Whenever I am out on field work, I have an elevated sense of work contentment. A long time after the field visit has ended, I am able to visualize a myriad of pictures from the experience that float past my eyes. Be it observing changing geography from the window of a moving bus, squeezing into shared public vehicles where goats, poultry and human beings travel in perfect conjunction with each other, the kilometers of walking to reach remote villages or interacting with with various new individuals and communities. I collect these pictures in the album of my senses sometimes through random notes, at times reports but most times through pictures taken during field work. I have found this habit to be worthwhile because it helps gather thoughts, set priorities and most importantly it helps spur reflection to plan the next tasks.
Interaction with women of three generations from the same family at Bhuj, Kutch. Picture: Molly Pathak.
In the above context, I am writing this piece in reflection of my site visits to visit and the support the work of two current AIF Clinton Fellows in two diverse locations; Naz Foundation in Mumbai, Maharasthra and Lok Sahbhagi Sansthan in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Naz Foundation has a history of working on issues of HIV/AIDS, gender and sexuality. The organisation is a Delhi based NGO and functions under an umbrella structure executing several programs on HIV/AIDS Awareness, runs a Care Home for HIV positive children, works for Advocacy for LGBTQ Rights and implements a school engagement program for girl using sports named Goal. I visited Akiera Gilbert, AIF Fellow 2017-18 placed at Naz Foundation’s Mumbai office. Akiera works for project Goal. The project has two components – first is the Netball Game which concentrates on building up physical dexterity, and peer comfort of adolescent girls, and second is the life-skills classes that the NGO conducts with the girls covering topics related to personal health and hygiene, HIV/AIDS awareness, community sanitation practices. The aim of the program is to create empower girls through information towards safer life practices. For community engagement, I visited a Hindi Medium School – Ghatkopar and Amchi Shala – Chembur and engaged in conversations with some girls who were beneficiaries of the Goal project.
Naz Foundation’s Engagement Age-group.
Picture Courtesy : Naina Yadav Profiles | Facebook, www.facebook.com/public/Naina-Yadav.
Lok Sahbhagi Sansthan (LSS) works for livelihood creation in the farm sector and is engaged in empowerment of women’s SHGs in remote villages of Rajasthan. I visited Naveen Kori, AIF Fellow 2017-18 working at a village named Med located in the Viratnagar block of Jaipur district. The LSS office is situated in a humble location in Med with just basics in place. Most of the work that LSS does is on site, working directly with the community. LSS has about 125 registered Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and 30% of these SHGs are more than 5 years old with strong evidence of Internal Lending and implementation of MCPs (Micro Credit Plans). For community engagement, I visited a Farmer’s Input Store which was run by a co-operative created by LSS (Banganga Farmers Agro Producer Company Ltd.). The store facilitated by LSS provides seeds and fertilizers at non-profit cost, expert plant health advice and conducts knowledge dissemination workshops for all the SHGs registered with the Banganga Cluster. It also carries out bulk purchase of the farm produce from SHGs and sells it through direct channels into wholesale markets of northern India. The produce primarily is seasonal, horticulture based and during the season that I visited them I saw large quantities of peas and tomatoes being harvested. I also met members of an SHG which is about five years old and is ready to transcend as part of a FPG (Farmer Producer Group), a project that Naveen and the team have steadily been working on.
SHG Meeting organised by LSS. Picture Courtesy: Naveen Kori, LSS Office, Khoraladkhani Village, Jaipur.
To me, these field visits were a reassurance of the fact that empowerment through self-help is the the biggest tool that can help a population rise above basics and live better lives. Both – the Goal project at Naz Foundation and the FPG project at LSS are strong examples of development through self help and empowerment. Empowerment means enabling people to acquire resources for independent decision-making and also resist decisions that are made by others which affect them. SHGs on the other hand, are a significant medium of poverty alleviation through empowerment. Both go hand-in-hand and SHGs formed in different places have proved that they are powerful catalysts to bring about change in various communities and scenarios. It is a known fact that women empowerment is a deep rooted challenge in the Indian development scenario, and during my field visits at Naz and LSS I observed that this very aspect is what both these NGOs are working on with both commitment and expertise. Naz focuses on adolescent girls and LSS with women, some of whom are illiterate or semi-literate. The age old adage ‘The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world’ is being put into practice at both of these projects. Interventions like these will play a catalytic role in raising the dignity and self-respect of women in our society. Empowering women with the knowledge of good health practices, thrift, saving and self-defense will help our women overcome the primary challenges of hunger, poverty, child mortality, maternal health and also the secondary challenges of education and gender inequity. Women empowerment is one of the greatest contributions in nation-building and organizations engaged in this work should to be appreciated.
Having returned from my site visits and in that context, I could find the essence of women empowerment enveloped in these beautiful lines:
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
- “ARTICLES : Gandhian View on Women.” Gandhian Principles and Women Empowerment through Self-Help Groups by Dr.(Mrs.) Marina Pereira| Articles on Women, www.gandhiashramsevagram.org/gandhi-articles/gandhian-principles-and-women-empowerment-through-Self-help-groups.php.
- Angelou, Maya. “Still I Rise by Maya Angelou.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46446/still-i-rise.