.

To help the women in Chilika Lagoon achieve their hope for more toilets and regular medical care please donate now

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