Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families

by Tiljala Society for Humans and Educational Development
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families
Livelihood Training in Topsia
Livelihood Training in Topsia

When I wrote to you back in July, I reported that our normal programmes, including this livelihood programme, had stalled. We were dealing with India’s COVID crisis and relief from hunger was our top priority. I also told you how our vehicle had fallen apart under the strain of carrying so much weight of rice, dal, cooking oil and so on.  Well I am delighted to report that our marvellous team reached around 35,000 people with vital food rations over the lockdown period. And also, thanks to generous donors through GlobalGiving, the vehicle has been repaired and is now fully roadworthy again.

More good news is that many of our beneficiaries have come forward asking for new loans so that they can start up new businesses or revive an old one.  And because of your generosity, the funds raised last year are now ready to be disbursed.  Before that, though, we have launched a training programme helping the women with business skills, a little bit of bookkeeping and also helping them to identify what businesses are most appropriate for each area.

The scheme operates through a co-operative system, where a group of women, often friends and neighbours, will form a CIG or credit interest group. Each woman takes her own loan, but the group becomes severally responsible for repayment. We have found the system works very well and we routinely have a 98% repayment rate.

Conditions of the loans include an undertaking to keep the children in education and also to start a savings account. This gives the family some financial resilience.

I’m looking forward to reporting back to you what businesses these women set up and how they are faring.  Meanwhile, thank you as ever for your amazing generosity.

Livelihood Training in Narkeldanga
Livelihood Training in Narkeldanga
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Distributing food parcels
Distributing food parcels

I last reported on this project on 24th March just as country after country around the world was going into lockdown, including India. 
Overnight, India's informal economy was forced to a halt. The daily labourers, rickshaw drivers, street vendors, domestic helpers, beggars and ragpickers found themselves unable to earn the daily wage that fed themselves and their families. Starvation was only days away for many. Vast numbers of migrant workers lost their jobs in the city and headed home to their villages, many on foot as public transport stopped. The news media reported tragic tales of people collapsing and dying on marathon journeys. 

Tiljala SHED's target beneficiaries are exactly such people. Swiftly Tiljala SHED's staff was reduced to the few who lived close enough to reach the target communities and an emergency office was set up in T SHED's Beauty Training Parlour.  We could no longer run this livelihood programme but instead we needed to ensure all these beneficiaries and their families were well and able to eat. 

Donations began to roll in from local philanthropic groups. Sacks of rice, lentils, flour, onions, biscuits, masks, gloves, hand sanitiser. We set up fundraising pages  at GiveIndia and here on GlobalGiving. Support began to roll in and our amazing staff rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Since early April Tiljala SHED has distributed food aid to well over 30,000 people. The team is exhausted but they are doing an incredible job. Crowds of destitute people line to alley way beside the emergency office begging for help. Staff take names, distribute coupons, purchase vast quantities of supplies, package it for individual families and then distribute. All through the hottest time of year, through Ramadan and now through the monsoon.

And when this is all over, we need to regroup, and most importantly to get these families back in their feet they will desperately need the microloans from this project, so that they can start up their businesses again, buy stock, repair rickshaws etc.

Tiljala SHED itself is also going to need institutional support: our immediate crisis is the vehicle. Our 12 year old van is finally worn out. Without it we cannot bring the aid to people who still desperately need it, so please consider today a donation towards replacing the van. We also still badly need donations for emergency food relief

Thank you

Providing emergency food relief in COVID19
Providing emergency food relief in COVID19

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Rehana - Entrepreneur
Rehana - Entrepreneur

I was in Kolkata in January, making my annual visit to the projects and meeting the beneficiaries. This is very important to me because I need to know that your donations are being well spent and that they have real impact.

On this day I was very much looking forward to meeting Rehana - one of the beneficiaries who has really turned her life around.  But I was not expecting this. Here is an extract from my diary that day..

"Then the BDS (Livelihood Programme) women started to arrive. It became immediately clear that one of them, Rehana, was very sick. She is pregnant but has been bleeding for some time. She had been to the hospital and was told she urgently needs to be admitted. But her husband has run off with another woman and there is no one to take care of the children if she goes into hospital. Rehana is one of the stars of the livelihood project. She started by buying a cycle rickshaw and then bought another 9.  She then sold them all and set up a godown (warehouse) for collecting and sorting waste from the ragpickers.  She became pregnant with her 3rd child and her husband then started an affair. He and the girlfriend have absconded with most of the assets she had accumulated. The godown is not functioning as she is ill and she is very worried about how she will repay the money she owes. She is a fine businesswoman and entrepreneur, but life has knocked her. She says “When I get well I can restart the business” and I’m sure she can.  While we were there she contacted her mother who can come and take care of her two children while she is in hospital. A member of staff will accompany her to the hospital and ensure that her bills are covered by the Emergency Food and Medicine budget.  I wrote this as I sat there “I came expecting one kind of story but I got another. This is real life. I want to tell positive stories of redemption but life is untidy and amongst such vulnerable groups, very messy indeed.” But thanks to Tiljala SHED, Rehana stands a good chance of getting her life back on track."

Rehana duly went into the hospital where she stayed a few days. She lost the baby sadly. I saw her again about a week later and she was so much better. She was full of smiles and tears - thanking us (you, the donors) for helping her. She was positive about getting back to her business and moving on with her life. Tiljala SHED will relax the repayment terms of her loan whilst she restarts the business.

Thanks to Tiljala SHED and to the generosity of people like you, vulnerable women like Rehana have the opportunity to make a success of their lives. She'll be fine and is probably better off without the duplicitous husband.  

Rehana - when I first saw her
Rehana - when I first saw her
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ASHA
ASHA

Asha is 46 years old and lives in a makeshift shelter beside the open sewer in the Kolkata suburb of Topsia. After her husband died of cancer five years ago, Asha had to find a way of supporting herself and seven other family members. She sold her precious wedding dowry jewellery – a set of earrings – and started her business. She went to the market and bought garments at wholesale prices and then sold door to door for a small profit. Gradually the business grew. In August this year Asha took a small loan of Rs20,000 from this microfinance project and she was able to take the business to another level. She no longer goes from house to house: her customers come to her. They buy on credit and repay her in weekly instalments.

Before taking out this loan Asha earned just 4000 to 5000 rupees per month, barely enough to feed 8 hungry mouths. Since she took the loan her income has increase to 12 – 13,000 rupees per month. Her dream is to own a small shop.

It is thanks to the generosity of our donors that women like Asha have been able to turn their lives around. Since this project was launched in 2016 over 520 small loans have been made to destitute families. 142 loans went to rag picker families and nearly 400 went to ultra-poor families. Every loan is repaid so that the funds can be recycled to help other families. The repayment rate hovers around the 95% - 98% mark – and this is remarkable given that the beneficiaries are almost all illiterate. A recent survey shows that 74% of the beneficiary families have maintained an increased income since taking out the loan – and many of the families, like Asha’s, have considerably increased their incomes. Some have even been able to move away from the squatter camps and into permanent legal accommodation.

This programme is very popular in the local community and also with our staff. They really see the difference financial inclusion makes to some of India’s most vulnerable people. The benficiaries themselves want to feel they are not receiving aid, but are accessing credit. They are proud to repay their loans and often repay ahead of schedule. A truly empowering project. Thank you for your generosity.

 

A note: You will have heard from GlobalGiving that there is a problem disbursing your donations to the project. This is because all GlobalGiving's disbursements to Indian projects have been held up at government level. I am working on a solution which will unblock the funds and get your donations safely where they need to go. Meanwhile, the project is moving forward as we always aim to keep a modest cushion of funds for just this eventuality. Thank you for your patience.

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Rukshana
Rukshana

On 18th July I asked for donations towards this project - hoping that the donations, plus gift aid and Global Giving's match funding would achieve our target of £10,000. Well, we pretty much did it. And I can't thank you enough.  Please see below the stories of three women who have made a great success of their microloans, funded by you.  For every woman who takes a loan, the whole family benefits.  The children stay in education, eat more nutritious food and avoid early marriage.  The husband and wider family benefit from the uplift in family income and the woman herself enjoys a higher status at home and in the community. Even domestic violence is reduced.  And best of all, the loan is repaid in full with a little interest and can then be loaned out to another woman. So your generosity keeps on giving time and again.  This project is enormously popular amongst these vulnerable communities and we really want to keep expanding it until every family in Kolkata's railway and canalside squatters has had an opportunity. So please keep supporting them!

Ruksana lives with her family at Mir Meher Ali Lane canal squatter settlement at Tangra. Her husband is a furniture polisher and her five children are all studying. Two are in a hostel and the other three are studying in a local school. Two of her children are attending our educational centre.

Ruksana was an introvert and kept to herself but after she started attending the community meetings organised by Tiljala SHED her inhabitations and actively started participating in all project related activities.

Initially she took a loan of twenty thousand from Tiljala SHED to support her husband to buy new materials for polishing. She dutifully paid back her loan amount in time. She took a second time loan of 30 thousand rupees and invested the loan amount to buy unstitched dress material and started vending it door-to-door. She is conscientious in her work and is doing quite well in her business. We wish her success in her venture.

Jasmin  
Jasmin is 26 and lives beside the Topsia canal settlement with her family. She has one son and one daughter. Her husband Saidul works at the leather complex as labourer. Both her children are studying in Topsia Primary School and attends our coaching class at Topsia community centre.

Jasmin could not complete her studies because she came from a rather large family and her parents could not support her education. Her parents decided to marry her off to Saidul at an early age.

Jasmin wanted to do something because the income of her husband was not sufficient to meet the family expenses. She joined the cutting and stitching classes and after one year she learned tailoring. She has transformed herself into as an entrepreneur. She took a loan of twenty thousand from Tiljala SHED and set up a small tailoring unit in her hut. She stitches clothes for women of the area and even keeps different qualities of cloth which she also sells from her outlet. Slowly but steadily her business is prospering and now her average income is around six thousand per month. (£70)

Now she can contribute towards the family expenses. She returned the original loan amount in seven months. Recently she took another loan of thirty thousand and invested in her business. She is confident that the income will go up and she can improve her quality of life in future. The funds raised through Global Giving platform has made a considerable impact in the lives of Jasmin and her family. She is indebted to the organization for the support she received in time.

Shankari is a 30 year old lady residing at Topsia canal side squatter settlement. Her husband Mahadev   is a fishmonger. She has one daughter. Her husband income was not sufficient to meet ends so Shankari decided to start a business of selling health products and cosmetics from door to door.

She took fifteen thousand loan from Tiljala SHED on 21.06.2017. After taking loan she effectively managed her business. After one year she decided to start sari selling with health product from door to door.

So, she took second time loan of Rs.20,000 from Tiljala SHED on 07.08.18. Her income was increased and her confidence has grown considerably. She returned the loan amount and applied for the third time. 

She once again took a loan of Rs.30,000 from Tiljala SHED on 22.06.19. Now her income has doubled and she wants to further expand her business in the near future. She regularly meets her commitment towards repayment of the loan amount. Three months ago, she started her Life insurance Policy for her husband. 

We all feel that she will do well in life because she is way ahead than other working woman of that area.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

How are these loans organised?
Applicants for loans under the Livelihood programme all come from the very poorest section of society. They live in the desperately poor areas of central Kolkata which Tiljala SHED has supported for many years. All the beneficiaries are women, although many, like Rehana, may take the loan to enhance or support their husband’s business. Each beneficiary is screened to ensure they are truly in need and living below the poverty line. Applicants form small groups of 4 or 5 women, CIGs (Credit Interest Groups) which then work together to support and encourage one another and also to take responsibility collectively forone another’s repayments.  A condition of taking a loan under this scheme is that the children must remain in education and that the beneficiary must have a bank account and develop a habit of saving.  This way they are protecting their future.

 Why is this scheme so successful?

  • It is run by and for women.
  • The CIG structure means that potential beneficiaries are selected by friends and neighbours who know them well.
  • Tiljala SHED provides business training and support
  • Because T Shed is a charitable organisation and not a bank, this scheme is run entirely on humanitarian grounds. If a crisis occurs – and amongst the very poor an illness in the family can cause a severe financial crisis – the loan repayments are rescheduled and sometimes even forgiven altogether. Even so the overall repayment rate is always very high.

What are the main positive outcomes/impact?

  • The women are empowered to build a business and become financially secure
  • Across the scheme women report much reduced levels of domestic abuse
  • The children remain in education and thus increase their own chances of a better future
  • Families who have lived for generations in illegal shelters beside the railways and open sewers are now planning to move into proper housing and to put their children through a good education

This scheme is three and a half years old.  It started with a fundraising Quiz Night in December 2015. That evening raised the seed funding which led to the first 80 beneficiaries receiving loans in June 2016.  Since thenover £100,000 has been disbursed to nearly 500 beneficiaries. Of those, 142 are former rag pickers (the lowest of the low – women who fed their children by collecting other people’s waste and selling it on to dealers). The rest were classed as ultra-poor (not rag pickers, but from extremely vulnerable families and living in the same illegal makeshift shelters). None of the beneficiaries are in any useful way literate – and yet 74% have increased their family income through becoming entrepreneurs.

Jasmin
Jasmin
Shankari
Shankari
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Organization Information

Tiljala Society for Humans and Educational Development

Location: Kolkata - India
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @TiljalaSHED
Project Leader:
Jane Manson
Kolkata, West Bengal India
$34,886 raised of $80,000 goal
 
317 donations
$45,114 to go
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