Keeping Hope Afloat

Kauhsalya Pradhani

39-year-old Kaushalya lives with her husband Kailash Pradhani and two children in a remote village Pitapara which is located in Muribahal block of Balangir district. Their modest shelter barely fits the family of four. They leave their belongings outside to take advantage of every inch. Kaushalya was a landless farmer, but she leased one-acre agricultural land from landlords for sharecropping but hardly earns anything because they had to repay sharing cost to the landowner. Above all, the natural calamities like floods and draughts make these landless labourers lives miserable and disrupt their lives more than anybody else. Without a steady source of income, Kaushalya and her family live in extremely poor conditions. As a result, her family was deprived from basic needs like food, shelter, basic healthcare and education for her children. “We were under distress all the time. Our income came from mostly from wage labour. We exploited by landlords and money lenders in our village. We earn today to survive tomorrow,” says Kaushalya. Her family forced to migrate to other places in search of livelihood. Though she was a member of Maa Saraswati Self-Help Group (SHG) but the members excluded her from the group due to absenteeism for migration.

In 2020, when Government of India imposed lockdown, Kaushalya did not have other options but returned to her native village amid apprehensions of a fresh lockdown. During the tough time, Kaushalya joined the MPOWERED project, implemented by NYDHEE with technical guidance from Trickle up. Like countless migrant labourers, she has lost their livelihoods and has been rendered penniless to buy food or medicine. “Recognizing our challenges, Trickle Up provided dry ration, seed and hygiene kits to all of us in our village because we were sitting idle for months and struggling for two meals a day and other necessities. With these relief materials, I was able to feed her family one month and also started nutrition garden in the backyard with the seeds,” says Kaushalya.

“Still, I remember that Jamuna Didi (field team member from NYDHEE) visited our village to select the poorest. They discussed with our community leaders and villagers to enquire about our household assets and resources. After the Field Team enrolled me in the MPOWERED and ensured that the project truly reach the extreme poor women in our village like us,” says she added. After enrolling in the project, she received a financial support Rs. 2,300 from Trickle Up and purchased a goat which now increased to six in these years.

As the first step towards empowerment, the project team encouraged her to continue the membership with the same SHG from which she had discontinued. But this time, her involvement was really astonished everyone. She was regularly attending the SHG, Palli Sabha and Gram Sabha meetings. With active participation from the SHG members, the group realized their potential and took a loan of amount Rs 50,000 from Cluster Level Federation (CLF). With this loan amount, they leased a pond and started fishery cultivation. From this collective livelihood practice, she got profit of amount Rs. 7,000 which she invested in poultry and also started paddy cultivation in one-acre leased land.

The Field Team and Smart Sakhis imparted training in life skills, finance, business skills and handhold them in every step of their journey. The regular coaching and mentoring by the Smart Sakhis helped the participants to unlock their intrinsic potential and develop sustainable livelihoods that set them on a path of upward economic mobility.

“She was inside of herself. She was scared. We equipped the participants like Kaushalya with skills and competencies so that with peer support, they can help and protect each other in the saving group. But she not only involved in various activities of SHGs but gradually actively engaged in the social actions like trying to solve the problems of her village,” says Naba Kumar Bishi, Block Coordinator, NYDHEE.

Looking at her leadership quality, her peers requested to file the nomination for Ward Member in the Panchayat Election. Though she was quite reluctant at the beginning but when other community leaders also approached and supported her candidature, she filed the nomination for Ward Member. During the campaigning, she was a known face in the village for her involvement in the developmental activities which helped her to win the election in good margin.

Being a participant of the well-tested Graduation Approach, she followed the same path as the steps to make her fellow villagers to break the cycle of poverty. After becoming Ward Member, she helped people to get enrolled in all safety net programs of Government, assisted to get job cards, ration cards and also provided works under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to build many construction works like roads and drinking water facilities in Pitapara. Looking at the changes in the short span of time, the villagers are now looking at her for the prospective Sarpanch candidate for the next Panchayat Election.

With her own income from diversified livelihood practices and the position as a Word Member, Kaushalya now earns enough to financially support her family members and also her community in all possible way, which brings her great joy. She is confident and unafraid to talk about her life and experience, even with strangers.

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