This is what it takes to pull rural India out of poverty

A recharge bore, a grain bank and a solar-lantern charging station is what made me drive for over 8 hours, over 2 days, through Uttar Pradesh’s terrible, terrible roads. All of the above are deliverables of projects undertaken by the Kanpur-based Shramik Bharti; targeted at bettering the lives of the people in the villages that they work in.

Founded in X, Shramik Bharti works for the empowerment of the poor and underprivileged, with a special focus on women and children. Their approach is to assist them in developing their own capacities so they have better control over their own lives. They therefore consider themselves a way of seeing and respecting people. Over the course of the 2 days I spent, I witnessed for myself how they were helping people to help themselves.

The first day, we drove down 2 hours from Kanpur to Padgahon village, to meet the husband-wife couple of Siadulari and Ram Avtar. Farmers by profession, they were facing a tough time in meeting their daily needs; simply because they needed to spend Rs. 6,000 on diesel every month to pump enough water into their 2 bhiga (equivalent to 1 acre) paddy field. Shramik Bharti provides a recharge bore to such families, provided that their fields are located at a slight slope. As land needs to be sloped for water flowing off it to collect into and thus recharge the bore. They said, “We were encouraged by neighbours who have benefitted from the recharge bore, to get one too. It took us 6 days to dig the pit for it. Hopefully our efforts will be worth it.”

Installed in June 2014, their efforts should soon pay off. In addition to paddy, they are growing tomatoes and adrak (ginger) too. With the monthly Rs. 6,000 savings, plus an increased crop yield, it will become easier to make ends meet for their family of four ( two of their 4 children are not yet married and live with the couple). These sentiments were echoed by Subedar, a neighbour and recent beneficiary of Shramik Bharti’s recharge bore too.

On the way back, we drove via Bargadiapurva village, where we met Mitilesh and Ajay. With Shramik Bharti’s support, Mitilesh and Ajay had installed a bore recharge too. With the delayed rains, they were worried about when they efforts would pay off. They told me, “Is saal, lagta hai baarish ne hume dhoka diya hai.” (The rains have failed us, this year.)

We also met the husband-wife couple of Maya and Haroon here. The first beneficiaries of the bore recharge, Maya and Haroon were already seeing its benefits. This included a regular source of water as well as increased crop yield; even birds were coming to the fields now for water thus helping in the pollination of flowers.

The second day, we drove down 2 hours in the opposite direction, to meet beneficiaries of Shramik Bharti’s solar lantern recharging and grain bank projects. Our first stop was at Maitha village, where we met Anjulata. Mother of 3 ( 2 sons and 1 daughter), Anjulata was distraught when her husband passed away overnight, in a road accident in 2010.  With his death came an end to the income he used to bring in as a helper at the local court. This forced Anjulata to cut back on expenses, which included sending her kids to school. It was only 2-3 months later, after she received support from the local Shramik Bharti-initiated Self-Help Group (SHG) did they resume school again.

Support came in the form of a solar lantern recharging unit, which helps Anjulata earn approximately Rs. 4,500 a month. The cost of a unit is Rs. 45,000 and Shramik Bharti provides the same through sponsorships from TERI, Indus as well as GiveIndia. Anjulata and others like her repay this amount over the years. She says, “I am able to pay back Rs. 2,000 every month to the SHG.”

Her unit consists of 50 lamps and I was curious to know how many lamps are borrowed every night. “Sab jaate hai,”she was quick to reply. She added, “Binna batti ka, kuch ho nahi patta. Na raat ka khana ban sakta hain, na bacche pad sakte hain.” Infact, regular customers get upset if not given a lamp one night. She went on to tell me that people come over between 6pm-7pm every night to take a lamp and return it for recharging the next day around 10am. It’s Rs. 5 per night to borrow a lantern.

A solar lantern recharging unit is convenient for women to run and operate. Once plugged in ( which is done by Shramik Bharti’s team), all one needs to understand is how to plug the lanterns into the charging points. It’s also important for someone to be at home during pickup/drop off times, in the mornings/evenings. It is for this reason that it becomes the most suitable income generating option for someone like Poonam. Disabled (in her legs) since birth, Poonam lives with her father and siblings (2 brothers and a sister). Her mother passed away when her younger sister was just 6 months old. Her sister, who has been schooled till the 5th standard, now helps Poonam run her solar lantern recharging business from home; their contribution helps supplement the family income that her father and two brothers bring in as manual labourers.

We then drove to the X village where I was introduced to the very interesting concept of a GrainBank. In Summer, which is harvest time, the price of wheat is Rs. 10 per kilogram as there is abundant supply of the same. However, in Winters, when appetites are larger because of the cold, the price of wheat goes up to Rs. 17-18 per kilo. Ironically, farmers need to pay more to buy wheat which they themselves have grown! A GrainBank is thus a large X-ton container that is stocked with wheat and sealed, to be opened only in the Winter. Further, with families paying back 10% more grain (in the Summer) than they borrow, the supply into the bank keeps increasing. What a simple idea that assures X families are assured of wheat supply when in need!

My interactions with all – Siadulari and Ram Avtar, Subedar, Mitilesh and Ajay, Maya and Haroon, Anjulata, and Poonam – taught me why it’s more important to teach a man to fish rather than give him a fish. All had been on the brink of poverty when they approached Shramik Bharti for help. Keeping in line with its mission, the organisation had assisted them in developing their own capacity, giving them better control over their own lives. It became clear to me why Shramik Bharti’s consider themselves a way of seeing and respecting people!

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