The Test of Poverty (Full Version)

The Test of Poverty follows two women living in extreme poverty in West Bengal, India, as they participate in Trickle Up’s program and work to change the effects that generations of poverty have had on their families’ lives. The film shows that addressing the needs of the ultra-poor –those living on less than $1.25 day– involves more than just providing them with capital, and must be viewed through a wider lens. The film also captures the powerful effects that increased self‐confidence and empowerment that come from participating in Trickle Up’s program have in helping women break the vicious cycle of extreme poverty.
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October 2009

Sayed Hashemi: All of you assembled here have been “tested” by poverty. And over the last 2 years, your struggle has succeeded. You have passed the test.

Narrator: 15th October of 2009 was graduation day for 176 women of Southern Bengal. They belong to a segment of society called the ultrapoor.

January 2007

Interviewer: How much cash do you have right now?

Samiran Bibi: Nothing

Samiran: I’ve spent 2…3 days without food.

Woman: I beg on the streets of Kolkata to earn a living.

Music: O Lord, another day has gone by, the sun rests I wish to rest too…

Woman: A man becomes human only when he helps others.

Interviewer: What’s for dinner?

Samiran: Boiled rice.

Interviewer: And what else?

Samiran: Rice. What else? Just boiled rice. Nothing else.

Caption: They had never planned for the future before.

Narrator: Samiran Bibi is an optimist. She owns a small patch of land in Baglamari village. Although she had no resources, no money, and very little experience as a farmer, she tried growing rice on her land. Samiran was determined to dedicate every effort to her land, and she would pray for a good yield. Baglamari and its surrounding regions do not have electricity, tap water, or paved roads. The land is too low for profitable cultivation and too shallow for fisheries. Samiran’s husband did odd jobs as a farm laborer now and then. There elder son walked two miles to school. The little one stayed at home.

This was the family portrait of Samiran Bibi in 2007.

Sardar would wake up at 4 in the morning and walk to the swamps 4 miles away from her home. She spent 10 hours a day catching crabs. On a good day, she earned 50 rupees.

Her son Kallou didn’t attend school. He spent his time catching fish in the drying canal in front of their house.

It was 3 in the afternoon when Jamuna cooked some pumpkin and fish that her son Kallou had caught. This was the family’s first meal of the day. A neighbor arrived. A whole day had passed since she had had anything to eat. The Sardar’s shared their food with the old woman. No one knew how the next meal would come and when. Years of hunger take a heavy toll on precarious lives in this part of the world. When we returned a month later, the old woman had passed away. Unlike Samiran Bibi, Jamuna had no land to cultivate. Trickle Up faced the daunting task of lifting Jamuna’s family out of poverty, and Jamuna was just one out of 300.

This was the family portrait of Jamuna Sardar in 2007

Janet Heisey: “If you want to reach the very poor which is the population that we’re working with and that we see in these village a different intervention is needed.

Someone speaking: That’s the main road? OK. Mark the ICDS centre on the map.

To identify the families eligible for support, the method of selection used was participant rerural appraisal. First, they put in the winding roads, the ponds, the old panyon tree – the familiar landmarks they passed everyday. Then they put in the families.

Someone asking: Is this accurate?

Someone: You’ve missed Jamal’s House.

Person: Where is it located? Mark it on the map.

Person: Sisters, let us compare these famililes – Laxman Sardar’s and Kartik Sardar’s. Which of these families is better off? Laxman’s?

Woman: Yes. A bit better.

Narrator: Then they assessed who the poorest were. There was some debate in the beginning, but the results were mostly non controversial. After the families had been identified, the villagers selected assets that would best benefit them.
Samiran Bibi got a few goats to raise. Others got fish for their ponds. Jamuna Sardar got a few sheep, and some piglets. These participants of the Trickle Up program were then trained on how they could take care of their assets.

Caption: (describes a technique to treat stomach-gas in a goat.) (Describes the recipe for an herbal medicine.)

Narrator: As part of the program, all the women learned to sign their names. There’s was the first generation of women in Baglamari to ever write anything. All families were given a subsistence allowance to tide them over for the first 3 to 4 months. This ensured that the ultra poor people did not consume their new assets.

Interviewer: Samiran… How are you? Sister, are you fine?

Samiran: I’m fine.

Woman: One of my goats is unwell.

Interviewer: One of them gave birth to 3 kids recently?

Woman: Yes! They’re about that tall.

Most women spent the allowance on their staple food, rice. But they also saved some of it. For many of them, this was the first time they had anything to save. Some even managed to increase their assets.

Field workers and health workers visited the participants every week. They are handholders, and they work as mentors to Trickle Up participants. Lashkur is the handholder at Ishwaybur.

Lashkur: Sister? (Are you there?) How are you? Have you cooked dinner yet? What’s for dinner? Are you sending the kids to school?

Woman: Yes.

Lashkur: Clip her nails regularly. Make sure she brushes her teeth everyday.

Narrators: Handholders ensure that the children are sent to school, that self help group meetings are held regularly, they instruct on matters of hygiene and sanitation.

Janet: That handholding is absolutely essential, and it costs more to deliver but the results are marked.

Narrator: When we visited Samiran Bibi in Baglamari we found that one of her goats had a tumor. All handholders receive basic veterinary training. Allab, the local handholder, had also received basic training in veterinary surgery.

Janet: I think more important than the assets they receive, more important than the formal training that they receive is the hand holding.

Narrator: Many Trickle Up participants lost homes, livestock, and stored food grain when cyclone Isla plowed through the region.

Malati Sardar: The roof collapsed on my husband. I called for help and rescued him. We left the house and returned later. That was when the walls collapsed.

Narrator: Despite their losses, Trickle Up participants showed extraordinary resilience, and started rebuilding their homes and livelihoods. Heavy rain had destroyed Samiran Bibi’s first rice crop, but her optimism had survived. When we returned to Baglamari a few months later, we found that she had planted rice yet again.

With the Trickle Up program, there was a bit of money going around. The women were pulling the resources together and had formed self-help groups. Participants would meet regularly and save money in a combined fund. They could take loans from the fund to expand their businesses or pay school fees. In emergencies, they could help each other instead of going to the local money lenders. Self-help groups give members the opportunity to share ideas, and the confidence to manage finances.”
Janet: “People are talking with their fieldworker, asking questions very specifically that they might not ask in a large group.

There’s a concept known as “just in time” learning, which is you don’t tell them something they’ll need to know later you tell them something they can use today.”

Narrator: When participants who owned fields felt confident enough to innovate, they were taught improved cultivation techniques like SRI, the system of rice intensification. Under SRI cultivation, rice is grown from rolls of single seedlings, or tillers. The underlying idea is to plant a single tiller and take better care of it.

Man with Monohara: This is the first time we’ve used this technique. Let’s see what happens.

Monohara: Allah’s blessing and your wishes Let’s hope we get a good yield.

Man: And of course, we get a lot of help from Trickle Up.

Narrator: Kaiser is a handholder in Monohara Bibi’s village. He supervises the SRI training and supports farmers who have adopted the technique.

Kaiser: If we are successful, other people will adopt this method. Farmers will want to learn about this. I will teach them!

Man: I’ve enrolled for training. Next year, I’m sure to use this method. Yes we’re learning the technique… Next year we’re using this method.

Narrator: We went to baglamari to find that Samiran Bibi’s hard work had finally paid dividends. She harvested the best rice crop in Baglamari. Over the next few months, Jamuna’s and Samiran’s families invested their profits.

Samiran Bibi and her husband built a new house. For the first time the family ate 3 square meals a day. Jamuna Sardar installed a new toilet. She bought new clothes for the children. Kallou was in school.

Jamuna: Earlier, we couldn’t afford to buy clothes, oil or even soap. Now we can afford these.

The participants had been involved in the Trickle Up program for nearly two years when we returned. The turnover from the assets was regular. The better income resulted in better food, more nutritious food.

Jamuna: Nowadays we make plans for the future! Previously we didn’t. The brothers and sisters (at Trickle Up) help us plan. We are aware of the options we have. We weren’t earlier.

Narrator: With more time on their hands and a full grainery, Samiran Bibi and her husband started a business in their new house. They took up embroidery, and from this they got their first cash returns.

Monojat (Samiran’s husband): We have a new house now! And we got a great yield of rice from our “barren” field!

Janet: There are changes in assets certainly, I can see more animals in the household, I can see sometimes more household possessions. But I think the most noticeable change is in the attitude. I remember going to savings groups early on and finding the women very quiet. But this last time I visited a savings group which has been in action for about 9 months, and the transformation was phenomenal. The women were leading the meeting, the fieldworker was very much in the background, really didn’t have anything to say during the meeting. The accountant was working but was not involved in the actual process of the meeting. It was wonderful to see.

Mahasiran: After this project came, we have expanded our horizons. Hospitals, offices – these are accessible now. My awareness has increased, I have become powerful.

Women chanting: If you want good citizens have no more than 2 children.

Jhuma Sardar: Our awareness and confidence have increased. We recently applied to the government for Ration Cards. We know whom to talk to. We go and talk to them. We are now trying to reduce unemployment in the locality.

Women chanting: If you want to progress learn to read and write.

Graduation Day October 2009

Narrator: The Trickle Up program wsa developed in partnership with the consultative group to assist the poor, a global policy and research center dedicated to advancing financial access for the world’s poor.

Woman: We have been brave. We’ve learnt skills. We understand our world. We are more confident. And from this day on, we hope to improve even further. We hope to achieve even more. I now firmly believe that we have the ability to improve our lives.

On 15th October 2009, 176 women graduated out of the ranks of the ultra poor.

Samiran Bibi and Monajat Baidya 2009, Jamuna Sardar and Family 2009

For Samiran Bibi, and Jamuna Sardar, graduation day marked a new beginning.

Filmed in West Bengal., Special thanks to Human Development Centre, Syed Hashemi, The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, Directed by Guatam Bose, produced by Trickle Up

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