Every field visit I have gone to has taught me a lesson I will remember for a lifetime. Every borrower I met has left a lasting impression on my mind.
After completing my master’s in social work, I worked at Rang De in the Impact team for four years where I got a chance to be a part of eleven field trips during which I visited eight states — Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Manipur, West Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
All of these states are culturally diverse and there is a huge difference in the way of living of people but there is one similarity everywhere.
Poverty is rampant in all these states and many people are working hard to fight it.
People in these areas lead different lives, wear different clothes and boast varied cuisines but one similarity that struck me wherever I went was the presence of self-help groups (SHGs). The concept of SHGs are popular across rural India and it is interesting to see that these groups work in a similar fashion everywhere. All the self-help groups we work with have a common goal — the upliftment of women. Groups of women come together and help each other on a personal level.
Going on a field trip sounds like a fun and easy task but it requires a lot of planning and mental preparedness to tackle various emotions that you face on the field.
Before I leave, I am given a list of borrowers that Rang De has helped in that particular area. I try my best to fit as many different types of people as I can — the best way to do this is by selecting one or two borrowers from each occupation that people carry out in that area. This helps me to know about life in the area and understand the problems better.
People in rural areas are not as exposed to technology as we are. Never having seen a camera, many have been scared when I tried to click pictures or take videos of them. With time, I realised that they are more likely to trust us if they get to know us better.
I started spending time with the borrowers and getting to know them before taking out my camera or taking down notes. Even then, there have been times when they have been scared.
One rule I followed before recording a story was to make them happy. Instead of asking them questions about their life and recording it, I let them finish what they want to say.
I would say something along the lines of, “Your story has inspired me and I want others to know about it.”
This usually works and they excitedly and happily agree to speak on camera.
If you get close to a borrower and gain their confidence, they are more likely to be vocal and honest.
Life on the field is not easy. It requires a lot of travelling and can be strenuous. I have visited places in Madhya Pradesh where there were no pakka roads. Walking a few kilometres into the forests was not easy but in the end it was worth it.
Having visited both rural and tribal areas, I was surprised to see a stark contrast in the lives of the people.
People in rural areas are open to contact with neighbouring villages and cities. On the other hand, people in tribal areas barely interact with neighbouring towns. Around 90% people in a tribal town in Jharkhand had never left their town!
Even though I came across surprising situations and faced challenges, I have come back from every field visit with learnings that will help me for a lifetime.
I have learnt some important lessons like respect, gratitude and time management. I remember a borrower from Madhya Pradesh, Sona Bai, who runs eight business. The determination to earn for her family motivates her to keep going.
People in rural areas choose to do more than one business so that they spend time productively.
I have to admit that I had a hard time dealing with the emotions of people.
I distinctly remember a borrower I met in Manipur. Widowed at a young age, she had been through a lot of problems in life but the determination she showed towards educating her children and the hard work she put in to provide the best for them moved me to tears.
Every person I met has taught me something and it would be a lot to write about them all. One thing I can tell any aspiring social worker is that being on the field and helping people is one of the most enriching experiences one can have in their lives.
I can definitely say that the experiences I have had on the field is what has motivated me to keep working for Rang De.
From my experience on the field, I can vouch that Rang De has given rural people a lot more than just loans.
Rang De has created opportunities for people.
Opportunities to be employed, to be independent and to live with dignity.
Pramod hails from Gulbarga and was previously with the Impact team but has now switched over to front end development and joined the Tech team at Rang De. He can be reached at email@example.com