Friday, January 4, 2013

Meeting self-help groups in Pipra

Today we were fortunate enough to journey to one more village, Pipra, and meet with three representatives from self-help groups (SHG's) who, along with Salomi's patient translation, shared their success stories in the community.
Today we were fortunate enough to journey to one more village, Pipra, and meet with three representatives from self-help groups (SHG's) who, along with Salomi's patient translation, shared their success stories in the community.

The first woman we spoke with, Prem, had been working in a SHG for 12 years. Her group made products such as sweets, poppers, pickles, and candles, which were sold to shopkeepers outside of the village. This business allowed the women to venture 300 kilometers beyond community bounds, a novel experience for them. It also strengthened their presence within the community, as they now had economic power separate from their husbands. This income is used for a variety of purposes in areas such as technology, agriculture, healthcare, and marriage ceremonies.

Salomi speaks with a man about the SHG's activities. Prem is standing in the background and comes forward later to share.

We asked what advice Prem might give to other community members considering forming an SHG. She responded with two key points. The first was that belonging to a SHG is above and beyond the regular duties held by women in the community, which appear to be quite comprehensive. And the second, more uplifting, is that although she saw resistance to the SHG at first, she now feels quite supported in her endeavors.

Next we meet Sharda, who was the head of another SHG, the Watershed Committee. She had identified water to be the most significant source of problems in the community. Travel to the one hand pump previously available to collect water was huge time burden on the women in the community, and long waits for water was fuel for conflict. She had seen health and sanitation improved by the changes made by her committee, which included the installation of water taps and toilets.

Students learning about the water tap in this community.

Finally, we spoke with Anita, who was the head of the Panchayat, the local level governmental system in these villages. They are responsible for allocating money from the Indian government and making decisions about community matters. Conversation quickly turned to government incentives to increase the value families place on their female youth, who are often considered a burden or inconvenience due to the culturally required presentation of a dowry. To offset this, a family now receives a sum of money when their daughter turns 18, which applies to two female children. In addition, because girls typically drop out of school at around 8th grade, the government now provides bicycles to them to shorten their travel time. There are also scholarships for high performance, another way to increase a female student's economic value. It is clear that there are many efforts being made within India on a large and small scale to increase the freedoms of its female population.

American students and Indian students walking through the village.

I was very humbled meeting these three incredible women. I was able to travel across the world with little a second thought, while these women have been fighting to make it outside of their village. The visits with these women reminded me that nothing in this life should be taken for granted, and at the same time there is no need to be content with injustices that exist. These women have managed to shape their communities in spite of many obstacles. Their courage has resonated in me and will continue to inspire me as I face future challenges.

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