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Thursday, September 17, 2009

How the impossible became possible for Mahdevamma

Mahdevamma was born into absolute poverty in south India.

Her birthright assured her a place among a club none of us would willingly join - the 1.3 billion people in our world who live in abject poverty.

Her inheritance - the seemingly inevitable worldwide consequence of being poor, female, and marginalized - would be a short life of suffering and servitude.

As the years passed and Mahdevamma passed through childhood to womanhood, she found no comfort in the realization that poverty intended to be her life-long companion.

Women like Mahdevamma would not be surprised to learn that they are among startling statistics that shed light on the scale and scope of the suffering she and other women know all to well…

  • Of the world’s poorest 1.3 billion people, 70 per cent are women

  • Of the world’s poorest 1.3 billion people, 70 per cent are women

  • Of the world’s 33 million refugees, 72 per cent are women and children

  • Two thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women

  • Of the millions of people who go to bed hungry every night, seven of every ten are women and children

Mahdevamma, however, had no intention of remaining poverty’s prisoner and was determined to ensure that her three children would not suffer the same fate she had endured since the first breath she took as a baby.

Mahdevamma found her way out of poverty when she joined a HOPE International Development Agency self-help affinity group (SAG) in her village of Sagare, south India.

Self-help affinity groups provide education, skills training, low interest loans, and other forms of support - all of which enable impoverished women to create sustainable livelihoods and lift themselves up out of poverty.

Initially, the group was comprised of Mahdevamma and five of her friends. Eventually, 15 other women in similar circumstances joined the group, bringing the total to 20 women.

“When I first joined the self-help affinity group my family and I lived in a mud hut and were trying to eke out a living farming one acre of land on which we grew millet and lentils,” says Mahdevamma.

“Initially, there was resistance from the village men. But they soon learned to respect us as we built up our confidence and ability to do things,” states Mahdevamma.

In addition to learning new income generating skills, each of the self-help affinity group members sets aside modest amounts of money per week into a group savings fund. The fund provides low interest loans for sustainable income generating initiatives undertaken by group members.

Once the savings had grown sufficiently, Mahdevamma took out a low interest loan and bought an additional acre of land on which she started growing cotton and coconuts for consumption and sale. With the first harvest, she was well on her way to a sustainable income!

The benefits of being a member of a self-help affinity group and learning new skills speak for themselves according to Mahevamma. “Today, I now have more savings, a sustainable income, farm animals and productive land! My three children - two boys and one girl - are now in school, “she proudly states.

Mahevamma changed her family’s destiny by joining a self-help affinity group that gave her the training, support, and modest financial help she needed to transform her family’s life.

“It would have been impossible for me to think of all this in the past, but now it is possible!”, says Mahevamma.

To date, Mahevamma’s self-help affinity group has helped establish three additional groups in her village – further evidence of what can be accomplished when people gather to tackle challenges they all face.

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