Abhilash Medhi

Abhilash Medhi (Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization (BERDO): Abhilash was born Assam, India. He earned a Bachelors degree in Civil Engineering from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur, India and then worked as an Assistant Systems Engineer with Tata Consultancy Services in Mumbai, India. Abhilash also volunteered for Child Rights and You in Mumbai, India where he specialized in child labour laws, helped build alliances against child labour, and developed micro-credit schemes for poor women. Abhilash volunteered at the 2nd IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD 2007). At the time of his fellowship Abhilash was pursuing a Master’s degree in Development Studies at The London School of Economics and Political Science.

Bonding over Banking in Banaripara

06 Aug

Once every week at 9 am in the morning in Banaripara in Barisal division of Southern Bangladesh, twenty women and a few children make a beeline for Khairunissa’s house. BERDO’s community worker Fatema waits there with textbooks and public awareness leaflets. For one hour, they talk on different issues – health, education, prenatal care, pregnancy-related complications, hygiene, latest legislations for disabled individuals and their budding business initiatives, started with micro-credit received from BERDO. In between, they also pay their weekly instalments. Fatema takes the lead in most of the discussions, relays information contained in the leaflets and shows them slides. At other times she acts as a facilitator. The women chip in – raise their problems and ask questions. They are all part of a Self Help Group, one that they have christened ‘Shiuli’. At 10 am, the women troop out of Khairunissa’s house and head back home to attend to their daily chores, while Fatema heads to Jahanara’s house for the next meeting – this time with a group that calls itself ‘Beli’.

Members of 'Shiuli' at their weekly meeting

There are thirty such SHGs in Banaripara consisting of BERDO members. A group usually consists of eighteen to twenty-five members – both able-d and differently able-d. Disabled minors, who cannot be full-time members, are often accompanied by their mothers. Each group has a President, a Secretary and a Treasurer, each of whom is chosen by consensus from among the members of the group for a period of one year. The one-hour meeting comes as a welcome relief to women who find little time away from the grind of household duties. It serves as a platform where they learn life skills. It not only allows them access to a little credit to start an income-generating initiative of their own but also gauges their progress and helps them out with business knowhow from time to time.

Paraplegic child at the weekly meeting of 'Shiuli'

The response of the womenfolk at the meeting I attended was very encouraging indeed. ‘Shiuli’ is only nine months old but all members send their children to school. Newly-weds have begun to understand the merits of contraception and pregnant women that of skilled midwifery. Four women from ‘Shiuli’ have taken loans from BERDO and repayment rates of the group are a 100%. One of them, the widowed mother of a paraplegic child, has started a betel-nut shop. She does not earn enough just yet to support her family but is hopeful that her shop will eventually help her tide over financial difficulties. The SHG model has been used the world over and while BERDO’s Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) programme is not a panacea to all the troubles that plague women and the disabled in rural Bangladesh, it has allowed them to get a foot in the door, afforded them a straw and if its success is anything to go by, it is definitely not the last one.

Posted By Abhilash Medhi

Posted Aug 6th, 2009

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