We started the field trips with a visit to Maanaveeya’s partner, Annapurna Microfinance Pvt. Ltd (AMPL). Its Balipatna branch is about 45 minutes away from the hotel. The road is filled with school girls on bikes, motorcycles, cars and people walking trying to reach school or work as fast as possible.
The area manager of Central Odisha zone and the branch manager welcome the group and explain the process of creating a self-help group (SHG), the training they provide to the SHG members and the checks they do to make sure this association will be sustainable and able to repay the loan.
We visited SHGs in Kantuni, and Bhanapur villages. The first SHG works producing patchwork for home and temples called chandua. They also produce worm compost, they have tanks for earth worms for sale, and use fishing to diversify their source of income. The other two groups have a joint mushroom production enterprise where they have a plot of land to cultivate vegetables that are sold in the local market.
All SHG members agreed that their main achievement is that they do not depend on their husbands and that they are able to contribute to the household expenses and the education of their children. One of the member’s son and daughter were able to graduate with a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts. With their profits, they were able to invest and develop their businesses and even fulfil some dreams. They were able to travel together to a location to have a “picnic” or a moment for sharing and relaxing in a location, a dream that was high on their wish list. The ladies of the SHG group in Bhanapur were able to travel to Kolkata to dispose the ashes of one of their ancestors, an activity that is reserved mainly for men. Their next plan is to save their money to go together for a picnic to Paradeep, a port town of Odisha. I am sure this dream will come true in no-time.
In Kantuni, we are invited to the village temple and to join their festivities. It is the first time I’ve participated in such rituals, so I was not entirely sure what I had to do. The smell of sandalwood and jasmine flowers combined with the bright colours of the flowers decorating buildings and transport vehicles as well as the garments the women were dressed in, created a great environment for the activities related to the festival of God Shiva, which is especially celebrated in Odisha.