From the voice of despair to a source of guidance

Ketaki Dandasena

Ketaki hails from Balisankara, a village located in Sundargarh district of Odisha, India. Being a family from lowest economic strata, her husband worked as a daily wage labourer from where he managed to earn some money to feed the family; and sometimes Ketaki supported him by working in the fields during cultivation. Recalling those days, Ketaki says, “Due to the instability of work and lack of return for labor, we often went days without food. When we don’t have enough money for food, we never dare to think about our cloth and shelter. At that time, it was really very unfortunate that we could not able to provide decent attire to my three children.”

Before entering the MPOWERED program, the family lived in a one room homemade of a thatched roof and walls. The first step towards her empowerment is to include her in the social welfare schemes of Government. Trickle Up facilitated her to get the required documents from different departments and helped her to enrol in MGNREGS, PSD, Rural Housing Scheme and other welfare schemes of State and Central Government. At the same time, the Coach also helped her to join the Radha Rani Self-Help Group (SHG). First few days in the SHG meeting, she used to sit idle and was thinking that she was wasting her time by enrolling in SHG. It was really difficult for her to save INR 20 to deposit in SHG. The TU team member acted as mentor to guide and support her in every step to save money and also to become an active member in SHG. Now she handles the book keeping and represents the SHG in Cluster Level Forum (CLF) and Gram Panchayat Level Federation (GPLF).

The objective of MPOWERED project is to enhance their livelihoods through mobile technology and providing better means of livelihood. With support from Tata Communications, a smartphone was gifted to Ketaki not only for digital inclusion but to increase her technical capacity with Package of Practices (PoP) mobile application to initiate different livelihood activities. Looking at the needs of her neighbours and the villagers, she decided to open a small shop. With the seed money she received from Trickle Up, she set up a shop with ration and other household items. Though her shop was the only option for the villagers to get urgent household requirements, with growing demand, she started to increase her stock within few months. She also purchased a refrigerator by applying a loan from SHG to store soft drinks and other beverages. With help of Package of Practices (PoP) app, she learned how to manage this micro-enterprise; and the money exchange helps Ketaki to keep a note of all her transactions. Gradually her life was coming to on track with small profits from this micro-enterprise.

As COVID-19 has caused much chaos around the world, Ketaki’s shop was the hardest hit by the pandemic. To control the spread of the virus in the absence of adequate remedy/cure, the State Government went into partial or complete lockdown and shutdown. This uncertainty forced Ketaki to close her shop. But instead of blaming on her fate or disease or Government, she decided to diversify her livelihood. Using skills learned from the MPOWERED project, she began cultivating mushrooms using mobile technology and Trickle Up’s PoP app. Looking at her interest, the Trickle Up team member organised online training from Horticulture department. “After getting training, I was eager to know more about mushroom cultivation, I browsed the inputs from PoP app, YouTube and other websites,” says Ketaki. She prepared raised platform in one corner of her house with a deal wood flanks and keep it over a support by arranging bricks on all four corners. She bundled the paddy straws to make 20 beds and purchased seeds of INR 200. Within a span of three months, she got a profit of more than INR 2300. During this time, the smartphone helped her not only to learn more about the business activities but also to connect with the potential customers to take orders and sell the mushroom.

Looking at the possibilities, now she is planning to start her shop again with fast food items after everything normalises. Smartphone is now become a tool for learning new avenues and know-how to prepare new recipes. Ketaki’s adaption to an unexpected shock is an inspiration to women in her village who followed her path for diversifying their livelihoods pursuing sustainable pathways out of poverty.

No longer relying on the generosity of others to afford clothes, Ketaki has seven saris which she bought herself from the profit of micro-enterprise. Now Ketaki owns a pucca house, a latrine, wears shoes, having life and health insurance for her family. Instead of a voice of despair, now Ketaki acts as a Smart Sakhi (Digital Coach) and becomes a source of guidance for 21 ultra-poor participants in Balisankara. After learning about her rights as a citizen, she is helping her fellow participants to enrol in the social welfare schemes. No longer an outcast, Ketaki is honoured by her neighbours and invited to events. She is able to bring gifts of cookware, cups, food, or money. She has opened a savings account and uses portion of the earnings for her children’s education.

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