The Test of Poverty (Short 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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The Trickle Up Pro Poor Innovation Project is a new approach designed to help extremely poor women improve their livelihoods.

Trickle Up was selected in 2007 as one of nine organizations receiving support from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor.
The project aims to provide women with the resources to take the first steps out of poverty.

West Bengal is one of the poorest states in India, composed mostly of isolated rural villages entrenched in the caste system that has kept people in poverty for generations. In 2007, Trickle Up began working with 300 women, with the goal of helping them graduate in 3 years time from extreme poverty and vulnerability to economic self-sufficiency.

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 villages, there’s a different intervention needed.

Narrator: Women from the poorest families in each village were selected to participate in the program. They chose new livelihood activities. Some women chose to raise goats. Others got fish for their ponds. Some got piglets and ducks. The participants received training on how to take care of their new assets. They learned basic veterinary procedures and how to make simple herbal medicines. The mentoring that field workers provided was essential to the success of each participant. Called “handholders”, these field workers visited the women every week.

Interviewer: You are sending the kids to school, aren’t you?

Woman: Yes.

Interviewer: The polio vaccine is being given on Sunday.

Woman: Yes, I know.

Narrator: Handholding is more than just checking on the microenterprise. Handholders provided one on one coaching on basic hygiene, ensure that the children went to school, and gave financial advice. The women formed self help groups, where they saved weekly, and took out loans to cover expenses for emergencies, school fees, and to expand their microenterprises. These groups were self-managed, and provided a strong support system for the women.

Many participants like Shamiron Bibi, had no savings or assests when they joined. She did have a small plot of land, but it was infertile. Shamiron Bibi chose to raise goats, and when they bought kids she was able to sell one at a profit. She used that profit to buy the fertilizer and seed she needed to raise a productive rice crop. With training and coaching Bibi started building a better future.

With the profits from their goats and rice, Shamiron Bibi built a new house. For the first time, her family ate three square meals a day.

Jamuna Sardar raised piglets and ducks. With her profits she bought new clothes for her children and began making plans for the future. Her son Kallou started attending school.

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

Mashiran Bibi: My wellness has increased. I have become powerful.

Narrator: In October 2009, the women gathered for a graduation ceremony that celebrated their achievements in moving out of extreme poverty together.

Arati Sardar: All of us have been very brave. We understand our world better.

Narrator: They have a new sense of confidence, support from each other, and the determination to build towards brighter futures for their famililes.

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