Feb 20, 2018

Lifesaving surgery and glasses to make a living

Mariam
Mariam

For little Mariam, the chance of medical help for her rare eye condition was remote.  Her father is a daily labourer earning just 200 rupees a day.  But Mariam was born with a chronic eye infection which is in danger of turning malignant.  Thanks to help from Tiljala SHED's medical fund, supported by you, Mariam was able to travel to Hyderabad for life-saving surgery.

Shahida lives with her 17 year old daughter Shabnam in a dark little room in a tenement in Kolkata's Dara Para slum. Widowed about 5 years ago and abandoned by her three sons Shahida stitches purses made from off cuts of leather from a local factory. She makes about a rupee profit on each purse. But her eyesight is failing and she is afraid that she will no longer be able to earn enough to keep herself and Shabnam. If Shahida cannot work, her daughter would have to leave school without qualifications and take up the same exploitative work. It is Shahida and Shabnam's dearest wish that the girl should complete her education and become qualified to take up useful employment so that she can care for her mother.

This week, thanks to your generosity, Shahida had her eyes tested and was prescribed new glasses. This will enable her to keep working until Shabnam is able to take on the responsibility.

Thank you, as ever, for your generosity

Shahida with her new glasses
Shahida with her new glasses
Feb 12, 2018

How Your Donations Keep Girls Safe

Resham, Child Club leader, future journalist
Resham, Child Club leader, future journalist

63 million women, girls missing due to India's preference for boys

I was shocked at this headline in the Times of India a couple of weeks ago

According to Indian government statistics 63 MILLION girls were either conceived but never born, died as infants or neglected in childhood and died young. I was in Kolkata when I read the headline and had spent the previous day with a wonderful group of young women and girls from a very deprived rag picker community in the Topsia Canalside Squatter camp. It’s a horrible place, a narrow strip of land surrounded on both sides by the putrid waters of one of Kolkata’s canals.  They call them canals, but in truth these are huge open sewers.

Over the decades the rural landless poor have migrated to the city in the hope of making a better living for themselves and their families.  Many end up in illegal shelters on government land like this Topsia encampment. They make a living through rag picking, operating cycle rickshaws or doing exploitative piecework. Illiteracy, disease, poverty, child labour, child marriage, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence are common problems across all such deprived communities. 

When I read that appalling headline, I immediately thought of Saika, Resham and their friends in the Topsia Canalside Squatters. What a fantastic bunch of girls. They are members of the Topsia Child Club which is responsible for monitoring the welfare of children in the community. They have been trained by Tiljala Shed through workshops, street theatre and other interventions to recognise where child rights are being violated. They are particularly proud that they called in the right authorities recently to have a child marriage stopped.  They love this work and clearly feel valued and confident. Each one has big ambitions: Saika wants to be a scientist. Resham, the natural leader of this little group, wants to be a journalist. Others want to be teachers, doctors and businesswomen. None of them is interested in getting married yet. This is remarkable. They are all first-generation learners; their mothers are illiterate and probably married in their mid-teens. Tiljala SHED, with the help of all its generous donors, will continue to work for these wonderful inspirational young women, because they are the future for their whole community. Think what a difference those 63 million might have made given the chance.

Your generous donations go towards keeping girls like Saika and Resham in education, protecting them from child marriage, child labour and child abuse and enabling them, in turn, to protect others.  Every penny or cent you donate is used carefully and responsibly.  

Saika.  Wit, Child Club member, future scientist
Saika. Wit, Child Club member, future scientist
Girl Members of the Topsia Child Club
Girl Members of the Topsia Child Club
Dec 29, 2017

How you have transformed lives through microloans

Shankari shows us her products
Shankari shows us her products

My most recent trip to Kolkata brought yet more positive stories from this great project.  Your donations have been put to work as small loans to Kolkata’s poorest and most marginalised people: rag pickers and the ultra-poor who live in shelters alongside the railways and open sewers in central Kolkata. Since this project began over £16000 has been invested as small loans (of less than £250).  Every loan comes with a story – many of which you have read in my reports over the last 2 years.  

Please consider a special donation this New Year. Every sum donated is loaned to a vulnerable woman who will use it to improve the family income, keep her children in education and even to help her avoid domestic violence. And she will repay the loan which can then be used again and again to help more families. Read on to see how your donation will be spent...

This time I met a group of women who form a CIG (credit interest group). The group members are jointly responsible for loan repayments and also for deciding on who gets new loans.  The members of this CIG all live in the Topsia canalside squatter camp.  Tiljala SHED staff tell me that all these beneficiaries make their repayments early each month (who ever heard of that?)

Here are some of their stories…

Shankari  sells toiletries door to door.  Before she took out a Rs15,000 (£180) loan she used to sell cheap disinfectant.  With the loan she was able to buy much more interesting and high value stock.  She has kept her customer base but has doubled her income.  Shankari’s husband is a fish seller and they live in a shelter together with their 4 year old daughter.  One of the conditions of the loan is that beneficiaries should commit to keeping their children in education.  Well Shankari’s daughter is too young for kindergarten but she is, nevertheless, paying for her to have private tuition.  

She has opened a bank account and manages to save Rs500 9360 per month as well as repaying her loan.

Shankari also told us that she suffers much less domestic violence now that she has economic independence.

Kakoli has run a small tea stall on the edge of the squatter camp by the main road for 10 years. With her loan she was able to diversify and offer her customers paratha and boiled eggs and guguni (pea curry) for breakfast. Besides repaying her loan (early like Shankari) she is saving to buy a house of her own.  She wants another loan after she has repaid this one so that she can start selling evening snacks too.

Purnima also sells tea and snacks.  With her loan she diversified into other products – sweets and biscuits. She too is looking forward to a further loan to be able to grow her business. She proudly told us how her daughter is training to be a nurse and her son has just passed his class 10 exams.

When I meet the beneficiaries I hear stories like this again and again.  I had not expected the loans to provide more than economic benefits, but the social and personal benefits are really significant. These amazing women, given a little training, support and investment can change not only their own lives but those of their families and communities.

They are able to lift themselves out of poverty and aspire to life in mainstream society, marginalised no more.

Kakoli and her tea shop
Kakoli and her tea shop
Purnima
Purnima's shop
 
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