Field Trip Diaries — Braving Rain, Flood and Physical Disabilities in Assam

September 13, 2016
By Rang De Team
A 26-year-old weaver with a locomotor disability took a Rang De loan to support her single mother

Early civilisations developed around river valleys. Rivers nurture, replenish and sustain.

But they can disrupt as well.

The Brahmaputra traverses for over 700 kilometres across the state of Assam. Extreme flooding is never far away when the rains fall.

For persons with disabilities in rural Assam, life is even more difficult than one can imagine in this state.

Our Impact partner Swabalambi, located 35 kilometres away from Guwahati on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra, works for the mainstreaming and inclusion of all persons with disabilities in rural Assam in 160 villages.

They seek to ensure people with disability enjoy equal human rights and become decision makers, as well as contribute to community welfare.

Men and women brought to our attention by Swabalambi have been able to avail Rang De loans since August 2015.

Last month, we visited the Killing village, home to the Karbee tribe, on the fringes of Assam and Meghalaya. Practicing jhum, or slash-and-burn cultivation wherein forests are cleared to make way for agriculture, the men cultivate bamboo grass while the women weave.

While they now have access to credit because of Rang De, they still lack basic amenities.

Kuchcha roads fill up after only a half day’s rain. We had to walk on foot as the roads, overflowing with water, could not be navigated by vehicles.

Inundated roads are a common sight across Assam, often cutting off villages from the outside world for days

Formal water supply is limited to drinking; bathing water comes from nearby ponds. There is a lack of public transport and many villagers have to hire a taxi to reach the main road and an auto rickshaw to visit the markets of Sonapur. Large institutional banks are yet to establish a branch.

Like many of our borrowers in the Northeast, women weave mekhalas which they sell to wholesalers who arrive at their doorstep for procurement. They rarely get a fair proportion of the final price.

The rain that Assam receives makes not just agricultural crops vulnerable to damage but also interrupts weaving as most looms are located outdoors.

Nature can never be truly tamed but its impact can be tempered by the generosity of humanity. With affordable credit available to this community of differently-abled individuals, you have helped do just that.

Apart from broom grass cultivation and weaving, many other alternative livelihood activities have been supported by affordable credit provided by Rang De.

Manmohan Das was granted a Rang De loan to increase his income as a goldsmith. 26-year-old Gitanjali Bangthai was lent Rs 40,000 to improve her tailoring business. Mintu Das was funded to help set up a poultry farm.

Their joy was palpable when we came to meet them. For many of them, they could not imagine they would ever be considered worthy entrepreneurs.

Regardless of difficult living standards, physical challenges and struggling occupations, the people of Assam are bound not just by their connection with the mighty Brahmaputra, but also by their hospitality and perseverance against great odds.

We are grateful to all the Social Investors that have helped us make a difference in rural Assam.

Impact team member Lalhriat Chiani visited Assam in August 2016. 

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