Guwahati: Along with the rest of India, Assam is now in the fourth stage of lockdown and with new cases of COVID-19 coming to the fore almost every day, many daily activities remain stagnant. These have been disproportionately affecting the underprivileged, poor, and marginalised communities in the state’s rural areas.
Seven Sisters Development Assistance (SeSTA) is an NGO that works directly with poor and marginalised communities in 14 districts of Assam and Tripura. The NGO is collecting funds for the farmers of many rural villages in Assam taking a stance against COVID-19, one district after another. Starting a donation campaign on their site https://www.sesta.org/donation/, the organisation plans to provide sustenance to the much-needed strata of society.
With the help of donations, the NGO is already providing ration and sanitary kits during the lockdown. The NGO’s long term goal is to put a systematic effort for the socio-economic development of the rural Northeast by building capabilities of poor communities, promoting and strengthening their institutions to facilitate them out of poverty such that they meaningfully participate in the global economy.
SeSTA collectivises women to form Self Help Groups (SHGs), builds their capabilities, and strengthens livelihood systems to alleviate mass poverty in far-flung villages of Northeast India.
One of the positive examples is that of 57-year-old Monowara Begum. Originally hailing from Nagaon, she moved to Kamrup after her marriage and has been in the Bhumalahati village of Kamrup ever since.
There are 176 households in this village with most people engaged in agriculture and petty trade and the women still find themselves unable to get a foothold in a rapidly expanding economy. Also in a village-like Bhumalahati, where women have very little literacy, resources, and religious-social restrictions, the struggle becomes more complex. And when one is past her prime, the struggle becomes a tall societal mountain to scale.
When SeSTA began working in this village in the year 2017 under an ITC project, women would meet every week to save Rs 20 per member. This common pool of saving was soon fortified by a revolving fund of Rs 25,000 from a local bank to each group. Women started using this amount to invest or intensify their livelihoods baskets.
In this village, of the nine SHGs supported by SeSTA covering 108 households, 31 women are engaged in the micro-enterprise promotion. Begam was already rearing ducks on a small scale but with some technical training and visioning exercise, her imagination began to soar. She took a loan of Rs 5,000 from her group to build a concrete shed for her ducks and purchased 25 ducklings. Within six months, she made a neat deal of Rs 9,600 selling 15 large ducks. The ducks have multiplied and now she also sells eggs. As the flock has grown, she now sells one or two ducks every week.
This is just one of the examples of how SeSTA is reaching out to the unseen and often ignored sections of the society and helping to find their footing in the tumultuous economy. Add on the repercussions of COVID-19 aftermath, the economy is already bracing for a huge crisis. Small donations as such can at least help the already effected class to find a footing in the storm.