It seems almost presumptuous to call Beed Pinarpura in North India a village. With a collection of 17 homes, most of them little more than rude huts, it could at best be called a hamlet, and the entire population of the village could fit into one frame.
Beed Pinarpura is a place forgotten by progress. A place where there is no electricity, and therefore none of the appliances that most of us take for granted. A place where you have to walk a couple of miles to get clean drinking water, and where the nearest primary school is four miles away. It is a place where the people are no better off than they must have been a century ago. Where livestock and farming are the the only livelihood options- each barely sufficient to keep people out of poverty.
But when you enter the village, it is not the poverty or the living conditions of the people that strikes you. What you first notice when you enter Beed Pinarpura is the absense of men. When the population of Beed Pinarpura gathers in the village square women outnumber men almost two to one. In a nation known for its heavily distorted sex ratio, it is strange- does the village really produce so many more girls than boys?
Not really. When you look at the very old, or the very young, you find a reasonably equitable gender balance. But while teenage girls and young women make up almost half the population, their male counterparts are conspicuous by their absence. All the able-bodied youth and men have migrated to the nearby towns and cities in search of work, leaving behind a village populated almost entirely by women!
And what an articulate bunch of women they were!
There was the 17-year-old girl who had been forced to drop out of school in Grade 8 to take care of the family, because her mother fell ill. She had a better grasp of the problems facing her village than you would expect from someone her age. She listed out the things that would get bring prosperity to the village – a one-room school so the younger children could all attain basic literacy, water pumps so the women did not have to trudge long distances for water and could use the time to do something more productive, better roads to improve connectivity thereby enabling the village to trade better and access to primary healthcare. Few planners can nail down solutions as well as she could.
“What is your deepest desire?” she was asked.
The answer came without a any hesitation- “I want to continue my studies, and do something that improves the quality of life in the village.”
“How will completing your education help you do something for your village?”
“Who will listen to me now?”, she asked. “Today I am just an uneducated village girl. But if I am better educated, even the government officials will have to listen to me.”
She clearly knew what she was talking about. And she was not the only one.
There was the grandmother of indeterminate age who rallied her friends together to form an Emergency Fund. The women had collectively agreed to contribute Rs. 100 ($2.50) a month to the Fund, which they would dig into in case of a medical emergency, to fund small community-led projects, or to meet any other contingency expenses. The lady didn’t need much prodding to stand up and explain why the women had decided to create the Fund. “There is no way we can predict when we will need money”, she said from behind her veil. “We try to help each other out when we can, but quite often when one of my sisters needs money, none of us have any to spare. This way, we each put away a little bit when we can, and we all benefit.” Her face may have been covered, but her hands conveyed all the passion that she felt.
Had she heard stories about the Microfinance Revolution? Would she consider using the money to start a small business, and augment her family income. She was not interested in any of it. She had mooted the idea of the Fund to solve a specific need, and was not going to be distracted by ideas that did not fit into her scheme of things. Maybe at a later date, she may consider registering her group of women as a Self Help Group and seeking a microfinance loan, but not right now.
She is illiterate. What is her stand on education? Would she encourage her daughters to go to school? Her daughters were all married with children of their own. But she would want her grand-daughters to study, because while boys fritter away their earnings, girls give back to the community.
Across the developing world, it is girls and women who are at the forefront of change. Recognizing this, SeeYourImpact.org has partnered with several charities which work exclusively with girls and women. You can promote safe birthing and healthy families in India. Or send a girl to school in India, Sierra Leone or Gautamala. Your donation can not just change a life, it can start a revolution.
What are you waiting for? Empower a Girl, Enable Lasting Change.
Providing clean water to a man, woman or child who has never had the luxury of taking water borne illnesses for granted is one of the greatest gifts anyone can give. In Africa water borne illness accounts for more than half of all visits to the hospital and kills millions each year. But, that is only scratching the surface of the tragedy, many people who don’t have access to clean water sources are forced to buy bottled water which typically costs at least five times as much as clean tap water. It is estimated that it would only cost 1.7 billion dollars more each year to provide clean water worldwide.
In Indian cities, you see them everywhere. Youth who should be in school, hawking their wares in the mid-day tropical sun. You see them at traffic lights going from car to car, arms piled high with pirated copies of the latest bestsellers (legend has it one of those boys tried to sell a copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to J. K. Rowling- she didn’t buy, but clicked a photograph instead). You find them perched on a mound of rubble at a construction site selling green vegetables and fresh spices. You see them during the festive season carrying wooden contraptions piled high with hand-made paper lanterns. You find them outside office complexes and in marketplaces serving mouth-watering street-food from temporary stands.
Very few of them hail from the city- rural poverty forced either them, or their parents, to flee to the city in search of work. Some came with stars in their eyes lured by the dream of making it big in the Movies or Business (both with capital letters, please), but most landed up in the city to escape starvation in the villages.
Most are barely literate, but they can add, subtract, multiply and divide almost as fast as an average computer- if anyone is cheated in a monetary transaction, it is not likely to be them. Without exception, they are all bright eyed, have a ready smile and walk with a spring in their step.
“Why are you not in school?”, you ask them.
“Skook ke liye time nahin hai”, they inform you, “yeah hamara dhanda hai. Who has the time for school? This is our livelihood.”
And it is not a bad livelihood. On an average day, most of them make a profit of Rs. 150 ($ 3), which may not seem much in real terms, but is more than what would be paid to an unskilled labourour twice their age. Their expenses are low, so even after sending half the money home to their families, they have enough to indulge in an occasional biryani or a Bollywood movie.
“Are you happy doing this?”, you ask.
They shrug. Happiness is not on the radar of people who are at the edge of survival.
“Today you are young and single, but what about tomorrow?”, you persist.
“Kal ka kya pata. Shayad lottery lag jaye! Who knows about tomorrow? I might win a lottery for all you know.” Hard-nosed businessmen they may be, but they are also instant philosophers.
The youth may choose not to think about tomorrow, but you can’t but help worrying about their future. In a few years, they would want to get married and have families- their expenses will rise, but the income from their petty businesses will barely keep up with inflation. Today, paying a bribe of the equivalent of one day’s income to a policeman ensures they can sleep peacefully on their stretch of the pavement for an entire month- the rent on a six feet by three feet room in slum would swallow up almost half their total income.
To keep the family from starving, their wives would need to go to work, lugging the children they will have with her. Together they will make barely enough money for food, clothing and shelter. No extra money for doctors, and definitely no money for education.
In just a few years, the cheerful entrepreneurial youth of today, will become haggared men who struggle to stay one step ahead of poverty. The fate they escaped in the villages will continue dogging their steps in the city.
Is there a way out? There are two- vocational training would enable them to get a skill-based job where the income will go up proportionately to their level of experience and competence, and/ or a timely loan/ donation would enable them to move their business to the next level, thereby ensuring higher income.
SeeYourImpact.org has partnered with several charities in India which do just that. Padma Industrial School provides technical training to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, and HOPE Foundation offers computer training courses. BPA provides vocational training, and helps set up disabled youth in small businesses. A one-time gift which provides better livelihood opportunities to youth is all they need to move themselves out of poverty, and to ensure that the generations to follow stay out of poverty too. Can your dollars otherwise go that far?
Ten years back, nine-year old Gowri was the illiterate daughter of construction workers who had migrated to Mumbai to escape starvation in their native villages. The third of five daughters, she spent her day on the construction site minding her younger siblings while her father broke stones and her mother and older sister hauled the rubble to the site on baskets carried over their head. She knew that in a couple of years when she was strong enough to bear the burden, she would join the older women, and would continue working as long as she was able. Her parents often spoke of returning to their village ‘when times got better’, but Gowri knew that the day would never come- when landless peasants migrated to the city, they left their roots forever. All Gowri hoped for was that her family would find permanent employment for a construction season, instead of having to hire out their services as daily wage earners.
When a local charity started conducting basis literacy classes for children at the construction site itself, her parents were initially reluctant to let Gowri and her younger siblings go. ‘What did a girl need education for?’, was their query, ‘hadn’t they survived for centuries without it?’ They relented only when the social worker told them that the classes would be conducted in a safer part of the construction site and that they would take responsibility for the safety of the children during ‘school time’. Gowri had no idea what to expect from school, but she loved having her own piece of chalk with which she could mark lines on the blackboard. In a few months, she became functionally literate, and in a few years, she became the first in her family to enter secondary school.
After graduating from high school, Gowri took up a job with the charity that gave her a new direction in life. As a teacher, she conducts literacy classes for two groups of 40 children everyday. She is thrilled that she has the opportunity to mold young minds, as her teachers had molded her’s.
Her job lets her brings in a steady income- an income that has enabled her to move her entire family into a house more solid than the shack she grew up in. Her youngest sister is a brilliant student and dreams of becoming a doctor and starting a practice in the community. Gowri is saving up to ensure that her sister is able to pay her way through medical school.
But that is not enough for Gowri. She is enrolled in a night college, pursuing an undergraduate degree in Economics and Commerce. She dreams of becoming a lawyer and ensuring justice for people who cannot otherwise afford it.
Gowri and her younger sister would have been two more of the faceless thousands who live on the streets of Mumbai. Living at the poverty line, they would have been content with staying one step ahead of hunger and starvation. Instead, they aspire to become lawyers and doctors, and to help pull their entire community out of poverty.
It doesn’t cost much to change a life. All it took was a donation of $ 30 to send Gowri to school for a year. SeeYourImpact partner, Pratham, is conducting Urban Learning Programs to deliver basic education to children like Gowri. How many Starbucks coffees is that?
Just over a month ago, unusually heavy monsoon rains resulted in flash flooding and massive landslides in northwestern Pakistan and Kashmir. The initial flooding and landslides have killed at least 1,600 people and displaced over 20,000,000. That is more people without homes and access to food and water than live in the state of New York.
The situation has become more dire as the flow of aid into Pakistan is only a trickle. After the devastation hit, the U.N. immediately called for $500 million in ten days. This funding would cover only the first 90 days of relief efforts, with more needed for long-term rebuilding. But not even half of it has been pledged. In contrast, a similar appeal after the earthquake in Haiti resulted in over $600 million in immediate disaster relief.
Many journalists have tried to dissect why funding to help these vulnerable children and families is so slow. The good news is, there are many incredible organizations on the ground who can respond with our help.
Who is helping:
SeeYourImpact does not have a Pakistan branch, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make an impact on the lives of those in need.
Mercy Corps is helping those in Swat Valley, where flood waters and mud slides have been some of the worst in all of Pakistan. Each donation is spent to provide food, water and tools to help residents survive and rebuild. You can donate through the Mercy Corps website.
The American Red Cross, in conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent network, has emergency aid workers in Pakistan and more on the way. Donations help provide food, water, and medical treatment to those who need it most. So far the Red Cross has helped over 250,000 Pakistanis so far. You can help fund their mobile care centers and aid workers by donating online at the American Red Cross website or over the phone by dialing 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-435-7669).
AmeriCares emergency relief experts are focusing on sending medical assistance along with necessities to the affected region in Pakistan. They are accepting online donations as well as phone donations at 1-800-486-HELP (4357)
World Vision is distributing food and clean water to those affected in Pakistan. You can support the World Vision’s Flood Relief Fund, which provides emergency aid to flood affected regions, by making an online donation.
Concern Worldwide just launched a Pakistan Emergency Flood Appeal and is seeking donations so they can provide 9,000 families with kitchen sets, hygiene kits, clean water, temporary sanitation, and dry rations of food. Online donations can be made through their website.
Other groups that are making a difference right now are: Direct Relief International, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Church World Service, Doctor’s Without Borders, International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief USA, Operation Blessing International, Save the Children, ShelterBox, SOS Children’s Villages, UNICEF, UN Refugee Agency, and World Food Programme any of which could desperately use any help you can provide.
Join the SeeYourImpact team and lend your support to these incredible organizations. Let’s stand by the the vulnerable and displaced in Pakistan. They need our help today.