Tag Archives: Work Memoirs

Child Rights for Change; Ashraf’s Story

Ashraf Chauhan is 31 years old and works as a Project Officer for Saath’s Child Rights for Change rural initiative. Ashraf was born Bhavnagar, a coastal town in Gujarat. At a young age he felt compelled to do something for his community. He witnessed that his community had to deal with various social issues and that there was a lack of proper education. He obtained a masters degree in Social Work (MSw) with a specialization in Rural Development at the university of Bhavnagar in 2002.

After his studies he started working for ‘Kutch Naw Mirman Abhiyan’, an organization that worked in the areas of Kutch that were affected by the devastating earthquake of 2001. It was during this time that he got introduced to Saath. Saath’s first rural project was relief work in the villages of Rapar and Khadir in Kutch. The programme ran from 2001 to 2004.

In 2009 Saath started up the Child Rights for Change programme funded by Save the Children and Ashraf was hired as the project officer for this programme. The Swedish Company Ikea realized that most of the cotton they purchase from India comes from cotton-farms that employ small children. They tied up with Save the Children and started a programme to eradicate child-labour. Saath runs this programme in 120 villages in Viramgam and Dholka, two districts in rural Ahmedabad.

Ashraf says that it’s really fun to work with kids. He thinks it’s very important to create awareness about child-rights, because children are the thriving force for future development of the country. They (the child-rights for change team) have achieved one significant milestone so far and one milestone in-the-making. A certificate of appreciation has been signed by 1,500 farmers in the area. The certificate states that the farmers won’t hire children to work at their farms. The second achievement is in process. It is a resolution that will be signed by the panchayat of all the participating 120 villages. It states that no child in their village will work.

Ashraf sees the change happening. You can see the effect of the programme in the numbers of children going to school. Before the programme started, all children were working at farms. Nowadays, from the 10,000 children, 6,000 are out of child-labour. The remaining 4,000 children combine working with attending school. Ashraf hopes that those kids will also find their way out of child labour.

The thing he likes most about his job is giving awareness trainers to farmers and parents. It’s very awarding to see the change happen in the parents. Convincing parents is almost the most difficult part of his job. It’s very tough to persuade them to bring their children to school. Many villagers don’t see the benefits of education. Their children will have to learn how to work anyway and they don’t learn that through school. Besides, they need the extra income. Firstly he tries to persuade them by pointing out short-term benefits. He explains to them that their children will be provided with a nutritious lunch at school every day and that they are in a save, protected environment while the parents are at work. Ashraf also tries to change their mind-set to a long-term perspective. At school children will learn important things that they won’t learn on the cotton-fields. Children that receive proper education on a regular basis will be able to find better jobs at the right age. The cycle of poverty can be broken by education. The farms will also benefit from educated employees. Better educated staff will be able to manage the farms better and bring new solutions and fresh ideas to their businesses.

Next to trainings he also likes to participate in developing new strategies with the eight partners that are involved with the Child Rights for Change Programme. Through working for Saath Ashraf has been able to profile himself as a good trainer. He has built a valuable network with the local government and NGOs. In the future he would like to continue the work he is doing now: helping more children out of child labour.

Ashraf (right) at a meeting with a child protection committee in Viramgam

NGO India 2012 Exhibition; a recap

From 16th to the 18th of March we were present at the first NGO India 2012 Exhibition in Gurgaon. The event was organized by UBM India, a reputed event organizer. The main objective was to bring non-governmental organizations and CSR professionals together. NGOs could present themselves to the visiting corporate houses who in turn got introduced to grassroot-level NGOs.

On the first day of the exhibition, this promise was fullfilled. We interacted with many CSR professionals from different corporate houses. After this first day we learned that especially youth employabiity and affordable housing were trending topics in CSR world. Most corporates were based in Delhi, but many of them had projects in Gujarat. Since we have a lot of expertise in especially youth employability, future alliances look very promising!Chetasi and Simea at the exhibition

On the second day, the exhibition was predominated by NGO’s looking for partnerships and funders. We interacted with many NGOs for possible future partnerships. Although we were hoping for more corporate houses, the interactions turned out to be fruitful, since we are looking to expand to other states.

The third day of the exhibition was open to all public. the audience was a mix of corporates, NGOs and individuals.  Many individuals looked for volunteering opportunities. We got in touch with some consultants that were interested in working for us as e-volunteers. Since most people were based in Delhi or Gurgaon, e-volunteering is a good way to bridge the distance to Gujarat.

The exhibition turned out the be a very inspiring event. Allthough we hoped for more corporate houses looking for CSR activities, we did meet up with many inspiring persons from a wide array of fields. Currently we are busy following up on the contacts that we have made during the exhibition: 27 individuals, 105 NGOs and 45 corporate houses. Ofcourse we will keep you updated about any new initiatives that will sprout from this event!

We’re looking forward to the next NGO India event in Mumbai!

Chetasi & Simea

PS We would like to give our compliments to UBM India for the smooth organization of this event.  From hotel to venue, it was organized perfectly!



Work Wednesdays: Rehanaben’s story

Today we share Rehanaben’s story with you. She has been working with us for ten years now. She was involved in several programmes like the Balghars, Micro-finance and Samvad Community Video Unit. Read about her inspiring life story below!

Rehanaben was born in 1978 in Behrampura area of Ahmedabad. Her father, the sole bread earner of a family of nine, stopped earning after Rehanaben’s elder sister succumbed to injuries of an accident. The burden of nurturing and bread earning for her family then fell upon her mother and her elder brothers, both of whom had to drop out of their high school education. Rehanaben struggled hard to complete her schooling. She sold toffees to her school mates and earned income to carry out the expenses of her school fees. Her struggle to pursue education continued with her aspirations of graduating and post graduating.

Rehanaben came across SAATH when after the 2002 riots SAATH began its relief work in Behrampura relief camps to encourage residents there to get back to their routine and support their lives by generating income streams. Being good at academics, Rehanaben considered joining the Balghar program (pre-school) run by SAATH in the relief camps where she used to teach children and started earning an income of INR 2000 every month. This apart, Rehanaben also spearheaded the task of establishing a Micro Finance Institute in Behrampura. So dedicated was she towards her work that SAATH decided to carry out the daily operations of its Micro Finance Institute from her house in its initial days. In a span of two years, Rehanaben was able to have more than 600 families in the Behrampura area enroll with the MFI and start saving on a regular basis and beginning with microloans gradually.

While Rehanaben continued rendering her services to the MFI, SAATH came up with the concept of using documentary films produced and acted in by the community members to express their concerns over socio-economic occlusions in the community, known as SAMVAD. Initially when asked to join SAMVAD, Rehanaben was reluctant for two reasons; first, she lacked confidence in terms of producing a film and second, she did not want to give up on the hard work that she had put on in establishing an MFI in Behrampura. However, once she started producing films, she came up with brilliant ideas that brought about considerable changes in the community.

Rehanaben filming for Samvad

She describes two instances when she herself had to change to convince community through documentaries produced by her. One of them was when the SAMVAD unit was up for shooting against the Addiction of Tobacco in the community. Rehanaben was reluctant in shooting this film since she too had the same habit. It took her three months to get rid of the addiction which had been with her for quite long .Only then did she produce the film and was so convincing in the film that many youth took an inspiration from this and gave up on their addictions as well. Another path-breaking documentary that Rehanaben and her team made was on the Issue of Adulteration in Ration Shops. This was particularly a challenge for her since she belonged to a family of ration shop owners and the film was to be featured on her own uncles. However, she did not deter from bringing out the grievances of the community and shot the film. So compelling and eye opening was the outcome that the shop owners had to concede to fair selling practices after the screening of the film.

After serving in SAMVAD for three years, Rehanaben got back to the MFI operations in 2009 as it was the work that she had always admired and wanted to be associated with. Presently, she is placed as the Branch Manager of Sankalitnagar Branch of The SAATH Savings and Credit Co-operative Society. She describes being associated with SAATH as a major change in her life. “I had no knowledge on computers. It was in SAATH that I learnt many new technologies and also produced films” says an overwhelmed Rehanaben.

Rehanaben has been a paragon for most youth in Behrampura slums. Her undying valor and courage to step out of the confined four walls of the house confidently for serving across communities, has set up an example for many families, who now send their daughters to school and expect them to be self reliant like Rehanaben. Rehanaben is the face of Behrampura and will inspire people there to move ahead with their aspirations no matter what comes their way to make their lifestyles better and uplift the area.

Work Wednesdays: Sanjeedaben’s story

For today’s Daily Dose of Saath we share Sanjeedaben’s life-story with you. Sanjeedaben has been working for Saath for 11 years now. She’s an inspiring and empowering woman from the Sankalitnagar community. She has been working with several programmes, but mainly with the Balghars (non formal pre-schools) in Juhapura.

Sanjidaben was born in1962 in Pune into a family of five brothers and three sisters whom are all in Pune. Sanjidaben moved to Ahmedabad in 1980 when she got married into a family whom where living in slum called Sankalitnagar, Juhapura.

In 2001, Sanjidaben lost her husband through a heart-attack, at a very young age she became a widow. She was living with her in-laws extended family, however the shock of her husbands death lead Sanjidaben into a sever depression, where she would not leave her house. She lost all hopes and felt she would be better off dead.

This meant that her daughter was running the household; she had to go to work-study and do all the housework, as Sanjidaben was not in a state to do anything.

After the communal riots in 2002, SAATH had started a project, informing the local residents of Sankalitnagar, Juhapura about access to support and encouragement to live on. When her daughter came across the project, she forced her mum to attend and join them. At first she was very reluctant but eventually when her daughter accompanied her and Sanjidaben saw what the people of SAATH where doing gave her hope. Initially, Sanjidaben had a condition ‘that she will only work from home’, which will allow her to stay in her own comfort zone because she still did not have the confidence to go out and speak to the people in the community. She, herself was inspired by Sukinaben who used to work for SAATH at the time and who also encouraged her to get out in the community.

Each day she saw a brighter light and slowly Sanjidaben started leaving the house, initially it was only in her neighbourhood and then went further as her confidence level increased.

Initially when Sanjidaben joined the Balghars, she did not get a great amount of response from the community. People where afraid of sending their children to school and thought it was a waste of time. Families in Sankalitnagar had never seen a school being run from the area, so it was very hard for people to trust organisations.

Sanjidaben received some basic training on how to speak to community members in order to build their trust. Soon after the training, Sanjidaben went around the houses in Sankalitnagar, explaining to the parents the benefit it would have if they where to send their children to Balghars. Sanjidaben managed to recruit enough children to start two classes, each one with 15 to 20 children in them whom came from families, which Sanjidaben and her family knew of.

Despite the rumours and names being called, Sanjidaben continued recruiting more and more children. She enjoyed what she was doing and the positive impact it was having on the children.

Her day use to begin with teaching the children prayers, followed by songs in which they would use body parts, colours, objects etc to help children recognise and understand the basics before entering 1st standard education.

Sanjidaben started to training to new Balghars teachers who would show an interest; however only to those women, who thinks and see her philosophy, which is the interest of the young children and how they would benefit from the additional education the children would receive.

Sanjidaben started hosting parents meeting where parents would be informed on the progress their child is making. Providing information on nutritional, cleanliness, immunisation and difficulties children are experiencing at home. Sanjidaben has been able to remove barriers between Hindu and Muslims by cross working with two communities and involving both religions in decision making that affect the area where they live.

Once the girls reached 18, they were housebound; fathers did not feel comfortable in letting their daughters leave the house, in case they got up to no good. For this Sanjidaben went from house to house, explaining to parents the benefit it would have if they let their daughter leave the house, make friends, awareness of things around them and so on.

With couple of other women within SAATH, Sanjidaben started a focus group for people to meet and discuss family issues, how to obtain a ration card, election card, and registering birth/death. The facilities in Sankalitnagar got better from what it was before Sanjidaben joined SAATH.

Sanjidaben tells me that her maternal family and her in-law are so proud of her because she has been able to do a lot to help many people around her turn their lives around for better.

During Sanjidaben’s time with SAATH, she has participated in various training around handling young children between the ages of 3 and 5, counselling services to those affected in the riot during 2002, counselling services for physical and mental abused women including field work.

With all these skills, Sanjidaben has built enough confidence that she has been taking two coaches full of people on a day trip around the Gujarat Sate. For this she would use one of her day-leaves. Many people in the community has been able to build confidence because of this trip. Many people have not even been able to go outside Ahmedabad. She has managed to show people different locations around Gujarat and places, which they have only dreamt of.

Sanjidaben managed to arrange the whole wedding for her daughter five years ago, from getting the wedding invitation to venue arrangements and food. She had built enough confidence to be able to handle all the technical issues, which only a husband would do. Over the last year, Sanjidaben has also managed to do things alone, which previously she would not do.

For Sanjidaben, the guidance she has received from SAATH has helped her recover from her depression, build confidence, put her own children through good education, and learn the things, which she may not, had done so if it was not for the organisation. Sanjidaben comes in everyday because the work she does is rewarding and the salary is not important to her.

Sanjidaben is a voice amongst the people in Sankalitnagar, she will encourage the people in the community to live a better lifestyle and bring their children up in a good environment.

Nutan Patel wrote this story up.

Work Wednesdays: Compelling the Community

Today we  share Madhuben Parmar’s story with you. Madhuben is the Chief Operating Officer of the Saath Savings & Credit Co-operative Society Ltd. She played a significant role in setting up Saath’s Micro-finance programme.

Madhuben was born in 1975 in Paldi, Ahmedabad. She grew up in a slum area with her father, mother and two younger brothers. In 1992, when she was just 17, her father passed away. She describes this as the most difficult challenge in her life. From then on, Madhuben took full responsibility of helping and supporting her family.

Madhuben studied until 10th grade. In 1991 she got married and she quit school. She moved to her in-laws in Guptanagar, a slum area in Vasna. During this time, Saath started a programme for school-dropouts in this area. She joined Saath’s informal education programme as a student in 1990 and successfully finished 12th grade. During her time as a student she used to teach and help other students. After she passed 12th grade in 1992, she started in this same school as a teacher. This year was tough for her and her family. Her father passed away, leading her family into a financial crisis. She tried to help her family wherever she could.

At the school she taught classes from 1st  – 7th standard, she was the head of 4th to 7th standard and actively approached school drop-outs in the neighbourhood, mainly girls, to enrol themselves in her school. Right from the beginning she was part of Saath’s core-group and strategic management team.
At the annual meeting organized by Saath and a local CBO called Sakhi Mahila Mandal a job-vacancy for secretary at Sakhi was announced. Saath and Sakhi believed in her and Madhuben was keen on getting the job. She was secretary at this CBO from 1996 to 1998. At the same time she was the co-ordinator of Saath’s livelihood & micro-finance sector, covering various livelihood programmes from home-managers programme to stitching classes and Saath’s micro-finance programme.

In 1996 Saath was looking for opportunities to expand its Micro-finance services. Madhuben, in her role as coordinator of the liveihood & micro-finance sector, took a leading role to establish a branch for Micro-finance in Vasna. She was not afraid of taking risks and took full financial responsibility for this venture.

In 1999 she shifted to Saath’s micro-finance branch in Vasna. Before 1999, Saath’s micro-finance model only offered saving opportunities. In 1999 the organization started with small loans. Madhuben was determined to make this challenge a success. Especially in the beginning, she faced many issues in the community. People were very suspicious and did not believe in her good intentions. It was hard to develop trust to let her handle their money. She was also worried about the recovery of loans. It took a lot of effort to establish mutual trust. Madhuben has a very strong urge to do good for the community; with positive thinking she overcame the difficulties she faced. She got a lot of support from Saath. Trainings were organized and every week there was a meeting for all of Saath’s programmes. Field-workers were able to talk about their problems and share experiences. Madhuben says she gained a lot of self-confidence through these meetings.

In the mean time she gave birth to two sons. One in1997 and the second son followed in 2000. She never considered quiting her job after having children. Her family and husband supported her choice to pursue a career.

In 2002 two micro-finance co-operatives were formed. She became the overall programme coordinator of all the branches. In this year Saath expanded it’s model to several more areas, mainly the ones affected by the 2002 riots. Many people lost their livelihoods and were in need of small loans to set up new businesses.
Five years later she became the operation manager at the Micro-finance Institution (MFI). In 2010 the two cooperatives merged as the Saath Savings & Credit Co-operative Society Ltd. and she became the co-operative’s Chief Operations Officer.

She is proud of what she has achieved so far for herself, her family and for the community. She developed from a young insecure girl with no exposure to the outside world to an empowering strong woman. In 2006 she left the slum for a house in a legal society near her old neighbourhood. Her personal success has inspired numerous women in the community to develop themselves the way she did. Madhuben played a significant role in the development of the Saath Co-operative. Her strong will and determination made the co-operative a success, with 6 branches, 15,000 members and a loan recovery rate of 98%. However this does not mean that her work is finished. Her wish is to expand the co-operative to rural areas and urban slum areas all over of Gujarat. She believes that many people in poverty can develop themselves the way she did. It hurts her that people think of slum residents as people that don’t want to develop themselves and that they choose to live in poverty because they take no initiative. As long as the stigma of slum-people is there, her work is not finished.

She believes financial literacy and creating awareness is very important. She wants the people of slum-areas to make their own deliberate decisions. She wants them not to just follow good advice because other people say it’s the right thing to do. She wants them to understand their decisions and to take full responsibility for their own development. She wants families to empower themselves, so they can make poverty belong to history. She personally climbed the stairs of success and encourages others to do the same.
In the future Madhuben hopes to co-ordinate many more programmes to empowerment the urban poor. She wants to keep on working for the community until her heart is satisfied.

Simea Knip wrote up this story