We believe that knowledge is empowerment. The role of Knowledge is very important in Development. Knowledge connects people with the resources around them. Using these resources people gain protection in bad times and explore greater opportunities that are available. Manjari’s educational programs are geared to impart practical, working knowledge to rural women that help them overcome obstacles, get protection and access to new opportunities and also to assert their rights and entitlement.
Manjari Foundation helps rural women understand the need of micro-finance through inter-lending and savings. The fact that many of them are oblivious of different banking services meant for underprivileged women, has driven us to start our education programs with a focus on financial literacy.
Manjari Foundation plays pivotal role in offering financial education wherein SHG women are facilitated to learn about importance of small savings, the rules of business and how to capitalize their small savings to avail small loans. The training program makes women confident and educated enough to approach government institutions, banks and other financial institutions for loans, and related purposes.
Besides linking SHGs directly with banks for loans, Manjari further educates how to set up partnership with private banks and apex lending institutions to finance livelihood programs. SHG women are educated about the benefit of crop insurance too. At present there are over 25 Beema Sakhis, who monitor Weather Based Crop Insurance Schemes of over 400 covered farmers.
The Internet Sakhi program was launched in collaboration with Tata Trust and Google India to improve digital awareness and leverage the power of Internet and smart-phones that are seeing deeper penetration in rural pockets. An Internet Sakhi is a community cadre from SHG responsible for taking Internet to more and more rural communities. Every Internet Sakhi is provided with 2 Tablets loaded with cloud based applications, 2 Smart-phones, 1 Power Bank and 1 Inter-Cycle (bicycle based internet kiosk). About 140 Internet Sakhi’s are working actively with more than 1, 40,000 community members to educate them on using these smart devices, applications and the Internet. Our goal is to reach out to more than 2, 40,000 women with the Internet Sakhi program by end of Oct, 2017.
Sewakapura, a small village in the easternmost part of Rajasthan, is a place where time stands still. The small settlement is buried in the rustic greens of the Dholpur district, known for its turbulent affairs with Mughal emperors, sandstone reserves, a combined cycle power station and close proximity to major cities like Agra and Gwalior. Still, the hamlet of farmers and farm hands in Sewakapura live life without electricity for most part of the day and rarely show signs of urban influence, given that city life is just a stone’s throw away. And also, they have only most recently discovered – the smartphone.
But, as much as it looks like a typical Indian village from the covers, there’s something revolutionary happening in Sewaka Pura, and it’s the women of the village that are stepping up to the mantle. How? By educating themselves and those around them through the usage of Internet.
“I did not even know how to hold a smartphone. My husband did not allow me to touch a mobile phone for the longest time, fearing that I might break it or damage it,” recalls ParvatiKushwah, the designated Internet Saathi of Sewakapura. Now, Parvati not only knows how to operate smart phones and tablets, she has applied her internet skills to establish a whole new source of income for herself and her family and other families as well.
“While most folks around here earn their monthly income from farming and animal husbandry, I was unable to undertake any tasks requiring physical strength and toughness because of my chronic-illness. My wife was not earning anything. Our meager resources were spent on my health and arranging two square meals in our plates ,” remembers Ram NiwasKushwah, Parvati’s husband.
Both Parvati and Ram Niwas used the internet to source a machine for making paper bowls. With the help of the information they could gather from their Google search, the couple travelled to Agra and purchased the said machine with some financial support from their SHG. They now sell paper bowls and plates churned out by the machine, which sits pretty in their countryside courtyard. The family is able to make about INR 6 k to 8 k in a month depending upon the season and market demand.
And it is not only the Kushwahswho are using their knowledge of the internet to their advantage in Sewakapura. The women of all SHGs of the village who are now just discovering the potential of the web are using it to gain inspiration and enhance their skills. Some look for Mehendi art to recreate beautiful designs they find online, while others are learning how to make bracelets and anklets. Most of them go online to read the regional newspaper, look up operational timings for their banks and keep a tab on the farming schemes being introduced in the country.
True inspiration can be drawn from the women of Sewakapura, who not only have a strong will to make a difference to their lives and circumstances, but also have the drive to toil in fields all day long, tend to livestock, cook for large families, clean their homes, carry heaps of grass and firewood on their delicate frames, and make time to sit down for an internet lesson at the end of a very long day. All this, while the sons and husbands of the settlement set sights on neighboring towns in hopes of finding a city job.
Being a woman herself, this writer truly hopes to see not one, but hundreds of programs like Internet Saathi, take to the rural and economically, digitally weaker sections of our country. Their stories need to be told, and their determined lives need to be appreciated, if not rewarded. Almost 70% of the online population in our country is made up by men, leaving women in the bottom 30%. This colossal gap needs to be mended, and thankfully, repairs have already begun.