Alternative livelihoods for 500 ragpicker families

by Tiljala Society for Human 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
Purnima's Tea Stall
Purnima's Tea Stall

A case study from the field:

Purnima, 45 yrs old, was a rag picker in Topsia canal side settlement (Mazdoorpara). Life was difficult and full of struggle and hardship. She was involved in rag picking with her husband and used to earn an average of Rs.200-250 per day. ( $2.80 - $3.60 or £2.70 - £3.00 a day)

She has 2 daughters & 1 son. She took a loan of Rs.10,000/ initially to start a small tea stall where she used to sell tea and biscuits with her husband. She successfully repaid in 10 months without any delay. She earned the respect and also the chance of getting another loan. She took another loan of Rs.20,000/ and time she had extensive plan to expand her business. She introduced Paratha, Googni (popular traditional breakfast in India), along with fruits. Since her tea stall was close to bus stand, many of the bus and truck drivers came as her valuable customers. Tea and snacks was already giving her profit. She is repaying on time.

She is now earning an average of Rs.800 to 1000 per day. With the money she earns she admitted her daughter into a Nursing institution where she got her training as a nurse. She completed her training successfully and is now working with Flaming Hospital as a nurse and contributing to her family.

Since this very successful project began in April 2016, 371 small loans have been made to rag pickers and other destitute women. Of these 33 have been so successful that, like Purnima, they have been able to take out a second loan to expand their businesses further.  

Over the entire project the repayment rate is 98.7%.  This is a tribute not only to the beneficiaries themselves but also to Mita and the rest of the Tiljala SHED staff who are managing the project so well.

There are 100 women waiting to set up small businesses of their own.  All we need to be able to help these 100 women is the funds to lend to them. Please consider a special donation this holiday season.  £200 would help a woman like Purnima set up a small business and enable her to keep her children in education.  It is almost unheard of for a rag picker family to be able to send a child to college.  A small loan helps a family to help itself and to transform its future.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season

From all the staff and beneficiaries at Tiljala SHED

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Nek and her husband
Nek and her husband

Nek lives in a shelter on a narrow strip of land running through one of Kolkata’s “canals” – they are in fact open sewers. She is 35 years old, a mother of five and lives with her husband and four of the children.
She and her husband have a small tailoring business but they have struggled to support their large family on the Rs200 (£2.13, $2.80, Eur2.38) they managed to earn each day. Nek says “Sometimes we used to go to sleep hungry”.

Last December, Nek applied for a loan under Tiljala SHED’s Alternative Livelihood programme. With the Rs20,000 (£213, $2.80, Eur238) she bought a new sewing machine and an overlocker machine. She and her husband have been able to improve their efficiency with these new machines and now earn Rs500 per day. This has made a huge impact on family life and prospects for the whole family.
• They can eat regular nutritious meals. “We eat fish or chicken 4 days a week” says Nek. This is considered a ”privileged meal” within the community
• They can purchase new clothes occasionally, especially for festivals (an important tradition in which the ultra-poor are unable to enjoy)
• Nek has started saving a little money each month
• She has purchased her own electricity meter
• She is keeping the youngest children in education and spending what is necessary on books and uniforms.
Moreover, Nek has already repaid the original loan (with interest) and is keen to take out a further loan. Nek’s experience shows how access to cheap credit, through responsible microfinance loans, empowers a family to change their own lives. Nek has not received any free handouts, just a helping hand so that she can grow her business and improve the lives of the whole family.

This project began in early 2016. The loans were entirely funded by GlobalGiving donors like you. Since then your generosity has changed the lives of 330 destitute families in central Kolkata.

• Total beneficiaries 330
• Total of loans disbursed Rs 5,265,004 (£56,000 $73,500 Eur 62,700)
• Total of new loans from the revolving fund Rs2,829,000 (£330,200 $39,500 Eur 33,680)
• Total Number of *CIGs 44
• Loan Recovery rate 98%

*Credit Interest Group. Lending/borrowing is organised around these community-based organisations. Each of the 5 women in the group is responsible for all the others in the group. They support one another and recommend others for loans. It is a system which works very well indeed.

With two of their five children
With two of their five children
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Ishrat with husband and grandson
Ishrat with husband and grandson

When everything went wrong for Ishrat, she was very lucky that donors like you had supported her through Tiljala SHED’s livelihood programme.  Ishrat was born into a large rag picking family, had no education and was married off at 14. Ishrat and her husband Nasir have 3 children. They run a sack-selling business: they buy old sacks, sort them and then sell them on.  They used to make a profit of about Rs7000 (£78 or USD100) per month which was just enough to feed the family – but they had no way of improving their income without an injection of capital.  So Ishrat approached Tiljala SHED for a loan of Rs15000 to enable them to expand the business.  They rented a godown (warehouse) increased their stock and improved their monthly income by a further Rs3000

Access to financial services and to credit is one of the most effective ways the ultra-poor can help themselves out of the cycle of poverty.  Kolkata’s rag pickers are so poor, though, that normal banks won’t lend them money.  Money lenders charge extortionate interest rates and families can find themselves deep in debt when they cannot repay a loan.  Tiljala SHED’s livelihood programme exists to help the poorest of the poor – not to exploit them.  We understand that things go wrong, people fall sick and need to cover medical costs, businesses don’t always grow as fast as people want.  In Ishrat’s case the godown and all her stock were burned to the ground in December last year.  They need to start all over again.

Ishrat will be given a further loan to help her build up her business again and she is on very relaxed repayment terms.  She wants to pay back what she owes but she does not need the added stress of growing debt.  Mita, Mijanoor and the rest of the team at Tiljala SHED who run this programme with such care and humanity are there to help Ishrat and her family improve their lives.

Thanks to you and other donors Tiljala SHED can give families like Ishrat’s a second chance.  Please consider a further donation today so that we can help more families like Ishrat’s.  There are currently 90 families waiting for small loans.

Since April 2016 £48,000 (USD63,000) has been disbursed to 166 families.  £28,600 has been repaid so far and loaned out again to a further 116 families.  Total 282 families have been helped.  The present recovery rate is 97%.

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Hena and her cycle van
Hena and her cycle van

Hena is 24. She was born and brought up in the Narkeldanga Canalside Bustee, a strip of makeshift illegal shelters alongside the so-called canal - actually a giant sewer.  Hena has never known fresh running water or a sanitary toilet.

She was born to immigrant parents and, as the oldest daughter, was kept at home to help her mother with her 6 siblings. Married off at 14 years old to Nabis it probably felt like an escape.  Nabis is also from a destitute and illiterate family. He is a van puller, carrying loads between Burrabazar and Sealdah.  They have three children: Suleiman is 13, Sabana is 10 and the youngest, Kurban, is 9.

Hena and her family are absolutely typical of the families in this desperately deprived part of Kolkata.  In June 2017, Hena applied for a Rs10,000 ($150, £112) loan from Tiljala SHED through a CIG*.  She bought a new van for her husband’s business.  Previously Nabis had hired a van every day which ate into his meagre earnings.  Now that the family owns the van, Nabis takes home everything he earns.  Hena herself does paper binding to bring in more income, though it doesn’t amount to more than a few pence per day.

Overall since taking out the loan, the family’s income has increased by 2000 – 3000 per month.  Hena has paid off the loan on time and now only has about 3 more months until they are clear of the debt and the van is theirs.  All three of the children are in school and Hena hopes for a better future for them.

And the Rs10,000 can be loaned out again to another family – or indeed to Hena herself.

By providing Hena and her family with access to credit, with the training and advice she needs to understand and manage the loan, you empowered her to make a difference to her own life and that of her family.

We have found that women like Hena who have financial power suffer less domestic abuse and gain more respect from their husbands and the wider community.  The loan repayment rate for this project stands somewhere between 97 and 98%.   So every donation will be recycled again and again.

Please consider a generous donation today so that we can give opportunity and hope to more women like Hena.  We have a waiting list of over 90 women, screened, approved and just waiting for the funds to come available….

*Credit Interest Group. Lending/borrowing is organised around these community based organisations. Each of the 5 women in the group is responsible for all the others in the group. They support one another and recommend others for loans.  It is a system which works very well indeed. Members of this CIG always repay early every month.

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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's shop
Purnima's shop
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Organization Information

Tiljala Society for Human and Educational Development

Location: Kolkata, West Bengal - India
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @TiljalaSHED
Project Leader:
Jane Manson
Kolkata, West Bengal India
$45,676 raised of $80,000 goal
381 donations
$34,324 to go
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