Friday, 14 March 2008

The Old People's Project and the Interview

I might have mentioned that I am working for Asha in the office in the mornings and then teaching in the afternoons. The work is varied and has involved drafting letters and sending emails. The team in the office is small and everyone lends a hand where needed. While I am here, I am an extra pair of hands. As you know the work Asha does cannot be sustained if it weren't for the money coming in through donations and grants. It's important then, to get news out about what's happening in the slums and the progress being made. Shamefully I am guilty of not reading all the news and so was unaware, even though it's in the newsletter, of a new program Asha has started.

The Old People's Program
In the slums, typically families only look out for themselves. Before Asha gets involved, some women, don't even leave their homes, much less consider communicating with their neighbours. Where there is a family, at least they have a small opportunity of talking. For the elderly, with no family, they can be on their own in their home and completely isolated. It's so much worse for the women, who have spent their lives in their homes, who lose husbands and may not have children. Asha has a new program that focuses on these elderly widows. Apart from regular visits from the health volunteers, the elderly women now attend weekly meetings in the clinic. They come for tea, a little meal and conversation. In most cases, this is the only conversation they'll have all week. As Asha helps the community develop, so the interaction grows stronger and the community starts to look out for the others more.

An Interview and The Finance Project
On Thursday I was asked to interview a couple living in Ekta Vihar, the slum just near the main Asha clinic. The interview was for a brief article for the newsletter to support an update about another of Asha's new projects. The couple I interviewed have been married and living in Ekta Vihar for 18 years. The conditions in the slum were appalling in those early days. Asha has been involved with Ekta Vihar all that time and the changes in the slum have been significant. As with other slums, walkways are now paved, there are water channels, they have access to drinking and running water (not the same thing!) and toilet blocks. In addition, Asha helped to start a housing project, so most slum dwellers now have brick homes, instead of the shacks they’d previously had. This couple said that life was good now as their brick home is comfortable, their children immunized and attending school.
We all want to continue to improve our lives and it's no different with them. With a greater income, they'd be able to provide their family with more. As with many of the slum dwellers, the husbands work and earn a small income. So too with this couple, where Shahid earns an income driving a commercial vehicle. The problem is that this is rented, leaving very little real income after he has paid the rental fees.

A loan from a bank would enable him to buy a vehicle outright and have money over to start buying things they need; a fridge, gas stove and provide more for the children. You can imagine that it would be difficult for a slum dweller to contemplate approaching a bank for a loan. In Ekta Vihar, they now have fixed addresses, so it should be possible, but most are afraid to even consider approaching the bank. Even if they did, the thought of the paper work and a possibly complicated process has left most reluctant to even contemplate this.

Asha has met with various banks in the area, who are happy to get involved. The Finance Minister, Mr. Chidanbaran, recently came to speak to the residents of Ekta Vihar. He listened to their needs and explained the process to them. Even very small loans (Rs 5000 ~ £60) will mean that these families can start their own small businesses. The types 0f business they start vary; some sell basic supplies in the slums like milk and bread, some have fruit stalls and others have cycle- or auto-rickshaws. Owning these means they are not tied down to perpetual rental charges and should be able to pay back the loan and build up small incomes. After the meetings it's looking very positive and the process to provide loans seems to be underway. As these projects prove successful, Asha will start rolling them out in other slums.

Small steps, but huge progress.


Jacqui Lofthouse said...

It's wonderful to read of this excellent work that Asha is doing Sue, the initiative is clearly a brilliant one and you are making such a difference in being there; thinking of you.

Sue said...

Hi Jacqui,

Nice to hear from you. The difference is being made by these women here who do this day in and out, with unrelenting joy and energy. I don't know how they do it. The reward is working with the people I think. It is for me.