Breaking barriers: The secret of Premi’s prosperity

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By Amir Hussain and Savaila A Hunzai
Premi is her 40s lives in Lobhar village of district Tharparkar in Sindh. She was born and brought up in a village named Haryar in the same district. She was fifth of her nine siblings: five sisters and four brothers. Her parents were peasants, who worked on landowner’s farms.
Premi recounts. “I was married at the age of 15 as a result of a family deal in which it was agreed that one of the daughters of my father in law would be given in marriage to a male member of my parents’ extended family. My husband was at least a double of my age. If I knew I had to marry this old man, I would at least have resisted getting married. Well, then, we were not even asked about our consent about getting married. All decisions regarding girls’ marriages were made by elder men in the family.”
The resource-scarce village of Premi was cut off from nearby towns and was without basic services like road, electricity, clean water and school or health facility. For generations, women fetched water from a far-off well. “We carried the loads of water on our heads and made a trip of 3-4 km to reach home on daily basis. In droughts, the well would dry up and we used to search in neighbouring villages to get drinking water. Due to scarcity of water, I used to keep the dirty laundry water in buckets, so that the dirt would settle to the bottom and I filtered out the distilled water to reuse.” Recalls Premi
Premi had a daughter after one year of her marriage and other 10 children including six daughters and four sons followed up with a natural gap of two years between every child. She says, “Only handful of children from village attended the government school that was located miles away in another village. We did not have any school in the village. Although the distant primary school offered education free of cost, we preferred our children to learn life skills from us and elders. Soon after they reached a certain height, we married off our daughters and our sons would support us in labouring work. We never left the village, visited a health facility or took a ride in a vehicle. Life was very simple, very subsistent and very hard.”
Premi adds, “Life started to change for better, when Thardeep Rural Development Program (TRDP) started to work with us. It was about eight years ago (2010), a team from TRDP visited our village. On their first visit, we hid ourselves behind the bushes and observed them talking to our men. Our men shouted out at us and asked us get together in one place. All women gathered in one place. No one had ever visited us before. It was an extraordinary situation for us and to our utter chagrin, TRDP team said that their NGO would work only with women’. Some of us thought that the outsiders would kidnap us. However nothing of sort happened. TRDP team introduced the government of Sindh’s Union Council Based Poverty Reduction Programme (UCBPRP). After a discussion with the TRDP team our men understood the message and allowed them to work with us. My brother-in-law said that the TRDP staff seemed to be trustworthy, also village men would have an eye on them while they would have meetings with women.”
After a week of the first meeting, TRDP field team revisited the village and met with the local women. While the village men observed, women attended the meeting. Premi remembers, “The Social Organiser said that TRDP would support in improving our living conditions provided that we are ready to form woman organization in our village. To begin with, we were confused and did not understand why it was necessary. After some regular meetings we were convinced to form a group of woman and we named it Tanzeem Bheel Paro-the organization of Bheel Paro-i.e.the name of our settlement. Then, we selected two members as our leaders. The leaders received trainings about conducting organization’s meetings and record-keeping etc. In the course of time, we learnt to articulate our domestic and settlement level issues in the meetings.”
“Our organization was provided with Community Investment Fund (CIF) by TRDP and we were facilitated to develop investment plans to get the money to improve our household income. I showed the desire of raising livestock. I asked the president for a CIF loan and received Rs. 5,000. With Rs 4,000 from CIF, I bought a milk giving goat and with remaining Rs. 1,000 I purchased fodder from a local hay lender. This added milk to my family’s diet. Before, we used to have ground pepper with boiled rice or millet bread in our meals. We returned the loan, after one year by selling two kids of the goat.”Premi recalls
In 2012, after repaying the outstanding CIF loan, Premi applied for another loan from CIF. She received Rs. 15,000. With the money she bought two milk giving goats. She said that she sold the previous milk giving goat for Rs. 10,000 and two goat kids worth Rs. 5,000. She pooled both amounts and repaid the loan. Premi applied for another loan and received Rs. 20,000 in 2013. She said that she spent Rs. 10,000 from this money on her daughter’s marriage. She explains, “My daughter was engaged with a man for two years, but her marriage was delayed because we could not afford the expenses. Delay in marriage is not deemed well in our village and even her in-laws warned us several times. Therefore, I sold two goat kids. Also, we spent half from the CIF loan on her wedding.” With the remaining Rs. 10,000, she bought two goats.
The family applied for fourth CIF loan in 2015, and received Rs. 20,000. The family prospered by selling goats’ kids and, over time, they bought a donkey, two sheep, seven milk giving goats, and 15 male goats. Premi adds “Apart from CIF, we learned that the common viral diseases in our children were caused by poor sanitation system in our village. We did not have sanitation facilities, even a simple latrine. We defecated in the open spaces or children used to defecate around our huts. Open defecation further facilitated the spread of diseases. Now, we have latrines. We learned to keep our surrounding and children clean. After getting organised as a group, our quality of life has improved tremendously. We now have economic assets, improved housing, including concrete rooms and latrine. We have access to water and electricity. I am thankful to the government of Sindh and TRDP for supporting us to improve our lives and for making our lives easier. Now we have a solid foundation to plan for a better life for our children.”

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