This summer, Drubaa Mukhopadhyay visited the United States with the Foods Resource Bank, a partner of Lutheran World Relief. Her extensive knowledge and background in international development is a wonderful example of the people LWR works with around the world. Here's her story:
I am Dhrubaa Mukhopadhyay.
I was born in 1969 to parents who followed the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi on social change through constructive work with community.
My mother used to run a nursery school for Harijan (poor and lower caste) children. The school got minimal support from government, so she built it by collecting money and materials from village people. I remember her visiting all the children’s houses. She was friendly to these people and was always coming forward with help, so they learned to trust her. Many times she collected contributions to save the lives of seriously ill patients, provide small sums to poor women to start business, and more.
My father was actively involved in the “Bhu-dan” movement to encourage large landowners to donate land to landless families. The movement benefited many landless families all over the country. In our village he was known as a truthful and helpful person, and was called on by village people to settle disputes. He used to purchase books for one poor child every year. People of our village showed my parents great respect.
I was born and brought up in the village. The high school was around 3 km from our village, so we had to cross a lonely orchard and paddy field on foot to get there. Village parents were fearful about sending girls to the high school because of this long and lonely road. We worked it out by going together in a group: at one point there were 17 of us walking together. Thus we overcame fear to get an education.
When I finished my Masters in Philosophy from Jadavpur University in Kolkata I had a choice between two careers: college teaching or working for poor people. I chose the latter. In 1995 I started working in rural development in PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action), Foods Resource Bank’s (FRB’s) local partner in carrying out the work of its India-Banka program. The belief of PRADAN, which attracted me, was that “Capable and socially sensitive people, rather than material resources, can bring about change in society.” PRADAN is one of the pioneers in the promotion of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in India.
Initially, I was based at Sundarpahadi, a hilly, forested area that is the home of two tribes, the Santhal in the lowlands and the Pahadia in the highlands. When I approached women to organize them into SHGs, I found myself unable to understand them as I did not know their language. I gradually learned the Santhali language and thus acquired a far better understanding about their lives and culture. I worked there with 40 SHGs in around 20 villages.
The objectives of these groups were:
Promoting mutual help among poor women to stand by each other in adverse situations
Promoting savings and credit activities
Promoting livelihood activities to increase their income
Empowering women to interact and mobilize various institutions for community development
One woman of Sundarpahadi made a comment that I will remember as long as I live. I had taken some SHG women to the bank to arrange for a loan. As the papers were being finalized I explained to the women the terms and conditions of the loan in their own language. Another bank customer was astonished to see a “tribal woman” doing so. I was not from the tribe, but one woman proudly said, “She is our daughter. She came back to help us after studying from outside.”
In 1998 I was transferred to another area to look after the Self Help Group program and guide my other team members. By 1999 we were the NGO facilitating the largest number of SHG Bank linkages in Bihar state: we linked 100 SHG in Godda district alone.
During the period from 2004 to 2011 I worked as a team leader of the 20-member Banka team. We worked with 8890 poor families, organized into 569 SHGs. Half of them are involved in livelihood activities to increase their income, and 70% of the families have attained year-round food security.
Then, in December of 2011 I decided to go back to our primary members at the village level to work on the following hypothesis:
People have the potential to change their own lives and influence change in the lives of others. It is possible to facilitate the realization of this potential by altering one’s self perception and being supported by positive change in the immediate micro-environment.
Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is a partner with PRADAN and works toward food security with 1642 families in 90 villages. We work closely with the villagers on three objectives: strengthening Self Help Groups, promoting farm-based and non-farm-based activities to strengthen food security and providing revolving capital to the groups.