A COMMUNITY LEADER EMERGES
“I have goats, chickens, and also land. I am a member of a self-help group from which I can take out a loan. In case of any problems, I can access money from these assets.”
Achiron Bibi can be described as one of Trickle Up’s best success stories. Not only has she excelled economically, but her participation – and often leadership – in social and political causes has set her apart.
Her story began like many others, overwhelmed by extreme hardship and poverty. Although Achiron had attended school, she was pushed into an early marriage that ended in divorce. “I had no sense then, didn’t understand anything that was going on,” she explains. Shortly before entering the Trickle Up program, Achiron’s second husband, Khalek Shek, developed a stomach tumor. The travel expenses, diagnosis, surgery, and subsequent medicines totalled 17000 rupees, an enormous sum for a family that typically earned several hundred rupees in a good month. Khalek was forced to sell a substantial portion of land in order to pay for his medical costs.
After the operation, Khalek was unable to work. “There was no food, our children cried for food,” remembers Achiron, “It was unbearable to hear them cry.” Khalek had always been the chief wage earner, performing a variety of tasks from painting to ditch-digging. Several of their sons left school in order to learn a trade, such as tailoring, so as to generate more income for the family. Achiron performed irregular agricultural tasks for extra food and money when she was not tied up in care giving, but she often felt powerless after her husband’s illness. “I am a woman. If you don’t help, then we will die.”
It was during this difficult time that Trickle Up staff took note of the poorest households in the area, including Achiron and Khalek’s 2-room mud hut.
Achiron’s first step as a member of Trickle Up’s program was to halt her family’s downward spiral. She received a cash stipend for 25 weeks, which allowed her to purchase more nutritious food. “We ate good foods. We had [lentil] dal, eggs.” Achiron also used the money for medical expenses, which were much lower after Trickle Up staff directed her to a government-run hospital. During the time that Achiron received the stipend, she was taught about the importance of savings. She entered a private self-help group in addition to a government-run group. Achiron states that the government-run group meets sporadically. She prefers the self-help group arranged by Trickle Up, because “Weekly meetings happen here, so we can attend meetings, do savings, and take out a loan on a weekly basis.”
Achiron and her self-help group are not only concerned with monetary matters.
The group has taken up initiatives to improve their community after the program taught them about a variety of social issues.
They recently stopped domestic violence against a female neighbor and halted a case of child marriage by threatening to report the family to the police. “Our intelligence has increased now with your teaching about the pros and cons of different social issues. Getting married before eighteen, the body will collapse like bamboo eaten by insects…We have learned from your class.” Achiron is also involved in local political organizations with the goal of helping her village. “I supported her in joining the [political] party,” says Khalek in a show of pride for his wife, “because that would benefit the community.” Although Khalek appears to be supportive, he often beat Achiron in the past. As Achiron began to develop her own voice and desire for independence, Khalek has reduced physical violence.
In order to begin generating income, Trickle Up supplied Achiron with four goats. The animals were unaccustomed to the climate and quickly died. After participating in training courses, Achiron learned how to care for her goats and administer medicine when necessary. She received four more goats, sold three, and established a business selling bangles.
The amount and variety of Achiron’s livestock continues to grow, and she has recently sold 17 goats to finance the expansion of her various livelihood activities.
In addition to these investments, Achiron bought a paddy thresher, a willowing machine, and a board game that others may rent for a fee.
After learning about the difficulties related to cultivating in areas with high soil salinity, Achiron also invested in a fish pond. Based on seasonality, Achiron alternates between these livelihood activities to provide for her family. When she is in need of extra cash to expand her businesses or improve her home, Achiron says,“Before I took loans from moneylenders, but since we made the group I stopped going to moneylenders. Even I go less to my sisters. Whenever I need money, I run to [my self-help group]…Also I have to pay less interest.” She recently took out a loan of 500 rupees to install a saree work-frame in her hut, so that she may weave in the comfort of her own home. Achiron has already sold two sarees for 1200 rupees.
In addition to self-confidence and financial security, Achiron’s family has begun to use a sanitary latrine, which drastically cut down instances of disease. She is sending her children back to school, even a son who was previously training to become a tailor. Achiron describes the changes she has witnessed in herself:
“We in the village have come to know each other… We go together to advise people on some things…now we are going to five places and learning different things, so our intelligence is increasing.”
She also explains the differences she has also detected within the village as a whole, “After you[r organization] came, the environment has changed. Now people are able to write their names, people are going to the hospital, they are sending their children to school, and their intellect has developed.”
Achiron Bibi of West Bengal, India
Resilient, Activist, Community Leader