The young people putting their lives on hold to build a better India | Village Invest

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The young people putting their lives on hold to build a better India

Carolyn Baker Nov 10th, 2017

One of our village invest advisors visited our projects to train staff in our partner organization, SRIJAN. This blog introduces some of the remarkable young people she met and their visions for a better future.

Belal Ahmed is 28 years old and a Project Executive for SRIJAN, a well-reputed NGO based in Delhi and operating in seven states of India. It works to help communities launch and grow sustainable livelihoods models. Belal has a postgraduate degree in social work and has been working for SRIJAN for two and a half years. His work spans across 105 rural villages in Rajasthan, where he helps women to form and manage self help groups (local savings and credit organizations), provides tips in best agricultural practice to farmers, livelihood and market links to families and leads the livestock program around the women’s dairy federation Maitree Mahila Mandal.

‘The love and affection of the community is like a tonic for me’ he says, ‘I feel like a member of the family wherever I go. Although we (SRIJAN staff) work 24/7 365 days per year, I never get tired of doing what I do’.

Access to affordable credit

Belal’s vision is to be able to increase the household income of the villagers by about $750 per year.  Innovative microfinance is one option for scaling up their livelihood activities. ‘Every family wants to scale up their business’ says Belal, ‘but there is very little credit available at a reasonable rate of interest. Moneylenders charge upwards of 24% and the loans provided by banks are capped at a very low amount which only covers domestic expenditure’. He believes that with the expertise SRIJAN provides in managing and scaling business, affordable microfinance can be a catalyst for change.

Belal applied to work at SRIJAN after hearing about it during his studies. He liked its rural focus and the fact that it was engaging ‘big brains’ in resolving rural poverty. He believes SRIJAN can literally help India to grow.

Every family wants to scale up their business

Although Belal lives in the countryside alongside the villagers he serves, with few modern conveniences, he appreciates the camaraderie of his SRIJAN colleagues, who he lives and works with. The only thing he is concerned about is the status of women in rural communities and that it is not changing fast enough. ‘I believe that the more money that is available to put into the hands of women, the greater their status in the home will be, and some of these old practices will start to drop away’.

Richa Sacha is 23 and has been a Project Executive for SRIJAN for the last two years. She initially worked for SRIJAN in Madhya Pradesh but has now moved to Tonk in Rajasthan. ‘In contrast to my previous placement, Rajasthan is comparatively wealthy as people are mostly able to grow their own food’, she says. Nonetheless, all of the families she works with are categorised as some of the poorest in India and she is proud of what she has achieved with them. Her two favourite projects were a pomegranate production project and training women to make and sell soap. Both activities lead to a sustainable income for the families involved.

This work is so peaceful...it’s not a routine job

As part of the acclimatisation to working in villages, newly recruited SRIJAN staff must spend some time living there. ‘People bathe in open wells in the villages, which was a bit of a culture shock to me as a woman’. But Richa and her colleagues made the best of it and felt that the experience was an invaluable for their future roles. After the initiation, many SRIJAN staff share property in semi urban places, where they form their own support structures. ‘It’s like a family’ she says.

Women in the field

From time to time Richa misses pizza and going to the movies regularly, but she can’t imagine having a desk job in the city ‘this work is so peaceful’ she says. She adds ‘it’s not a routine job, every day you have a different experience, SRIJAN lets you travel a lot and experience new things. Since my childhood I have wanted to contribute to society and now I really feel that I can’. The one thing she would like to see is the end of child marriage and is already seeing women taking steps to stop in SRIJAN’s self-help groups, by refusing loans for child weddings.

Shahnaz Kahtoon is 25 and is a trainee at SRIJAN. She has been in Duni in Rajasthan for just eleven months. ‘I joined SRIJAN through a campus programme because I wanted to work in the field’ she says. She thought that by working with villagers directly she would become more confident and better at dealing with people from all walks of life, which would help her in the future.

Everything I wanted to achieve I have already

She spends most of her time on a pilot nutrition programme across 30 villages. The programme targets expectant mothers and children up to two years of age and covers: balanced diet, a vaccination programme and health and sanitation in the home. It also aims to dispel superstitions about health and medical care and encourage families to visit hospitals and doctors.

‘I have learned a lot in the last seven months’ she says ‘about medical and nutrition practices. Everything I wanted to achieve I have already achieved and look forward to doing even more’. As a lone female staff member living in her area she says she has never felt any problems. When she is with her colleagues she feels supported and safe. ‘I never feel tired at the end of the day, when I am with my team I feel cool. The last eleven months have passed so fast’.