If you had asked me a month before, the concept of SHG was an alien term for me, as things related with finance, banks, credit loans etc have always been. I never really liked it and always found it monotonous. So when I came to know that the organization in which I was placed was a community based micro finance institution, I was dumbfounded. The word “finance” made the color vanish from my face. I realized life is unpredictable, and its rules are very clear, “when we escape from certain things or situations, they always come right in front of us.”
I kept motivating myself with the saying, nothing is impossible. I read several books and documents and watched presentations, to get a sound knowledge of SHGs and their relationship with micro finance. During my training, I realized that SHGs are not about finance in terms of numbers, but they are merely a concept of financial literacy (understanding savings) and finance management (managing group savings).
My real learning started with my field visits. Initially, I started with village transit walks and spoke to influential people of the village. During their conversations, I sensed that the status of women in Madhya Pradesh was pitiable. They were weak financially as well as socially. They were terrified because all of them had taken loans on high interest rates, and one women said-
“aap jaise ek madam aayi thi usne bhi samuh banwaye aur kaha sarkar se paise milenge aur paise account me aaye bhi lekin madamji saare paise lekar bhaag gai” “To hum aap pe bharosa kaise karein”
Which meant the challenge was more than about forming the group, it was about rebuilding trust in order to engage these women. With the help of the CRP (Community Resource Person), we arranged a meeting for the next day in the Anganwadi centre of a village called Gullas. I was hopeful that somehow I would convince them, so with these high spirits I reached the village Gullas. But midway, big water droplets started falling on my face. And within a few minutes it was raining cats and dogs. I stood under the tree shade, even while getting drenched. The water level increased on the road, but we crossed all the hurdles and reached the Anganwadi centre. Only to find no one.
The rain had washed away any hopes for this meeting, said the CRP when I asked her where the women were. “koi ni aaya kyunki yahan baarish ho rahi hai, aur bahut keechad hai“. I was in a dilemma as to what needed to be done. Should I have gone back or gone to another village? After all the chaos, I decided that I would go to the homes of the women and try to bring them to the anganwadi centre. Their homes were quite far, and the challenging task was to walk in the rain-water logged kutcha lanes, which had turned the mud into slush. I thought beneath the slush there would be a flat surface but as I put my foot down, my leg stumbled and almost slipped. Saving myself from the pool of slush, with a nasty feeling in my shoes, and messy clothes, it dawned on me that I had never had so much dirt in my shoes before, and for a moment I stood there, wanting to cry. The moment passed, and I continued my trial.
Seeing me at their locality in that condition, the women were shocked and whispered “madam itne baarish me aayi hai hamare liye“. And when I called them for the meeting, they came readily. The effort paid off and around 20 women gathered in the anganwadi. We discussed the benefits of Self Help Groups and in the end, they agreed and formed the first SHG in Gullas. I wrote their names down and they selected the office bearers, the “Adhyaksh” and the “Sachiva” and named the group “Krishna” self help group.
I was very happy, and this feeling comes only when after a lot of hard work and struggle you taste success. On the way I giggled and thought that I’d always prefer staying home when it rains, so that I could save myself from dirty water and stains. And I always had the fear of “finance” but today I overcame these fears and dislikes and came out from my comfort zone.
”Raahein jitni bhi ho kharaab, muquammal kar dikhange jahan”