Name: Krishna Ben
Village: Shantinagar
Taluka: Jodia
District: Jamnagar

Shantinagar is a subsidiary village of Balambha with about 2000 villagers and 350 households. The village has a primary school up to 4th standard, which was first built (like all other houses) after the earthquake. Before its construction was done the children were taught in several private houses. It also has a police station. Almost all villagers fall below the poverty line. Two families belong to the scheduled castes, 50 families to tribal castes and 125 families are from other backward castes. Within the community just 5 families own rainfed land, all others are landless laborers. For example they go to a nearby salt factory or breed cattle. Some Muslims also earn their subsistence by fishing.

While the co-operation with SSP, according to the women’s opinion, is very good in the village, among the village community there are quarrels because of water distribution caused by religious differences. Another problem, which Shantinagar has to face, is its separation from the main village Balambha. The subsidiary village gets no information, when the Gram Sabha or Gram Panchayat meetings take place and therefore can’t join in. Thus information sharing is not effective. But the whole community has good relations with other villages, even if that costs some effort and power (said women with a smile).

Mainly we spoke with Krishnaben, who is self-confident, lively and speaks her mind in a clear manner. She is a mother of five children and before the earthquake had been one of the housewives and never stepped out of the house. She told us, that during the earthquake all houses in her village Balambha had been destroyed. While they lived in temporary shelters for the first months, they built up new houses with a dimension of 10x10 foot. “For us it was a new experience, that we helped each other for example in house building and didn’t live separated any longer,” Krishnaben said. As first relief, village got things for daily purposes from NGOs and other institutions in Jamnagar district like rice, biscuits and shelter.

SSP’s work in the village started with a field visit; fieldworkers arranged regular meetings with women and forced them to become active. About this time Krishnaben uttered: “First the women in the village were not self-confident and felt unable to reach anything. During that time I was appointed as a Sanvaad Sahayak.” She surveyed the houses and explained to the people how to reconstruct and retrofit them in the right way. She also informed people about governmental schemes and the advantages for the community.

Then SSP developed a new concept for the village. Savings and credit groups and a Mahila Mandal with the name Sakhi Sayoghi were founded for women co-operation and financial development. Krishnaben became a cluster worker. “First the women thought, that SSP, for them a foreigner, would keep the saved money for itself, but soon they realised, that that was not the fact,” Krishnaben remembered about this time. In the beginning there had been 25 members in the SCG, but now they have divided into two groups. In Krishnaben’s group 10 members save monthly 20 rupees each, thus they have at their disposal 6000 rupees. They give loans to women for purposes like marriage. After joining SSP Krishnaben now feels self-confident, because she benefits herself and others. She added: “After the earthquake I got new freedom, my family lives now in a bigger house and through the Mahila Mandal I developed good contacts with other women, not only in the village but also outside.”

Name: Gomi Ben
Village: Shiranivandh
Taluka: Rapar
District: Kutch

Gomniben is the leader of the Shiranivandh SCG group Jai Khodiyar Sakhi, which has 25 members and is 16 month old. The group members have already reached a total amount of 10,000 rupees by monthly saving of 25 rupees each. All money is lent to the group members for daily purposes like hospital bills, agricultural cultivation and delivery. While they took 3 % interest in former time, they reduced it after joining the women’s federation led by Gomniben to 2 %. Besides Gomiben`s group there are 2 other Savings and credit groups in the village.

Before the earthquake Gomniben belonging to the Koli community (ST) had been a housewife. She has 3 sons and 2 daughters, who all went or still go to school. Their mother is not educated, but in spite of that she has a good understanding of accounting and the village situation. About her illiteracy she said in an earlier interview: “They never used to send girls to study. What will you do after studying, the elders would ask. As such my family’s financial background was weak.”

She feels confident and is glad that after joining SSP the women are able to solve some internal problems on their own. And she is also very proud because she appeared in TV on `Aajtak` channel once.

She told us, that almost all houses in her village had been destroyed during the earthquake. But the community received relief very fast, just 4 days after the earthquake the government of Haryana and other Gujarat districts sent food and other things for daily usage. Now the life has already reached the same status like it was before the earthquake.

Her village Shiranivandh has a population of 1200 to 1500 people who dwell in around 400 houses. 40 families of the community (all Koli) live below the poverty line. Only 5 families are landless; they earn their subsistence by masonary and agricultural labor. Main agricultural products sold in Rapar are grain (Bajra), pulses (Dal), Gauar and cummin seeds (Jira).

“If there is no rain, we go for casual labour. These days a government drought relief programme - de-silting-work is on, and we get to de-silt dried up lakes” The drought relief work gives 25 RS per day and 2 kilos of wheat. “I have not got the wages and the wheat for the past one month.” The rural communities often face this kind of problem, but the habitual norm is to get the salary after every 6 days.

Some women also do some glasswork promoted by the NGO-HUM. For daily purposes there are 2 to 3 general shops in the village.

In Shiranivandh there is a school up to the 7th standard and two Anganwadis are available, but until now there is no PHC. Villagers have to go a long way to Rapar for serious diseases. For minor diseases they go to Balasar, a village nearby. Only the government immunization program takes place regularly. Gomniben told us:“Our healthcare situation is really bad. Thus we went to Rapar and spoke with the responsible Taluka officials. Therefor they sent an officer to Shiranivand to make an assessment, but since this visit nothing has happened.”

The Gram Panchayat consists of 9 members including the female Sarpanch (the daughter in law of Gomniben) and 3 other women. The Gram Panchayat works very actively and tries to solve all existing problems, therefore all villagers are satisfied with it. The community only comes in contact with government officials through the house supervisors entering Shiranivandh. But the community shares information and experiences with some other villages.

The water and sanitation facilities of the village are almost not developed. The only source, which is available, is a river. (Another lake is 2 km away.) Its water is used for both drinking and domestic purposes. Any sanitation facilities like toilets and washing platforms do not exist. The community has to face big water problems, because the river water is very salty and the government does not supply any water tankers. That’s why now the hope lies in the Narmada project, from which water supply is expected to reach the village in 6 months.

Gomniben demands for the village a community hall, a PHC and a Mahila Mahiti Kendra.

Name: Bhanu Ben
Village: Utabet-Sampar
District: Jamnagar

Utabet-Sampar is one of the last Gujarat villages before land goes over into the Arabian Sea. It has a population of 1018 people dwelling in 318 houses, around 200 villagers live below the poverty line and 60 villagers belong to scheduled castes (dalits). 80 families in the village are landless, they labor in fields and work in town (Morbi) factories. The other families own rainfed land, whereon they cultivate wheat, pulses (channa) and cotton (kappas). They sell these products to businessmen who come from the bigger village Amran. For their own purpose they cultivate some grain like Bajra. Things for daily use are purchased from a ration shop.

The village has a Primary school up to the 7th standard and an Anganwadi, but there are only two teachers for seven different classes in the school. People have also built a communication center, but until now it is closed because people do not know how to use it. Despite that community life in the village is very active. There exist 4 Savings and credit groups and 3 youth groups. Furthermore there are 2 Bhajani groups in the village.

Next to 6 male members in the Gram Panchayat there are 2 women participating.
We spoke with one of them, Bhanuben, who is also the president of a SCG. She told us, that there had taken place only appointments instead of elections for the Gram Panchayat.

Before the earthquake Bhanuben had worked in an Anganwadi taking care of children. Then later she became a Samvad Sahayak for SSP surveying new and old built houses and collecting pieces of information about the manor of construction. She started to write reports about the building and quality and depending on that the families received advance from the government. Due to the earthquake, almost the whole village had been destroyed. Thus Bhanuben attended monthly workshops offered by SSP in common with engineers to train her skills in retrofitting and earthquake resistance. Information was also spread by posters and videos in the village. Besides that governmental engineers (2 per taluka) came regularly to offer their knowledge and help.

“Before I joined SSP after a collector meeting I didn’t know anything about the Gram Sabha. About its existence and about government schemes I was informed by SSP. And now I’m also acquainted with the tasks of the Mantri [secretary of GP, appointed by the government] in the village who fails to do his work in the right manner,” Banuben commended. “He doesn’t give all the information to the villagers, for example he kept money for his own, which was a reward of the government for cleaning the village.“ But she found out, that other villages in the area already received the money. Until now this problem is not solved.

After finishing the reconstruction of the village the first SCG was founded in Utabet-Sampar for strengthening the community and its economic power, of which she became the leader. In this group, now existing for two years, there are 12 members paying 20 rupees per month to the group. They have saved 5242 rupees, where from women lent capital in value of 4000 rupees for daily purposes like marriage, fees for hospital, etc.3 women have taken a loan of 5000 rupees to found an enterprise 12 months ago. Now they are selling water-pouches with success; they have already repaid the whole loan.

We asked Bhanuben about the water and sanitation situation in the village. She told us, that there exist water problems. The community get three water tanks for the dry season; each with a volume of 5000 litres, the water from it is used for all purposes. First there had been disorder within the community about taking water from the tanks (how much for each household, some fetched more water than others, therefore quarrels), but Bhanuben founded a committee of women (Beda Committee), who regulated the access and now the problem is solved. Each person in the village gets 3 Bedas water per day (summer as well as winter). Within the village there are no natural sources for water supply present and because the village is near to the sea the remaining water available is very salty. At the moment the villagers collect water from rain harvesting in water reservoirs (2 ponds). They have also planned a water tank (ESR), which is already finished, taps for every household and a pipeline belonging to the government Sardar Sarowar Yojana-project, which shall supply water from the Narmada river to the whole Saurashtra area. The taps and the pipelines within the village shall be paid by the yearly government support of 50,000 rupees for village development.

Until now about 70 % of the village houses are equipped with a toilet and a bathroom, which had been part of the government scheme for reconstruction after the earthquake. Each family got 90,000 rupees for the reconstruction of their house, if toilet and bathroom included. With a smile on her lips Bhanuben told us: ”There are that many toilets in the village because many villagers thought to get extra money for it from the government." For the toilets the villagers also built soak pits. A washing platform is not available, also no drains and because of existing soak pits they are not planned.)

The village doesn’t work together with the Zillah Parishad, but meets monthly with NGO fieldworkers in Amran. They also join with other villages during celebrations, thus there is an active exchange of experiences. Women’s involvement in the community is increasing. Thus Bhanuben said: “Many of them take part in the Gram Sabha, but until now they are shy to speak about their problems. Thus they force me to speak and you can be sure, I do it.” And we could see a proud smile. She also commented, that there are still families left, in which husbands don’t give the permission to their wives to attend the Gram Sabha. But on the whole life has changed for women. They do labour work, are much better informed about everything and are active in village planning.

Name: Naviben Subhbhai Rajput
Village: Nagpur
Taluka: Rapar
District: Kutch

Naviben Subhbhai Rajput, a young woman from Nagpur is a very active member of a Savings and Credit Group and is very eager to learn. She went to Dhrangadhra to attend the mason’s training programme and learnt about the low-cost earthquake resistant technology and retrofitting. She then put this knowledge to use in rebuilding her own house.

There was a lot of confusion regarding retrofitting and earthquake resistant technology in the village at that time. People in the village felt that their damaged houses would need to be pulled down and rebuilt. However Naviben, who had understood the technique of retrofitting told the villagers how to make their houses earthquake resistant without pulling them down. She explained the technique of retrofitting: “At the places in the wall where there are cracks, first remove the layer of plaster and then insert a wire mesh of 1/2 foot, fix it using nails and then replaster.”

Some villagers complained that they did not have the money for retrofitting. They also complained that the supervising engineer was corrupt and kept part of the installment for himself. However Naviben argued that the problems basically stemmed from the villagers, reluctance to adapt earthquake resistant technology. Only those who tried to save money by cutting corners faced these problems. She said that she had rebuilt her house using the right technology without spending more money. She understood the importance of living in a safe house and was determined to learn and know more about various training programs. She runs a small grocery shop and is planning to take a loan from the group to expand her shop. Today many people in Nagpur have done retrofitting and several women have attended mason-training programmes. Just as the post earthquake reconstruction activities emphasized the need to adopt new and appropriate technologies, the Savings and Credit Groups have encouraged women to be economically self reliant. Women are now aware of the techniques involved and materials needed in making their houses earthquake resistant. Not only do they feel confident, they are able to mobilize resources and pay attention to their immediate needs and those of their villages.

Name: Jayashreeben

Savings and Credit groups are one of the most effective ways of empowering women after a disaster. Through community-to-community exchanges, Sakhi Federations of grassroots women have spread the message that disasters present an opportunity, but women gain confidence and power only if they come together. Overcoming social barriers. Jayashreeben a group leader says, the earthquake brought down four walls of our house, but with that the walls preventing women from venturing out have fallen. Coming together in groups and collectives of ten and twenty allows women to relate and trust their neighbours. Once they mature, groups build an economic base, develop money management skills and explore enterprise options. Groups provide an opportunity for poor women to organize themselves at the grassroots level to demand their basic rights, tackle the issues confronting their communities and build upon the capacities of the women.

Formation of savings groups is an integral aspect of women’s mobilization in the process of development. Most of the women in the villages were not aware of collectively saving money on a regular basis. Not only do savings groups build upon the local capacities of women to manage health, social and other development activities, but they also provide much needed financial support and resource pool for the women. SSP’s involvement in Latur has already proven how women’s collectives enhance active participation of women’s groups in local village development and governance.

Name: Dilharba
Village: Bhimkatta
Taluka: Jodiya
District: Jamnagar

“How are we expected to understand safety features, if the engineer does not visit our villages”. Samvad Sahayaks fulfill a critical role as they liaison between the house owner and a variety of institutions. Instead of complaining, these women leaders urged communities to organize themselves to demand support for construction.

Collecting information on critical problems is at the base of the two way communication that these women leaders have helped to establish. Every fortnight, they lead a group of house owners with specific complaints to meet the Taluka officials. The difference is - they recommend solutions to the local government.

Similarly, in dialogue forums, women focus on problems that the communities face in building their homes. At one meeting, the problem of water was analyzed. The government had sent tankers, but there was no community storage facility. In another village, the water was available but there was no electricity to pump the water.

Dilharba of Bhimkatta explains how she takes critical information back to her village: “The engineer does not inform us of the changes and updates in the government policies. For instance, today I found out that the beneficiaries only need to build their home till plinth level, instead of lintel level, to qualify for the 2nd installment. The engineer never gave us this information. Now I will give this information to people in my village. If I hadn't come here, I would never have known where to go to help my village.”

The government officials also recognize the impact of this process. Community Facilitators bring imperative information from their local communities to the government. At one of the dialogue workshops, the Additional Collector commended the amazing work done by the women. “We have all come a long way after our first meeting at the in April. Due to your involvement, our construction is the fastest among all the quake-affected areas. Your work and perseverance has resulted in the speedy and appropriate construction of homes.”