This post is by Rang De’s Chief Financial Officer Soumya Jayaram who just came back from her first field visit to Manipur.
Manipur is blessed with natural beauty and grace much like the rest of North East India. The population is highly literate but has limited employment opportunities within the state. Interest in traditional hill farming and weaving is waning amongst the younger generation because profitability remains low. Most of the mothers (Rang De borrowers) I interacted with over the course of my three day visit had similar dreams for their children, that they study hard, become doctors, nurses, IAS officers. In the face of such challenges, the work that organizations like SEVA Manipur (Self Employed Voluntary Association) are doing to promote sustainable livelihoods and mentor weavers and rural entrepreneurs becomes doubly important.
Presented here in the slideshow are a few stories of Rang De’s borrowers that I met. I came away with feelings of camaraderie and respect for these highly capable, artistic women who continue to have big hopes for their children’s future despite their daunting circumstances.
Hoabijam Abem Devi
Hoabijam has two school going children. She weaves stools (mudas) at home which she sells to agents who come to their village. She wants to educate her kids and start poultry farming as well. The Rang De education loan has enabled her to keep her children in school.
Mother of 2 young kids, Thoibi Kamei works at home embroidering Mekhlas most of the day. With Rang De's education loan she can now afford to send her kids to a school and for tuition too. The children are doing well at school thus making this hard working mother happy. Together they make for a pretty picture in their small but neat home in the middle of Imphal's only tribal settlement next to a lake. Both the children love going to school and they want to go to college as well.
Loushambam Rita Devi
Effervescent Rita is a 33 year old widow, whose husband died 7 years ago. She decided to educate her kids and continued to run her husband's hotel ( Hotel Julia ) for lunch & supper. Being a single mother and running the first hotel in the village was not easy. But she had her parent’s support. Today, she runs a fairly successful hotel during the day and weaves mekhlas at night. Her kids are doing well at school. She has taken two loans from Rang De – education & livelihood and has already repaid the livelihood loan. Her son is very good in his studies & has secured 70% marks in the previous year. Daughter is hardworking too. Rita foresees a bright future for herself & her kids with mentoring & micro credit assistance from SEVA Manipur & Rang De
Mongjam Maipak Leima
Maipak Leima is a 55 year old woman with 3 children, two of whom aged 16 & 12 are still at school. Maipak is the best weaver in the entire village & her Mekhlas are sold at a premium. Her kids and husband also lends a helping hand. Maipak earns around Rs 2,000 per month & wants to buy more yarn from Rang De's loan so that she can make more mekhlas. She has taken an education loan as well for her kids schooling. She wants to make her daughter a nurse since she is very good at her studies & is very compassionate. This talented woman needs more capital to buy her own yarns so that she can sell mekhlas in the local market & not to agents who supply yarns & pay her only for labour charges.
Naorem Ranjana Devi
Ranjana weaves mekhlas for a living & her husband is an agriculturist. Ranjana has taken a livelihood loan and an education loan through which she is getting her two kids educated. Her daughter wants to become a doctor & son wants to become an IAS officer. Ranjana feels that despite her being well educated lack of industries in Manipur has prevented her from finding an appropriate job. She wants her kids to study well & get out of Manipur if the situation does not improve. Her evenings are spent tutoring her kids who are doing well at school. She feels disheartened at the political & industrial scenario where educated natives do not have enough employment opportunities. She believes livelihood loans & more importantly mentoring are essential tools whereby the people of Manipur can become prosperous