Give a little, get a lot: Women’s Self-Help Groups

Today we went to one of CRHP’s project villages, Pimperkhed, to sit in on a Women’s Self-Help Group meeting.

IMG_1033

the back-of-the-bus crew

With some of the Mobile Health Team – Chandu Mama, Dyaneshwar, Popat Mama – and Ratna, a social worker at CRHP, Irene, Mike, Anirudh and I piled into one of CRHP’s vehicles and headed down the road that passes by CRHP’s hospital, away from Jamkhed town. (Do roads in India have names? I still don’t know.) I had ventured down this road only 15 minutes worth of running, to a group of trees that remind me of the trees the children in The Sound of Music climb and sing from. I was excited for what lay ahead.

The 25 minutes of bumpy, dusty, windy driving delight were interchangeably spent gazing out the window at the never-ending span of fields, so determined and hopeful, and discussing the who, what, why, etc. of SHGs with Ratna…

First, a distinction: Women’s Groups meet every month with the Village Health Worker (VHW) to discuss and learn about health. The Self-Help Group is a branch of the Women’s Group; it is a specific group of women who collectively participate in micro financing enterprises.

The VHW is responsible for implementing and leading the SHG. She hosts SHG meetings twice monthly at her house, collects monthly installments, teaches members about good money-spending practices and how to navigate the bank, and advises about micro enterprises.

How it works: each woman in the group pays a monthly installment of 100 rupees. After a certain amount of money has been collected, the VHW and SHG decide together who should receive a loan. If it is a woman’s first time receiving a loan, she goes to the bank to learn how to set up an account and fill out necessary forms and paperwork. With this large sum of money, the woman can create her own micro-enterprise: women have borrowed money to buy lime trees, chickens, or goats, and sell the products (limes, eggs or milk) for profit. Once their business is up and running, the woman repays her loan at a low interest rate. For example, a woman borrows Rs. 5,000 ($100), buys beads, string and jewels to make bracelets and necklaces to sell at market, establishes herself as a businesswoman, and pays back the loan at 2% interest over a span of six months.

Rules and Regulations of the SHG (as determined by the SHG members):

  1. Come to the meetings every month. For each absence, the member will contribute Rs. 5 to the group
  2. Before taking out another loan, learn first how to pay back. Members cannot take out another loan until six months after the initial loan; they will begin repaying the loan one month after accepting the loan.
  3. Members must be at least 18 years old. They must be married. Widowed and deserted women are also welcome. This is important because once a woman marries, she leaves her village to live with her husband in his village. The SHG members must all live in the same village.

We emptied from the vehicle at the house and farm of a woman named Akila, Pimperkhed’s VHW. Akila wears a beautiful peach-colored sari that is decorated with white-beaded flowers. Her hair is pulled back into a braid, tied with a bright green scrunchie. She greets us warmly, a youthful smile inviting us into her home.

Akila became a VHW four years ago, and she immediately started a SHG. 17 women joined, and it is now a model SHG for other villages to emulate. Mike, Irene, Anirudh and I joined the circle of 6 women members, Akila (below, third from right, child at her left), and Ratna ( below, all the way right) and we were encouraged by Ratna to ask the women questions about their experiences in their SHG.

IMG_1004

Why did you decide to join the SHG? We got good information from Akila, especially about health, education of the girl child, cleanliness of the inside and outside of the house and keeping animals far from the house to be clean. We learned about government schemes. We gain respect from the family and community.

What happens if a woman does not pay their monthly contribution? Cue puzzled faces – they have never had to deal with that situation.

Do men treat you differently after you joined SHG? We gain their respect. We spread our knowledge to the men. The VHW meets with the men and families also to explain that they should not interfere with our SHG and new business. The money we make is ours, not for our husbands.

How have changed since joining? We are empowered to make change for our community. The last two years we were in very severe drought. We wanted a water tanker from the government to bring our village water, but the road was so bad the tanker could not reach us. The men were scared to go to the government office, but we went together to ask what had to be done in order to get the road better so we could have water. They fixed the road and the tanker came everyday. 

One woman said, “It is not about the money, it is that we are now a community. Before we did not meet, and now we come together in friendship. We share our happiness. We share our sorrows.”

The SHG is an incredible piece of the CRHP puzzle, and I regret to say I didn’t know much about until this village visit. In essence, they are mini, self-governed banks that uplift a woman from helplessly relying on her husband for income to confidently calling the shots, running a business, generating her own disposable income, and empowering other women to do the same. Hearing the women speak about the respect they receive from their male counterparts after participating in the SHG is electrifying, encouraging. Participants in the Adolescent Girls Programs learn about SHG as part of their education lesson, simply another part of CRHP’s sustainable, all-inclusive approach.

The SHG members left, off to market, and Akila brought out a small tin plate with red kunku powder, sugar and bracelets: tokens of Raksha Bandhan, a Hindu festival celebrating the relationship between brothers and sisters. A sister ties a sacred thread on her brother’s wrist, symbolizing her love and prayers for her brother’s well being, and the brother’s lifelong vow to protect her. Akila went around the circle, donning each man with a red streak on his foreheadtying a bracelet around his wrist, and pouring a spoonful of sugar into his hand. Irene and I were also invited to sit and receive Akila’s blessing.

IMG_1015

Before heading back to CRHP, we went to check out the market. Sadhaa, our driver, bought channa (roasted chickpeas), for us to share, and Mike satisfied his craving for coconuts. Village men at the marketplace donned special Raksha Bandhan bracelets.

To my brother: Rob – I owe you a bracelet. – Love always, Alyssa.

IMG_1030

nuts for coconuts!

One thought on “Give a little, get a lot: Women’s Self-Help Groups

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s