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July 12, 2010
“Knowledge is power: you can give an impoverished farmer the highest quality seeds available on the market, but if he doesn’t know how far apart to plant them, or at what depth to sew them, you might as well grind the seeds and use them to feed him. In this way development often wastes resources, and fuels the fire that is rural poverty.”
-Brij Kishor Dwivedi
It was in the heart of the most densely populated desert in the world that I experienced the realities of poverty: women who were forced to support six children on incomes of less than 100 rupees (2 U.S. dollars) per day, perform manual labor in 48 degree heat, and watch their children grow up lacking adequate nourishment. Throughout my internship with FSD I spent six days traveling to Bhikam Kor, Thabukra, Jaji Val Bhatia, Bhawad, Kari, Sushagar, and Jodhpur. In these villages I conducted interviews for an analysis of Sambal Santhsan’s Women’s Rural Self Employment Program. Throughout my travels I gained critical insight into the true nature of development work.
In many communities in Rajasthan it is socially unacceptable for a woman to leave her home, which makes it nearly impossible for a woman to survive after being abandoned or widowed. The women who faced these situations in the rural communities that I surveyed represent a huge loss of social potential, and it was the primary mission Sambal Sansthan to provide these women with the capacity to economically support their families by helping them establish a small business. Virtually all of the women I surveyed were illiterate and many did not have the capacity to count to one hundred in their native language. Many had more than four children and were the sole earners in their home. Some were able to provide valuable services to their villages and earn livable wages, but many struggled to provide for their families even after receiving aid from Sambal. Speaking with the women who struggled the most made my goals for the rest of my stay in India apparent.
My observations over the first five weeks of my internship have lead me to believe that Sambal is in need of a critical review of its current program. I have spoken with over forty beneficiaries of Sambal in order to obtain greater insight into the challenges they face in establishing their business. After two weeks of additional research I will present my findings to Sushila Bora, the executive head of Sambal, so that she can implement my recommendations and more effectively meet the needs of the women who are struggling to establish their businesses.
In India I have learned that the true cost of allowing an impoverished person to become self-sufficient is the cost of providing them with the business and vocational knowledge necessary to successfully establish and sustain their enterprise. In the terms of my translator and friend Brij Kashor, it takes more than simply providing seeds to farmers to have a lasting positive impact on an impoverished community; effort must be taken to impart knowledge necessary to succeed in all aspects of their profession.