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Story by Rachna Paliwal | Finance Manager | Heifer India
I have never felt more humbled in my life. These women did not have much, but you couldn’t have seen happier and more content faces.
We took the early morning train from New Delhi to Alwar city and then a taxi to Pratapgarh. En route we crossed the dense forest of the tiger reserve of Sariska. It took us around two hours to reach our destination, Kiro ki Dhani village. What came next can only be described as an experience worth remembering.
After the initial warm greeting, we were taken to a small meeting room, a makeshift shade of local wood and thatch, where the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Each of the women from the Self-Help Group (SHG), Shri Mata Hod ki Dhani, introduced themselves.
They presented information about their group’s savings through charts. They told us how they give loans to the group members and how they are repaid. It was clear that most of the loans were taken to meet various requirements, such as weddings in the family, buying small plots of land or purchasing cows or more goats. What impressed us was how the group went about assigning these loans to members. They base awarding loans on the level of need.
Each of the women received the gift of a goat and are now planning to pass the gift on to others. They had received training in self-help group management, Heifer's 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development, gender, and Improved Animal Management, through the facilitation of Heifer International. I was eager to hear from them how it had impacted their lives. They were eloquent and told us about the poverty they faced earlier and how a community facilitator talked them into forming a SHG, and how over the last eight years, they have not looked back. They have only moved forward toward sustaining themselves, securing themselves, improving their lifestyles, dreaming things they had never imagined and, to an extent, fulfilling them and, in the midst of all this, creating an identity for themselves. Together these women have achieved what they wanted and they continue to seek ways to improve. Give them a business idea and they will start asking you for more information, discussing how they can go further.
They have now collectively brought electricity to their village, dug deep wells to access water in the arid lands of their village and traveled across the Indian subcontinent to meet other women’s SHGs, to whom they offered suggestions and support based on their own experience.
They feel empowered. Their family and husbands now respect them. Their voice is no longer ignored. Although some still hide their faces beneath their ghunghat (veil), the voice that emanates is no longer a whisper; their point is made. They have arrived and bask in the glory of their united efforts. Though the road ahead seems rocky, they are not too shy to fight. They are truly women of substance.
On our way back, the evening sun is glowing with all its strength and I try to summarize my day, and a sentence from one of the women keeps coming to my mind: “Mheh sab kar lenga” (We will do everything we can), and I say a small prayer for their success.