Tuesday, November 02, 2010

One way to make the poor in India self-sufficient

The best programs to help the poor are the ones that help them to be self-sufficient. Teach the people a skill of give them a tool then step out of their way.

In almost a spiritual sense, any program hoping to help the poor should take those without much hope and give them confidence. Giving food instead of helping them grow more doesn't inspire confidence. Sometimes even giving money instead of helping them to earn more doesn't inspire confidence.

We may have come across a Indian government program that helps to make the poor self-sufficient from the Inter Press Service today. Writer Manipadma Jena from the IPS describes the program called Strengthening Rural Development.

When Anarahim Laskar, a worker at Sealdah rail station, tripped and fell with while carrying a heavy head load in 2007, he could have easily shattered more than his hipbone.

But thanks to help from government initiative Strengthening Rural Development (SRD), the lives of his wife Jahanara and their nine children were not shattered when the family’s sole breadwinner could not resume work.

The SRD project provided the family with a simple contraception costing just 13 U.S. dollars – a bicycle wheel with a hand pedal, locally called ‘charkha’, which twists raw jute fibre into rope.

The wheel is grouted in an open space in front of their house in Sahajadapur village in South 24 Parganas – an underdeveloped district in India’s West Bengal state, some 100 kilometres from Kolkata.

After the household chores have been completed, Jahanara and two of her neighbours twist jute ropes for more than 8 hours each day, which earns them at least 35 dollars each month. Anarahim, too, helps his wife, while two of their sons are now old enough to earn wages from working on a farm, which helps to supplement the family’s income.

Implemented since 2006, the West Bengal government’s SRD initiative is pushing the envelope to reach the poorest, and aims to strengthen the rural economy through fiscal decentralisation – covering 30 village clusters governments known as ‘gram panchayats’, with a total of 989 villages in the poorest 12 out of the state’s 19 districts.

"Only by strengthening grassroots governance, enabling the poor to voice and participate in it, can this challenge of poverty be taken on", says Trilochan Singh, principal secretary of West Bengal’s Panchayat and Rural Development Department.

The Village Development Committee, a special community group with members across genders and castes, then decides how to spend these untied funds, mainly to improve the livelihoods of the most marginalised and needy people in the community.

One of five women in the 12-member committee, 42-year-old Asida Gazi, who represents Sahajadapur’s 40 percent Muslim community, says it has given ‘charkas’ to 95 poor women, 25 of whom had not even been identified by the government as living below the poverty line. "Our committee, however, knows they are poor and needy since we live in the same village," she says.

Beside ‘charkas’, women have also been given looms to weave gold-thread borders for garments and machines to cut palm leaves into strips to make floor mats. Raw materials, like the jute fibres, are supplied by the purchaser. For the women, this income dispenses of the need for private loan sharks as well as the middle man, who had combined to stifle the growth of the poor.

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