Why Would I Feel Afraid?
By Sahana Ghosh
“Didn’t you feel shy or afraid to voice your concerns about the need for clean drinking water before the Panchayat [local government] representatives?” I asked Maya Oraon on my visit to her rural community in West Bengal. She retorted, “No, why would I feel afraid? This was a grave difficulty that we had been facing for so long. We went together to the Panchayat office, and I demanded a tube well, which 3 families including my own will be able to use.” She smiled with pride when she told me that the problem has now been resolved, and these families are able to use the tube well to ensure they have clean drinking water.
Maya Oraon is one of Trickle Up’s participants in the Angrabhasa I Gram Panchayat of Jalpaiguri, West Bengal. Maya lives with her husband and two children, ages 10 and 7. Despite facing the difficulties of residing in an isolated village beside the Diana River, she’s learned over the last 18 months how to overcome them and take bold steps to realize her dreams for her family.
With the help of Trickle Up and our local partner PRASARI, Maya uncovered new possibilities. As her own aspirations to receive a basic education were unfulfilled, she works hard to ensure both of her children attend school.
“I am going to ensure that my children do not face the hardships which we’ve faced in our life. Now that we have started earning a little money, I want them to continue with their education as long as they wish to,” she told me.
Prior to joining Trickle Up’s program, Maya’s husband, who collected stones from the riverside to sell, was the only breadwinner in their household. Skipping meals was a usual occurrence as they rarely had enough to eat. Now, Maya has recognized her potential and taken the initiative to create a support system that will improve her family’s future.
With training and coaching, she learned how to farm organically, and used azolla, a type of fern, as both an organic fertilizer for her crops and as organic chicken feed. The better vegetable yield that resulted meant Maya could feed her family nutritious food and sell or trade her lentils and pumpkins for a profit this year. Knowing that diversified livelihood activities increase resilience, she bought a female goat for $29 (INR 2,000). This goat has since given birth to three baby goats, and she plans to sell the mother goat for a minimum profit of $18 (INR 1200). She also bought a pig, which she is planning to sell once it is full grown.
To supplement her income, Maya works on neighboring agricultural lands in exchange for a substantial amount of rice, ensuring her entire household will have enough to eat. She occasionally also works in other people’s homes as a housekeeper, earning $1.92 (INR 130) per day.
In her Self Help Group (SHG), she’s learned how to save for the future as well as built a support system with other women living in extreme poverty.
SHGs serve as safe spaces for women to come together to save a portion of their incomes, access credit, help one another, and share advice. Maya asked and received a loan of $148 (INR 10,000) from her group to build a house, and was able to pay back the low-interest loan in full and on time.
Through our partnership with PRASARI and the Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation, Trickle Up is reaching 6,200 participants like Maya in West Bengal. Trickle Up works with PRASARI to provide financial literacy coaching and life skills training to women living in extreme poverty while working to strengthen the network of SHGs. Building a community of SHGs enables individual women to raise their voices with others in public settings. Together, they help inform and advocate for decisions that support the changes they want and need to make in their lives.
When Maya spoke with the Panchayat officials about the lack of clean water in her area, her voice was strengthened by the community of women behind her.
She was not only speaking for herself, but for all the women in the SHGs who demand clean drinking water for their families. The Panchayat, an all-male governing body, had to take her demands seriously and take action. Like Maya’s, each individual story matters, but together, they form a greater movement of women supporting one another to demand and create societal change.