– IFD Akanksha Srivastava (Batch 2012-13)
I work with Sahabhagi Vikas Abhiyan (SVA), a leading NGO in Odisha on the issue of Natural Farming and its promotion among small and marginal farmers.
SVA has a sister organisation called “Banbasi Sangh”, which manages the co-operative bank in the nearby villages. The co-operative bank is called “Matru Shakti Swayam Sahayak Sangh”. It has been operating for the past eight years and serves about three thousand households, spanning sixty villages. The bank focuses on mobilizing women and has about 80% women as employees and board members. I was recently invited to attend the annual meeting of the bank and the account holders.. I was supposed to go with some board members to the village in a Bolero.
As we started, about eight of us sat in the vehicle. I was told that some more women would join us on the way. We first stopped after 2 Kms to pick up one member, and then again after another kilometer to pick up two more members and subsequently every few kilometres thereafter, more joined in and it never stopped. Some of these women, were also getting their children along. Eventually, when the driver declared that the vehicle was full and he couldn’t accommodate any more; there were twenty women, six children and a driver in this nine-seater vehicle. Every one accommodated others with such ease and whenever the door opened for any woman to board, the others greeted her with a smile and welcomed her to join in. No one complained about any space crunch and on the contrary talked, laughed and cracked jokes throughout the journey. I sat in the centre, on top of another lady and since I was the stranger there, most of the questions were fired at me from all directions. They were all eager to know my experience, whether I had travelled like this before and whether I liked their company or not. They included me in their ‘gang’ and translated most of their jokes in Oriya for me. It was such a delight to “adjust” with them, within the closed doors of a car.
After we reached, the meeting commenced. It was held in an open space with two huge bed sheet like covers used for shade. Many women, old and young and some with their toddlers had come from far away villages on foot to attend the meeting. They had hoped to learn something new and interesting that would help them save more money. Many members and officials spoke about the functioning and the accountability of the bank, others spoke about the necessity of savings and some about the new schemes that the bank was about to bring in. The meeting lasted for about two hours and all these women sat patiently, under the hot sun, to listen to every speaker. At the end, as the crowd dispersed, although no money or food was given to these ladies as an incentive; they still happily walked back to their homes with enhanced knowledge about their money and savings.
What inspired me throughout the day was the simple nature of all these women. They are apt at adjusting with problems and finding simple solutions. We in the cities, have moulded ourselves into over-complicating things and the slightest of discomfort becomes a bloated issue for us. Walking for miles together just to gain a little bit of knowledge and collectively respond to issues, seems to be a farfetched possibility among urban women. These simple women inspired me to unlearn a lot of things that day.