Helping Tribals From Hill Districts Run Their Looms & Send Children To School In Manipur

December 2, 2016
By Rang De Team

Chinglen Singh, the founder of SEVA, stands next to Rang De Technology team member Pramod (centre) alongside social workers from SEVA and Rang De borrowers during a field visit in November 2014. While these women live in pakka houses and have toilets unlike many other Rang De borrowers, the area is largely underdeveloped

Self Employment Voluntary Association (SEVA) is one of our prized Impact partners that has helped us get in touch with thousands of weavers in the Northeastern state of Manipur.

Chinglen Singh, the founder of SEVA, is an enthusiastic and process-oriented leader and the head of the Manipur NGO forum.

Social workers working under him operate in an environment of high political instability and uncertain weather. Bandhs were (and still are) fairly common, insurgent elements and Maoist elements were a constant presence in local news and ambushes and skirmishes with the army was a daily affair.

There are troops every kilometre and guns are a regular sight. It is a reality that people have resigned and accepted as their fate.

In such an area, MFIs rarely stepped outside the Imphal valley as they did not wish to get embroiled within the the conflict between the hill districts and the valley districts in Imphal. A deep resentment towards immigrants from other states who have taken up economic opportunities in the state has also made the tribals even more reserved than usual.

We are grateful to have partnered with an organisation like SEVA that has the confidence and the trust of people who need your help the most.

Nearly 300 students from Manipur have had their school fees financed with the help of the low-cost education loans funded by our Social Investors

Even before SEVA partnered with Rang De, they were offering microcredit to women entrepreneurs. With the help of our Social Investor community, they have been able to grow their operations considerably over the years and have serviced 4,728 borrowers.

Recommended to us by Friends of Women’s World Banking in March 2012, we have established a partnership that has helped us reach thousands of women in villages, especially tribals living in hilly areas who have been cut off from the system but are now able to access credit right at their doorstep.

SEVA has developed strong networks in the region and carry out three-day training courses on bookkeeping and accounts and provide further training within SHG groups to new borrowers before the women even consider utilising these loans.

SEVA has also facilitated loan applications for hundreds of Manipuri students, the children of weavers, currently in primary and secondary school.

These students often study in local boarding schools and only return to their homes during the weekends.

Given that a significantly higher proportion is spent on education than what we have seen elsewhere in India, we strongly believe that such loans have a long-term impact. Many of the women who receive Rang De loans tell us of their hopes to help their children finish high school education so that they can get out of the state and work in a city.

Weavers, embroidery workers, petty shops, tailors, vegetable cultivators, vegetable vendors and 95 other professions are supported. The average income of all of our Rang De loan beneficiaries in the state is Rs 3,800.

Everybody has a loom at home in Manipur. The women learn the trade at their mother’s knee and continue it as an alternative source of income when they get married.

Working on either fly shuttle loom that can be hand-carried or the traditional loom, a fixed device, early into the morning before the family wakes or during the afternoons when they have the time, these women produce mekhalas, chadars and regular clothes for their communities.

A traditional skirt and a dupatta continues to be the clothing of choice for the women in the community so weavers have a steady source of income.

For simple mekhalas, these women earn just Rs 150 or 180. As they operate independently, they do not earn a wage or an hourly income.

A good weaver can weave upto four mekhalas in a day but they usually practise some other occupation such as Aruna Devi, who operates a vegetable patch outside her home or works on farms as a labourer in the day and works by solar lamp (provided by SEVA) in the night.

Unlike other communities where Rang De loans are disbursed, literacy levels are also high. These women, many of whom have actually finished school, are frustrated that they do not have significant economic opportunities as they strongly feel they deserve to earn more.

But they continue to weave their hopes for a better future and with the help of SEVA, they have achieved a lot of progress in their lives.

Rarely do we see weavers come to SEVA for a third loan and we are happy to see their incomes triple by the end of our association over the years.

Over 200 women from Manipur are currently seeking your help to achieve financial independence with the help of crowdsourced Rang De loans.

To learn more about our excellent partnership network across India, please do read the feature stories of many of our 40+ partners.