Saving for his Daughters’ Education

I come from Dogachiya, a village on the outskirts of Kolkata. Even though I’m 42 now, all I can remember is pulling a rickshaw. Since I wasn’t interested in going to school, my father thought I may as well contribute to the family income. Ours was a large family.

I slogged ten to twelve hours a day as a rickshaw puller. Though the rickshaw helped me earn my livelihood, I was in an exploitative system where I had no security and if a passenger refused to pay for a ride, there was nothing I could do. More- over, I didn’t own my rickshaw. I hired it for I hired it for 30 rupees [50 cents] a day and returned it to the owner at night.”

Dissatisfied with the daily plight of passenger harassment, low and irregular pay—leading to an inability to build any savings—Kayem Ali and his wife Arjina Bibi approached the rickshaw collective in their community to explore how they could purchase their own rickshaw. AIF’s Rickshaw Sangh offered them a combination of asset ownership and access to social services. They are joint borrowers of the rickshaw,  and are repaying the loan taken to purchase it. Kayem uses his rickshaw to transport farm produce to the market such as mangoes, areca nuts, coconuts, vegetables and chickens. They marvel at how this simple decision transformed their lives from a daily struggle for survival to being able to build up some savings and send their children to school.

AIF’s Rickshaw Sangh program has modernized the rickshaw sector by bringing dignity to the lives of rickshaw pullers. Rickshaw Sangh secures an identity for individual rickshaw drivers through key social benefits—including an identity card, driver’s license, permit and uniform—and in turn mobilizes drivers into collectives and links them to commercial credit facilities to access formal credit and thus entry into the formal financial sector. Rickshaw collectives take joint responsibility for a group of loans, guaranteed by AIF, for which they can own their own vehicles through easy weekly repayments over a period of one year.

Kayem Ali is a happy man now. He says, “I cover a ten kilometer radius. My income has risen manifold, since the rickshaw is mine and I can ride it for as many hours in a day without having to worry about paying rent or exceeding the rental hours.” Arjina Bibi says this is the first asset she has ever owned in her life and it makes her feel good about herself. She wants to use the earnings from the rickshaw to save up for her daughters’ education. The eldest, Naseema, is studying in 10th Grade and wants to become a policewoman. Younger daughter Soraiya says she will be a doctor. “Let them study as much as they want,” he says, adding that he enjoys the respect he gets from his community now that he owns his own rickshaw.

As Director of Communications and Advocacy, Rowena Kay Mascarenhas holds the global responsibility for overseeing the development and implementation of AIF’s marketing, communications, and advocacy strategies across the Head Office, Country Office and Regional Offices.

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