Travellers on the pilgrimage route in Uttarakhand halt only to catch a night’s sleep. Few get to experience the life of people who inhabit the villages near Badrinath and Kedarnath. Fewer still get to witness the true hardship of living in the high mountains.
In September, we visited Ushamath Mahila Mahasangh (UMM), our impact partner in Uttarakhand and met 22 borrowers who have availed loans with your help.
We started off on a six-hour journey cutting through mountains and gurgling streams to cover a distance of merely 200 kilometres.
While well-built roads connect most villages, the natural terrain makes even the shortest of journeys time-consuming reducing economic opportunity for the people of Uttarakhand.
There are few industries to offer jobs and agriculture is at the risk of extreme weather and wildlife.
The livelihood opportunities for men are those relating to tourism such as driving, working in hotels, travel agencies etc. For women, there exist none.
Pahadon ki paani aur pahadon ki jawani, dono pahadon ki kaam nahi aati (The water of the mountains and the youth, both are of no use to us)
The young migrate to the plains in search of work, often never returning to their homes in the high hills.
UMM seeks to change this by empowering women to take up small, sustainable livelihood activities such as dairy farming, bee keeping, spice cultivation, masala making and weaving.
UMM helps build self-help-groups (SHGs), provide training, offer micro-loans for livelihood activities and creates market linkages for the women.
Meena Devi was one of the first borrowers that we met. Hiking down for nearly twenty minutes to reach her small home, Meena showed us the buffalo she purchased with the help of a Rs 35,000 Rang De loan.
Meena wakes up at 5 each day to clean the shed and milk the cow and after whipping up a meal, she heads out to the mountains to collect grass. Climbing steep mountains carrying bales of fresh grass is no easy task but Meena does it every day.
She sells the milk at the local dairy for Rs 35 per litre and earns around
Rs 4,200 per month allowing her to accumulate a modest amount of savings each month.
47-year-old Darshini Devi walked on foot for over two hours to meet us.
Like Meena, she took a Rs 35,000 loan to purchase a buffalo and earn a regular income.
“I have been part of the SHG for over 12 years and my income has more than doubled,’’ she told us.
Preeti Devi, like many women in the region, takes on multiple roles to run her home. She sells milk as well as ghee that she processes in small quantities. Furthermore, she undertakes small time agriculture as the produce can be used for home consumption.
In spite of being educated till class 12, Preeti is compelled to take up these activities. She hopes that things will be different for her two sons.
Like many women we met, she too echoed the need for financial support for higher education of her children. While primary school expenses can be managed, the cost of higher education is difficult to meet.
Most children need to head to towns like Rishikesh, Srinagar or Dehradun to study undergraduate degrees and living in these tourist towns pushes up the costs.
The challenges of mountain living are as high as the mountains themselves.
But this does not diminish the hospitality of Uttarakhand. Overcoming their shyness to narrate a story is done as quickly as chopping up some fresh mountain cucumbers or preparing a glass of chai.
We have lent loans to 47 generous, warm and hard-working women associated with UMM since the start of our partnership in May 2016.
37 new borrowers await funds to live a slightly better life within the constraints of their surroundings. You too can support them by making a small investment here.
Impact team members Sonali and Thrishika visited UMM in September 2016.
We regularly carry out field trips to ensure that Rang De loans are making the desired impact on the poor communities that we seek to empower. You can see the upcoming field trips on our Field Trip calendar and join us, or you can sign up for audio evaluations by filling up a form here.