They were already done. Family members, household objects and expressions – the women already knew these sets of words and more. With an air of self-assurance they slowly revealed their English vocabulary, which greatly surpassed our measly fragments of Marathi. Emily, Mariem and I scrapped our English lesson with Women’s Collaborative (WC) group members and instead began to converse about their families and daily work. Optimistic and enthusiastic, they had already begun to divulge details about their lives before our interviews had even started.
The purpose of WC groups is to build a seed fund that is sustained by its monthly contributions from its 20 to 30 members. WC groups then grant microloans to help start small businesses within their community. Women have been able to start a variety of shops, from print stores to daal processing plants. When local businesses are established, women do not have to travel long distances to urban areas for goods and services.
Village Volunteers like Padma Munjewar, 38, hold monthly meetings with beneficiaries to manage bookkeeping and projects. They also act as a KJBF liaison for the beneficiaries. Like Padma, many women joined a WC group because the few NGOs that previously worked within her community gave out money but did not provide any type of education or training opportunities.
Members of WC groups gain much more than financial assistance. The program provides valuable computer, accounting, and business training, and they get to travel to large cities for workshops. Members can meet other women and practice public speaking, which helps them gain confidence and expand their social network.
The women are given tools to advocate for themselves and their children. Sindu Marudkar, 43, wanted her two sons to receive an education, and was more concerned that they become responsible citizens – the jobs would follow good consciences. Padma also hoped for her two daughters to get good jobs after graduation, as she had completed her bachelors degree but had been unable to work due to family circumstances.
The women of WC groups were busy establishing a strong foundation for their kids to complete higher education, as well as improving their own lives. Yet there seemed to be a pattern of escape, of children leaving the village to pursue other opportunities. As programs like the WC groups continue to develop, these sons and daughters will hopefully bring those urban prospects back to their home communities.