Thus far all of our time has been spent in Mumbai. We ventured out into the rural community of Karjat. We visited Disha Kendra, which is an agency that works with 135 tribal villages offering various types of support. They have a family counseling center that works on resolving issues before they are driven to court. Also, children are able to receive a sponsorship to help meet their educational and medical needs.
One of the biggest accomplishments of Disha Kendra is the elimination of money lenders. Farmers would borrow money with 30%-50% interest to buy crops and other necessities. If it was a bad year and they could not repay, they would oftentimes lose their home or equipment as collaterol. The agency collaborated with the local bank to replace this system with more security. Now, farmers are able to borrow money with 4% interest and prevent the loss of their homes.
The first village we visited was Tamnathwadi. There are about 500 people total living in an area about the size of an American footbal field. A major benefit for these families is that they own their own homes and they cannot be taken away. Recently, the government gave the tribe 35,000-40,000 rupees to build a paka (brick) house with solar lamps. It is one of the few paka homes in the village.
Because of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), the men and women are guaranteed a minimum of 100 days work. They cultivate the rice for about fifteen days and make bricks for six months time. They also raise goats to seel for 4,000 rupees each.
During this time, the children must accompany their families as they migrate to be closer to work. This is difficult on the students because they miss six or so months of school.
Electricity in the village costs up to 15,000 rupees, which the people cannot afford, so they go without. This also influences other things like work and study because very little can happen once the sun goes down. Imagine living every day without electricity. It changes life drastically.
The families have a ration card which allows tghem to buy staple items such as rice, wheat, sugar, and kerosene at a subsidized price; however, the amount they are allotted is not enough to live on, and it is a struggle to be able to afford additional products.
I have so many feelings in response to this visit. We were welcoming with so much excitement and everyone wanted to sit with us. It felt as if we were placed on a pedestal and it was difficult to communicate directly because of the language barrier. The poverty I know is so much different.
The older girls taught us one of their traditional dances. It was a lot of fun to watch and learn. Everyone had fun laughing with us as we messed up so many parts. Without saying words, we were able to connect with these girls on a deeper level just by dancing.
The leader of the village, Seetatai, asked us if there is poverty in our America?
This broke my heart. Yes, there is poverty in America. It is not better or wose, just different.
These people know there is more out there. They are not living in poverty because they don’t know any different, or are lazy (which is a stereotype I hear often). They work so hard to provide for one another and their families and are extremely resourceful with what they do have.
They lack the resources to move out of poverty. The distribution of food does not fill their stomachs. For them, it comes down to having enough food to eat.
It is customary to walk with your guests when they leave. Seetatai is in yellow with some of the precious children who walked us out.
We also went to the Phanaswadi Village. This village was very different than the last. The village contains about 60 households that live in an area that is about the size of six or seven football fields with a running river.
The river is obviously a major advantage to the people for bathing, washing, and fishing. They have two wells to pump water for drinking.
All of the children go to school and have a scholarship to do so. When the families travel for work, the students stay at the leader’s home so their education isn’t disrupted.
Each household averages around 2,000 rupees per month (equivalent to $40). All of the families have a ration card, but some families have and APL (above poverty line) card and some have a BPL (below poverty line) card.
A government medical mobile hospital centre comes to the village offering free medical care every so often, and one of the men is skilled with traditional medicine in case of less severe issues, such as a snake or scorpion bite.
In the last ten years the village has seen major improvements. They have gotten electricity for everyone in the village and access to water and stable housing. Every one in the village has a voter card (each time someone votes they are paid around 100 rupees) and an identity card.
In the next ten years the village hopes that everyone will have a paka house and for better roads. They also hope that everyone will have an education.
Two of the girls sitting with us spoke English. One was in 11th grade and the other was in 12th grade and the village is very proud of them. They hope to become a banker and a lawyer. As someone who also wants to become a lawyer, I can’t even imagine her journey. At first, I found myself thinking they wouldn’t make it. Shame on me. But they are exactly who needs support. Having a career like that will have an impact far greater than the assistance from the government can have. I hope and pray these two girls go farther than anyone can ever imagine.
One of the last things one of the ladies said was “My dreams are the same as your dreams.” This really hit home for me. Despite the circumstances we are the same. We’re people with dreams. Dreams to become lawyers. Dreams to be happy.