Putting Ourselves in Their Shoes

As we gear up for Monday’s gala, sharing here two final stories of lives transformed and invite you to join us on October 12th to help women like Lakshmi and Periyammal – Click here: www.asiainitiativesgala.org

“I did not know anything about the outside world at that point in time,” says Lakshmi, a 43-year-old, wife, mother, and energetic multi-tasker from Pondicherry, India, remembering her introduction to MSSRF*. She had taken a tailoring course they offered in the early nineties in order to get some work to boost the family income. She soon began training others, but it wasn’t until she joined one of the MSSRF self-help groups in 2004 that she was able to fully develop her potential.

The primary goal of the self-help groups is to enhance the capabilities of poor women—teaching them how to access credit and technology, engaging them in income-generating activities through skills training, and providing support. Lakshmi’s self-help group started a savings and credit program and financed a toilet for the village. They qualified for a loan from the Bank of India, her share of which permitted her to send her children to school and buy a computer with which to help her husband in his printing business. With training from MSSRF, she learned to use the computer, print, type, do the books for the business, and scan.

Then her self-help group received training in biogas production techniques, via MSSRF, and Lakshmi was able to build a small plant in her house with funds from NABARD**. She uses the biogas she produces from recycling household waste for cooking and lights.

Lakshmi’s group also grows fodder for livestock, which they sell to members at a breakeven price—less than the market rate. She participates in a dairy cooperative where the 38 members produce, procure, and market 6,000 liters of milk per month.

Along with her accumulation of skills and knowledge, she has accumulated a two-wheeler, a four-wheeler, a printing press, and three dairy cows.  She is proud of her accomplishments and says, “I can declare that my family is out of poverty now and my children are doing well.” And in terms of family dynamics, she says her husband is not undertaking any initiative these days without consulting her first.

V Lakshmi - Oct 7

Periyammal, a farmer’s wife from Kannivadi, India, formed a self-help group with friends under the guidance of MSSRF. They started small, with each member saving 25 INR per month. She was able to take out a small loan from the group to meet emergency needs on the farm, but it wasn’t enough in a long period of drought. To meet household expenses, and support dry land cultivation, Periyammal needed money and resorted to local lenders, who charged 36% in interest.

The self-help group federation understood the difficulties and initiated an array of livelihood training, catering among them. With support from an individual enterprise loan, which she received from the federation, Periyammal was able to start her own catering business—with a food cart. The loan paid for the equipment and initial running costs. She’s been in business for four years. Her husband and daughter are big fans, as is her son-in-law, who is helping her expand the business. There’s a big demand for tasty, good quality, hygienic food in her area, and her regular customers include government workers as well as truck drivers and villagers. She makes a profit of 1500-2000 INR per day, with an extra 300 INR in the morning from her porridge sales.

Like Lakshmi, Periyammal is a small-scale dairy farmer. She runs a profitable business and has learned about producing affordable fodder as well. With all her activities, Periyammal was able to pay her loans back in nine months. She was able to get her daughter married, put her son through engineering school, and expand the dairy business. She’s building a new house and is a director of her dairy enterprise.

Periyammal-Oct 5

How many of us can boast the broad skill sets and drive of these women? In less than a generation, they have staged a quiet revolution, upending traditional roles, by doing, not talking. Asia Initiatives is proud to support them through our oldest local partner, MSSRF, which is where our journey began, almost 15 years ago.

   *M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, India.
   ** National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development

“Maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is… a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.” – Nicholas Kristof, “The Most Important Thing, and It’s Almost a Secret,” New York Times, October 1, 2015.

  • Anne Papantonio, Board Member

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