Powering a Brighter Future
By Atreyee Kar
Kuntala Pradhan is the proud, but humble, president of the Malati Self-Help Group from Khampur village of the Balisankara block in Sudergarh district of Odisha. She merely smiles when someone mentions that Malati recently won the Best Self Help Group award from the Block Administration.
Ten years ago, Kuntala was the young mother of a toddler and pregnant with her second child when she suddenly lost her husband to tuberculosis. Though the family was already living in ultra-poverty, her husband’s sudden death pushed Kuntala’s back to the wall. She was struggling to make ends meet when Trickle Up started working in the Sundergarh district in 2015. The Malati Self-Help Group was soon formed as part of Trickle Up’s program. Despite her financial hardships, Kuntala joined and was determined to save the INR 10 requested every week of group members.
“I was always a very shy person. I did not speak much and I was extremely depressed at the way life had treated me,” says Kuntala. “I had no knowledge of services and programs that I was entitled to and I was scared of the bank. It was through the Self-Help Group that my bank account was created and I started understanding the process of monetary transactions. Not only that, in the Self-Help Group, I found a huge support system that stood by me and my young children. I was not alone anymore.”
In 2016, Kuntala became a participant in the MPOWERED project implemented by Tata Communications in partnership with Trickle Up. Through this project, she received a seed grant of INR 3000 and a mobile smartphone that came preloaded with a specialized application, developed by Trickle Up, that provides step-by-step instructions on cultivating various crops and raising livestock. The app serves as a readily available digital references and tools that supplement earlier coaching sessions. The app helped Kuntala to better understand how to cultivate her land to yield optimum results. She started growing rice and onions and now sells vegetables.
“Last year, I bought one kilogram of seeds and with the help of the app, I could produce 250 kilograms of onions from it. Imagine the kind of profit I was able to make!” says Kuntala confidently. “The regular trainings are also very helpful, but the app is like a regular reference. Now that I know how to use my phone, I can refer to the app whenever and wherever I am stuck. I do not have to wait for anyone to come and help me solve my problem. Being a single parent, this is extremely time saving for me. Having this app that I can refer to all the time has helped me give enough time to cultivation, to my children and also my duties as the president of the Self-Help Group.”
As president, Kuntala has new responsibilities that are different from the other members. She finds the smartphone not only helps her manage her new leadership role by keeping her connected to others, but also improves her personal skills and confidence. “It helps me network with people and coordinate meetings and trainings,” says Kuntala. “I also like the fact that I can pick up the phone and discuss my problems. Even the other women in my group call me sometimes and ask for my help. My communication skills have improved so much and I am not the same shy person anymore.”
Kuntala has recently started raising livestock as a means of diversifying her income sources. She now owns two bullocks and two goats and follows the app's instructions to regularly vaccinate her livestock so that they remain healthy and a viable source of income. “Given the way the rains are behaving, I do not want to be dependent only on agriculture anymore,” she says. “Livestock gives me an option to stay afloat even if the monsoon is late and my crops are affected.”
Despite her growing list of business and leadership responsilbities, her primary concern remains her children. “My children are dependent on me,” says Kuntala. “I am not that educated, but I do dream that my children will grow into good and successful human beings. Today, I can definitely say that I am trying my best to ensure that they have every opportunity to turn their lives around.”
Now that she's earning a more reliable income, Kuntala is sending both her eleven year old daughter and nine year old son to school in the hope that the cycle of inter-generational poverty stops with them.
Ketaki Dandasena became a Trickle Up participant in 2015. Three years later, she has completed three successful harvests, started a small business, and become a “Smart Sakhi” helping other participants in the community.