“My dream is to have land of my own with a pond where I can cultivate fish. And my children can have a permanent home.” – Arpita Mandal
Arpita Mandal and her family did not have any land to cultivate crops. The five family members – Arpita, her husband Brajen, two children, and mother-in-law – live in a single room that measures just 5×7 feet, with a small veranda that looks onto a road in Harishpur village.
The family had little income or assets. Arpita’s husband Brajen bought incense sticks to resell in local markets, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. He was forced to leave the family for nearly half the year to work hard labor in other districts of West Bengal.
“Before, we faced so many problems. Eating two meals a day was something we could never even dream of. Our children’s education was out of the question. We used to live on the other side of the river but a flood destroyed everything,” Arpita remembers.
Through a participatory process in her community, Trickle Up and partner staff identified Arpita’s family as one of the poorest in the village. We listened to her neighbors and local leaders, collaboratively selecting the 12 women who would join together to form Baba Loknath Self-Help Group (SHG), a savings group for participants.
“First, the Trickle Up people came and sat with us. They explained about forming a group. Then, they gave us 9,000 rupees [$140].”
After joining Trickle Up’s program and receiving her seed capital, Arpita invested in a new business raising chicken and goats. Arpita received training from her coach on the timely vaccination of animals and proper food to keep them healthy. In the beginning, she struggled to find enough space for animal sheds, as her family didn’t own any land. They decided to convert their small verandah into two sheds, one for the chickens and the other for the goats. Arpita’s new skills and dedication quickly brought her success.
“I had two goats, so I bought two more. I also bought ten hens. The training they gave us was very detailed. We learned how diarrhea and cholera can affect the animals and how to solve these issues. My animals have multiplied to 18 goats and 50 hens.”
Arpita decided to sell 30 chickens and 8 goats, and invest $354 of the profits into her husband’s incense business. With her profits and a small loan from her savings group, the family bought a machine for incense stick production, allowing them to make and sell their own incense. To date, the incense business has earned the family $734 in addition to their livestock rearing activities. Arpita credits the savings group for helping her learn to save and access credit, building her financial literacy and business acumen.
“I have started saving. I’ve saved 15,000 rupees [$233]. I have learned about banking and being independent. My group invests in different things. Today, most of my income is from my incense business,” she says.
Today, Arpita’s family is able to support themselves between their two enterprises. Brajen has stopped migrating to find work, instead producing and selling incense sticks as his main profession, with Arpita’s management and financial assistance. During our last visit with Arpita and Brajen, they told us: “Now, from the core of our heart, we dream of a bright future for our children and both of us are striving to achieve that for them.”
Arpita added, “I’ve learned to face problems on my own. My children are going to school now. So everything is going in a good direction. I want to develop myself more. So keep me in your prayers, and one day I can succeed in life.”
Arpita Mandal of Sundarbans, West Bengal, India
Incense producer, farmer, dreamer