Keeping Hope Afloat

Kuntala Pradhan

"I had no knowledge of services and schemes that I was entitled to and I feared the bank. It was through the Self Help Group that my bank account was created. Not only that, in the Self Help Group, I found a huge support system that stood by me."

Kuntala, the President of the Malati Self Help Group from Khampur village of the Balisankara block in Sudergarh district of Odisha, is an unassuming woman, around thirty years of age. She merely smiles a grateful smile when one mentions that Malati won the Best Self-Help Group award from the Block Administration recently. A quiet woman, her eyes speak of a steely resolve. Her life has been a huge uphill struggle.
Today Kuntala sends both her eleven-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son to school in the hope that the cycle of inter-generational poverty stops with them. About a decade back, Kuntala was not even sure where life would lead her. Having just lost her husband to tuberculosis, this single mother of a toddler, was then pregnant with her second child and life had come to a standstill. Though the family was already living in ultra-poverty, this sudden demise pushed Kuntala’s back to the wall. She was struggling to make ends meet and raise her children when Trickle Up started working in the Sundergarh district in 2015. It was through this intervention that the Self Help Group called Malati was formed and despite facing a lot of issues, Kuntala decided that she would have to find a way to save INR 10 every week as per the norms of the group.
“I was always a very shy person. I did not speak much, and I was extremely depressed at the way life had treated me. I had no knowledge of services and schemes that I was entitled to and I feared the bank. It was through the Self Help Group that my bank account was created and I started understanding the process of monetary transactions. Not only that, in the Self Help Group, I found a huge support system that stood by me and my young children. I was not alone anymore,” says Kuntala.
In 2016, she was also chosen as a participant for the M-Powered project implemented by TATA Communications in partnership with Trickle Up. Through this project, she was handed over a seed grant of INR 3000 and a mobile phone which came with a preloaded application called Package of Practices (PoP). This application helped her understand how to cultivate her land to yield optimum results. She started growing rice and onions using the PoP and has delivered amazing results from it! She is now a whole vegetable vendor.
“Last year, I bought one kilogram of seeds and with the help of the PoP, I could produce 250 kg of onions from it. Imagine the kind of profit I was able to make! The regular trainings are also very helpful, but what happens with the PoP is that it is like a ready reference. Now that I know how to use my phone, I can refer to PoP whenever and wherever I am stuck. I do not have to wait for anyone to come and help me solve my problem. Being a single parent, this is extremely time saving for me. Having this app that I can refer to all the time, has helped me give enough time to cultivation, to my children and my duties as the President of the SHG,” Kuntala looks confident.
Kuntala also uses her phone in different ways. “It helps me network with people and coordinate meetings and trainings. I also like the fact that I can pick up the phone and discuss my problems. Even the other women in my group call me sometimes and ask for my help. My communication skills have improved so much, and I am not the same shy person anymore. To be honest, I love my phone. Listening to music or watching videos has become a hobby and my free time is much more entertaining now!”

Today, Kuntala owns two bullocks and two goats and is trying her hand at livestock rearing as well. She follows the instructions on the livestock rearing section of the PoP and regularly vaccinates her livestock so that they remain healthy and a viable source of income for her. “Given the way the rains are behaving, I do not want to be dependent only on agriculture anymore. Livestock gives me an option to stay afloat even if the monsoon is late and my crops are affected. My children are dependent on me. See I am not that educated, but I do dream that my children will grow into good and successful human beings. Today, I can say that I am trying my best to ensure that they have every opportunity to turn their lives around,” says the proud mother.

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