Over the past 5 years Tiljala SHED’s livelihood programme has helped lift up 630 families in some of Kolkata’s worst slums by making small business loans to vulnerable women and supporting them through regular training. The women apply for loans in small groups (Credit Interest Groups or CIGs) of around 4 individuals. Each woman sets up her own business but the whole group is responsible for applying for and repaying the loans. The recovered loans are then redeployed to other CIGs. This scheme has worked very well, helping many families out of extreme poverty and enabling them to keep their children in education (rather than child labour or early marriage). The women have been incredibly resourceful and many have been able to pay private school fees or invest their earnings in expanding their businesses. When I visit the field and meet the families I sense that this programme has injected a huge amount of energy and hope into the community.
In previous reports you can read the individual stories of many of our beneficiaries. Since the start of the pandemic everything changed. Not only were these women largely unable to continue their businesses (lockdown prevented anyone from going onto the streets) but also their husbands lost their incomes. Tiljala SHED had to switch almost overnight to relief work. All loan repayments were put on hold. No new loans were disbursed – and Tiljala SHED’s staff turned their efforts to sourcing food and medical supplies and then distributing ration packs across large swathes of central Kolkata. We distributed food parcels to 6500 families in 2020 and a further 6500 in 2021. It has been an enormous effort and all undertaken by a small group of staff and volunteers who were willing and able to take on this huge task. I am so proud of all of them.
And now that India has come through the worst of the current wave of COVID infection and the economy is up and running again, we have restarted the livelihood programme, conducting training sessions across all four communities. Loan repayments have started coming in again as our beneficiaries have revived their businesses and we are looking forward to kickstarting the programme fully in 2022.
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