Many of us working in the corporate sector have a strong desire to spend at least some of our time doing something more “meaningful” and actually make an impact, somewhere in someone’s lives. And while it is truly commendable that some of us actually do take time off to help out for a cause, I have realised over the past 4 months of my experience at Rang De, that it is imperative to see the ground reality from one’s own eyes. To get a holistic vision of all the work we do in trying to make a difference, there can be no better experience that hitting the field. For all the effort we put in trying to mobilize support, funds and generate awareness regarding poverty in India, the sense of gratification that one gets from actually seeing the impact is unparalleled.
It was with this aim in mind that the Mumbai chapter of Rang De decided to organize a 1 day field visit to Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan (BNGVN), one of Rang De’s largest field partners in Maharashtra, with close to 800 active borrowers. BNGVN is situated in the village of Bahadarpur, near the town of Dhule, about 350 kms from Mumbai. After an overnight bus journey from Mumbai, we were at the BNGVN office early in the morning. Our day started with early morning prayers in the prayer room with some of the BNGVN staff. We introduced ourselves and interacted with some of the staff members. I distinctly remember feeling very welcomed by all of them.It was heartening to see the kind of appreciation and goodwill Rang De had generated among the workers of BNGVN.
After that, Amolji, who helped us orchestrate the entire visit, explained to us all about BNGVN’s work — the borrowers, their backgrounds, the exact process mechanism and how their lives have improved. Post our highly informative discussion with him, we set out into the village.
We first visited a papad-making unit and were immediately overwhelmed by the scale and the size of the entire unit. It seemed to be a mini factory in itself. The entire process right from kneading the dough to the final product in the form of perfectly shaped crisp papads was ingeniously automated. The unit required approximately 3 to 4 people to work on it at any given time. When we spoke to the women operating the machine, we realised that electricity was a precious commodity and it was not uncommon for there to be powercuts for the entire day. Hence they always kept diesel as a backup. And as was the case, there was no electricity when we were at the unit. For them, such adverse conditions seemed to be business as usual. The women also told us that the machine was brought in from Gujarat and cost a few lakhs of rupees and it was because of the continued support of organizations like BNGVN and Rang De, that such a large initial investment could be made. Seeing them make the papads effortlessly, we too tried our hand at it, but the result was nowhere close to the same. Finally, we all decided to take a few packets home as well.
Our next stop was the hand-made kurta unit in the BNGVN complex itself. There were about 8- 10 women working very meticulously and tirelessly on their sewing machines. The precision and nimbleness with which they worked with was truly amazing. Some of the kurtas they had made were on display at the unit itself but most of the output went to shops outside in the village and other nearby towns. What was interesting to see was the variety and the kind of designs. Apart from the precision, the creativity too was very evident. We decided to then go to the village and visit a few of the shops that sell these kurtas. Again, we ended up buying quite a few kurtas.
During the evening, we visited a quilt making unit in the village. Again, it was amazing to see the skill and the entrepreneurial spirit of the villagers. Such was the quality that some of the quilts manufactured there were also exported to other countries. During our conversations with the villagers we met on the way (which also included an ex-sarpanch), the workers and borrowers, and also the BNGVN staff, we realised the kind of impact small amounts of seed capital can makeThe entire village of Bahadarpur had prospered because of the efforts of Neelimaji and BNGVN. And to know that Rang De had played a part in this transformation was very satisfying indeed.
As we made our way back, we realised that these efforts at providing seed capital to more such ventures may be the best way towards not just economic prosperity, but also empowerment and sustainability in the Indian villages and hence all over the country. We all left feeling more motivated than ever to contribute more to Rang De and BNGVN’s work in similar villages across the country. Today it is Bahadarpur, tomorrow it can all over India.
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