Thursday, November 12, 2009

Can Rs.2800 transform lives?

A lot of times I feel a little despondent and helpless when I realize that what we have been doing through Focus India is a drop in the ocean. This thought particularly gains strength when there is a natural disaster. That is why I really appreciate emails like the one I am about to share. Isn’t it incredible and humbling to read how Rs.2800 can transform a poor woman’s life? Please read and share your thoughts.

The Ant’s Jagruti Cycle Bank

Amiron Nessa of Simlabari Village

32 year old Amiron Nessa got on a cycle for the first time in her life in a cycle learning camp organized by the ant for Muslim women in November 2008. She was one of the six women so inspired by the carnival like atmosphere of the camp – complete with music from loudspeakers – that she was cycling very well in 2 days time!
Schooled till Class 2, Amiron lives with her mother after she was deserted by her husband not long after marriage. She is the first Muslim women to take a cycle on loan from the Jagruti cycle bank. She now cycles 15 kms to and fro from Odalguri village to Bongaigaon town to work as a construction labour. She now earns over Rs.3000 a month (Rs 36000 p.a ). Amiron also taught cycling to her friend Ayesha, a widow with four children who also works as a construction labour. Ayesha had to endure 2 rounds of beating from her brother–in-law for daring to cycle. But that did not deter her from learning to cycle secretly. She has also taken a cycle on loan and the two are able to travel far for work.

After reading this I called Sunil Kaul, the founder of The ANT ( to understand more about the cycle bank and their other projects. It was an eye opening conversation and left me totally energized!
Sunil was telling me how the village had only men’s cycles and the Assamese women’s clothes did not permit them to ride men’s cycles. So, they bought women’s cycles in bulk, taught the women how to ride and gave them a loan to buy the bikes from them. Sunil said ANT did not give subsidies. Apart from the fact that subsidies encourage wastage of resources and make people dependant, he said the tribal people have a lot of dignity and self-respect and would rather take a loan.

He told me that the cycle scheme enabled to go to work and that girl children were able to ride to a high school, which was far away. I believe that initially the Muslim community did not allow their women to participate. To entice them, ANT organized carnival like events where women cycled through the community carrying colorful flags, banners etc. Finally he was able to get them to participate as well.

The other project ANT has is solar lighting. Each household is given a solar panel, which comes with two lights, one night lamp and one mobile charger. This whole package costs Rs.4000. This is not given free of cost either. The villagers have to pay it back in one to two years. What was interesting was that he said the organization which makes this solar light is a Trust and has given this free to several villages through corporate sponsorships. I believe the villagers use it and if there is any problem they just junk it. In contrast, since ANT’s beneficiaries pay for it, they come back and give specific feedback. This has actually helped the company improve and innovate! This is an important lesson to remember about giving things free to the poor. If it is free, it carries no value.

I hope Focus India can work with ANT next year.