Transforming lives through microfinance

Feb 2007
Andhra Pradesh, India, February, 14 2007 - From child labour to IIT Chennai has been a long and arduous journey for Samuel. He would have ended like many child labourers in Andhra Pradesh had his mother Iyamma not taken a loan from a village Self Help Group (SHG) about a decade ago.

Now in the third year of engineering, a small loan has also transformed their family fortunes. They have farmland and their own house in their native village Lodhipillai, says Vijaya Bharati, Director, SMELC.

In 1991, the Self Mobilization Experimentation and Learning Centre (SMELC), the organisation that runs about 5,000 SHGs, was started as a small pilot project funded by World Bank and assisted by United Nations Development Fund (UNDP). The organisation has helped over 2,000 families to overcome their poverty. 

Sabira Begum's family was one of the beneficiaries. Having lost her husband at an age of 16, the illiterate teenager was left with two children, a girl and a 40-day old boy. "I was being tossed between my in-laws and my parents for survival," she recalled. But life changed for her when she met Vijaya Bharati in her village. "Bharati Amma took me in her arms and told me to be courageous. I joined a village SHG and became self-reliant," she said, while informing that she educated womenfolk in Bihar recently to adopt the concept. 

There has been no looking back since then. She earns Rs 6,000 in a month, owns three houses and a shop, and her two children are in college. Being part of the network of SHG has also given her the confidence to head the village SHG.

The village SHGs (5,000 are part of SMILEC) run a unique micro-finance programme for the women folk. To be part of SHG, a women has to deposit Rs one every day. During need, a member can withdraw her deposits and can also take loan at very low interest rates, Bharati said. The SHGs also run the midday meal scheme in the villages.

The SHGs joining hand to form SMELC has resulted in the organisation having a corpus fund of Rs 15 crores, helping it to run computer education programmes, school education centres and nursing courses for child labourers. "Of the 1050 girl child labourers in our education centres 975 have got admission in government run residential schools in a year in Kurnool district alone," Bharati said. The first batch of 32 child labourers turning into qualified nurses will be deployed in health centres soon.

Bharati terms the organisation a successful 'social lab', where life of every woman has changed. She quit her UNDP job in late 1990s to continue with SMELC with an aim that there is 'light in everybody's life'.


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