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“We have work cultivating, savings, and assets…We are better now, we have food at home, and the children are going to school.”
In 2006, Trickle Up’s implementing partner Human Development Centre (HDC) visited impoverished villages in West Bengal and took note of the poorest homes, including the household of Jamuna Sardar, her husband, Kangal, and their three children. When Jamuna and Kangal learned about Trickle Up, they were skeptical. No one had ever altruistically offered them assistance. As members of the historically marginalized adivasi, or indigenous tribe, Jamuna and Kangal endured a difficult existence living on less than $1.25 a day. As a child, Jamuna began catching and selling crabs as a way to supplement her family’s income. Kangal’s childhood was similarly marred by suffering. “When I was a child, it was a regular phenomenon that we had to starve or ate food once a day,” he says in an interview. Both Jamuna and Kangal are non-literate never having attended school. "We had a tremendous amount of shame.”
Jamuna married Kangal at age 15 and gave birth to her three children by the age of 22. With limited wage opportunities in the village and a lack of motivation, Kangal spent many of his days drinking alcohol – a habit which drained a large portion of the family’s income and placed most of the financial burden on his wife. Jamuna remembers these days, “He did not think about the family…I had to borrow food from my neighbors to feed my children and myself.”
By the time Trickle Up reached Jamuna’s village, her family was reeling from the effects of a fire that had destroyed their house and left them with nothing but the clothes on their backs. At that time, Jamuna caught crabs six days a week, backbreaking work that just allowed them to make ends meet, while Kangal worked as a laborer 2-3 months of the year. Life was difficult and full of precarious choices: the need to purchase fuel prevented the family from buying food; buying food prohibited the family from obtaining fuel. Jamuna recalls, “We had less firewood, so we cooked once a day.”
Early in the Trickle Up program, Jamuna received a food stipend to supplement her malnourished family’s meals in the two leanest months of the year – the “hungry season.” With the help of Trickle Up and HDC, Jamuna acquired new skills and used her seed capital grant to invest in her first livelihood activity: raising sheep. The sheep were a springboard for other successful endeavors, which Jamuna expanded gradually over the course of her three years in the program. Meeting weekly with the HDC field officer assigned to her village, Jamuna planned her activities carefully in order to diversify her livelihood base – beginning with selling sheep in order to buy pigs, ducks, and a hen. With her earnings, she re-invested in other activities, such as a fish pond and a rice paddy – activities that further reduced her family’s vulnerability by providing much needed food and additional commodities to sell.
Jamuna joined with several other participants and established a savings and credit group, or “self-help group,” which formed early in the program. With training provided by Trickle Up and HDC, the women were taught the importance of savings – even in very small amounts – and eventually pooled a substantial sum of money by the standards of their village. With the approval of fellow members, Jamuna was able to borrow from the group corpus to finance her expanding livelihood activities, as well as pay for emergency expenses. As a member of the self-help group, Jamuna has saved 1,130 rupees ($27) so far, which is the most money she has ever possessed.
Jamuna credits Trickle Up and the HDC field officer who visited her weekly –known warmly as Dada (elder brother) – with her newfound ability to save, send her children to school, pay for veterinary medicine, and visit doctors. With the extensive training provided by Trickle Up, her field worker was able to guide Jamuna toward profitable livelihood activities and connect her family with free, public medical services that have saved them an enormous amount of money. He also insured that Jamuna received a Below the Poverty Line benefit card, enabling her to access government programs which provide food, kerosene, and other household supplies at a reduced cost. He was even able to convince Kangal to reduce his alcohol consumption and return to work. The family saved even more as a result.
Six months after graduating from the Trickle Up program, the benefits that Jamuna has experienced are evident above and beyond simple monetary measures. Jamuna shares her knowledge and skills with fellow community members, saying, “In the past, the livestock of our neighbors have died, but we [Trickle Up participants] learned how to care for them. From us, our neighbors are learning and their livestock is doing well.” After building up her assets and learning skills, Jamuna feels more confident and has emerged from the confines of her home. In Jamuna’s words, “Now we talk with people, outsiders – we could not before. We have been able to come out of shame, it has been very good.” Her husband has even begun to help her cook, a task he would have viewed as emasculating in the past. The family’s hygiene has also improved immensely. They bathe daily, wear clean clothes, tidy their house, and use a sanitary latrine that replaced the open-air bathroom, minimizing the risk of diarrhea.
Jamuna has bright plans for the future, which are evident in her ever-expanding livelihood base. She has stabilized the household economy and is now able to feed her family three full meals a day. Jamuna plans to continue sending her children to school as well as buy more land to build a sturdier house. Speaking of her new outlook on life, Jamuna says, “[If] you are educated, you eat better, your environment is better, you speak better. We will give our daughters the same education [as our son]. Then they can teach their daughters, too.”
In January 2011, staff from Trickle Up’s headquarters visited Jamuna in her home. They received a first-hand account of Jamuna’s life since her time as a Trickle Up participant. Shortly after she graduated from the program in October 2009, Jamuna began to have health problems and required surgery. In order to pay for the operation, Jamuna sold most of her pigs and sheep, and her children had to discontinue school. If her health crisis had occurred before she obtained assets through her activities with Trickle Up, Jamuna would have borrowed from predatory moneylenders and gone deep into debt. Jamuna did take out a loan, but she repaid it quickly due to the 8000 rupees she received from selling livestock.
Jamuna’s health had improved since her operation, and her livelihood activities are back on track as well. She was planning a new entrepreneurial endeavor – a stationery shop, financed with a loan from her self-help group. Jamuna used 1000 rupees from this loan to invest in her fishery business. She estimates that the fish will generate a 4000 rupee profit, which will help her set up the new business and promptly repay the loan. Jamuna will also continue to raise livestock and lease rice paddy to supplement her family’s meals. Her children are back in school, and even Jamuna’s husband is working 15 days a month, earning around 100 rupees per day. During the days Kangal cannot find work, he will work in Jamuna’s shop, a testament to their new, more cooperative relationship. “Come and see us again,” Jamuna entreats the Trickle Up staff from New York.