The End of an Era

Welcome to our May 2013 Newsletter.

Apologies for the long break between Newsletters. There have been many changes for ARD over the past 7 months and it has been difficult to put out a Newsletter before we were clear about the path ahead. Now that Graeme and Wendy have been to India, in February, March and April, they have a clear Idea of the new direction we are taking, so we are able to put together this Newsletter with a comprehensive overview of the new direction.

New Directions for our SHGs

The Indian Government in conjunction with the World Bank has launched an India-wide Self Help Group and Rural Livelihood Promotion Program that aims to reach 80% of the rural poor. This is a large programme, designed to take over all established Self Help Groups and introduce comprehensive training and regional marketing strategies to up-skill the participants and consolidate the resources of the groups.
This has had significant implications for ARD’s Women’s Empowerment project, as we can no longer create new Self Help Groups and support those which we have created, as they will all now be absorbed into the Rural Livelihood Promotion Program in Bihar. An organisation called Jeevika has been chosen by the Bihar State Government to implement this new program.

We have been concerned that a "top-down" program may not meet the grassroots needs of the women and that they may be disadvantaged in the transition. During our recent visit to India Graeme and Wendy met with the Jeevika staff a number of times and feel more confident that the needs of the women in Guraru Block will be met through this program. .
We are also confident that the awareness and skills that the women have developed while participating in the ARD program will enable them to know what their rights are and to speak up for those rights.

Below are two photos of Jeevika staff. The first is a young woman called Ragini, who has been campus recruited by Jeevika in Gaya District as one of 80 young men and women under the Young Professionals Scheme. She told us, " My role is to enable information flow from the SHG women to administration, to ensure policy as written is implemented in the field and that data collected in the field is fed into the system in a defined time frame." So that gives us heart!

The second photo is of us with the Jeevika Gaya District Program Manager and one of the training officers. All our conversations with staff were very open and they assure us that all our groups will be absorbed into the Rural Livelihhod Promotion Program whether they have repaid their loans or not. Jeevika will also help to form many new SHGs in this area.

So, overall we feel relieved to know that our SHGs will be in good hands and will be enabled to strengthen their capacity and also be assisted to market their products more effectively than ARD could offer because of the scale of the program.

Before we go on to explain the new direction that ARD Australia will be taking, we will update you on the current status of the Self Help Groups still under ARD Australia.

Current Status of SHGs

From the report sent to us by staff we have the following figures:

*    Total SHGs: 301.  30 groups have already migrated to Jeevika.       
No. of SHG Bank Accounts opened: 293    No. of these that have taken out loans: 143  The remainder are still needing to fulfill the bank requirements of regular meetings, note taking, savings in their kitties etc.These are all SHGs that have been formed in the past 12 to 18 months.

The photo below is of one of the members of an SHG taking out a loan from the group kitty (for an operation for her son), with Lalmani, one of our staff members helping her to put her thumbprint on the meeting register.

Below is a photo of an SHG meeting with Reeta, one of our staff members explaining to them about the changes taking place with Jeevika taking over the self Help Groups.

Women's Health, Men's Health and Community Health, Sewing and Embroidery and Functional Literacy to be our New Focuses for Empowering the Women in Guraru

After extensive discussions with the women in the field and with our staff the above areas emerged as the key needs for the women in our area of operation.

The main focus will be on Health Awareness. Of our 14 staff, 11 will be employed to work in this program. They will receive training with an organisation in Patna. Their website is as follows: The organisation was recommended to us for trainings by a man called Dr Sanjay Mishra who established the Shakyamuni Health Centre in Bodhgaya in 1996, the staff of which have regular trainings with this organisation. The training will be tailored to our staff, will run for 3 days, to be followed up in 6 months by another training. The aim is to bring about attitudinal changes in health and well being as well as imparting information. The areas to be covered are: Reproductive and Child Health as well as  Community Health covering many types of prevalent diseases like TB , Malaria, Diarrhoea,  Brain fever and Cancer. We will work through the connections we have made with the SHGs and invite them to form Village Health Committees which can then help to spread the awareness gained from our staff.

Before embarking on the program we will do base line surveys so that we know the current knowledge of the village people and will then later be able to measure the increase in knowledge and awareness of these people. Although we will mainly work with women, our male staff members of which there are 5: Shrawan (our Field Co-ordinator), Anil, Ashok, Naresh and Dinesh will work with men as well. The emphasis here will be to encourage the men to support their wives, mothers and daughters in health issues.Traditionally village women tend to not go to the doctor until whatever is wrong is a major problem. Hopefully with the awareness gained by both the men and women, these attitudes will change and the women will feel empowered to speak up for their needs. The women staff working on this program are Sarika (who is now co-ordinating the entire program together with Shrawan), Indu, Suman Devi, Madhuri, Lalmani and Sunita.

Another focus for empowering the young women in Guraru Block will be Vocational Training in the area of Sewing on sewing machines (called tailoring in India) and Embroidery. The aim is to ensure that young women come into their marriage with a skill which can bring income into the family and will give them status. As you are probably aware, young women have arranged marriages and the women go and live with their husband's parents, brothers and their wives and uncles and their wives. They often move some hours travel away from their parent's home and may only see them again once a year or when they are due to give birth. By having a skill, the young women will be more desirable as a prospective bride and allow them a say in how the money will be spent in the household, if they are earning some. We will set up 4 sewing centres in the Block, one in the north, south, east and west with 4 machines in each centre. We will employ trained staff to teach the 15 to 20 year old women in 2 hour shifts throughout the day with ten students at any one time. Reeta, our very capable animator, will co-ordinate the program, renting buildings, buying machines, and enrolling students. Each student will pay a small monthly fee to cover the cost of materials and building rental. Again we will do a base line survey to discover the knowledge and talents of the young women in the area and to establish any human and material resources that may already be there.
The third component of our new Women's Empowerment program is Functional Literacy.  we will establish 4 centres to teach Literacy to young girls and women 13 to 19 years of age. These are girls who have been taken out of the education system to help work on the land or in various ways to earn money for the family. They will come from the poorest families and no fees will be charged. The aim is that by the time they are ready to marry they will be able to read and write sufficiently well to be able to ensure their rights in any situation that they come across. Again a base line survey will be done, to establish where the need for these classes is greatest and who will come to them. Classes will run in shifts and will be arranged to fit into the timing of the irls lives. Renu and Premlata will run this program and will teach, as their skills allow. Renu has taught literacy to children and Premlata is keen to learn. We will employ a teacher initially and the women will train under her and eventually take over this role, as well as co-ordinating the program.

We have a very capable staff who chose
to work in their given area and they are enthusiastic to undertake the new program and meet the challenges it will present with determination and positivity. Below is a photo of the staff.

Front row: Indu, Reeta, Lalmani, Sarika, Premlata. Second row: Renu, Madhuri, Sunita, Dinesh Third row: Ashok, Wendy, Suman Devi, Anil  Back row: Graeme, Naresh, Shrawan

Administrative Changes

You may remember the story of how Graeme met Sandeep in 1999 and the fact that while everyone was asking for books, pens, money, chow mein, he had asked for a health centre for his grandfather’s village, and that was how ARD was started.Graeme's connection with Sandeep grew over the years, as ARD implemented the Women’s Empowerment programme which until recently involved close to 4000 women from 85 villages in more than 300 Self Help Groups.

Last year in November we became aware that a significant amount of money was being misappropriated. We immediately ceased funding ARD India, and went to India early this year to investigate the situation. The field staff had not been paid for twelve months, though Sandeep did manage to pay them for four of those months just prior to our visit. The amount that is missing since mid 2011 is in the vicinity of $10,000, though there is anecdotal evidence pointing to a slowly increasing, but systematic abuse of funds over the past three years. That amount is unable to be quantified.

Sandeep consistently denies that he has taken any money outside of the program expenses, but the amount of money that is missing is too much to have just been overspent. Graeme has found it very difficult to accept the level of Sandeep’s culpability and the process has been very unsettling for Wendy and Graeme, as we struggle to integrate the loss of respect and the disappointment we feel.
We have completely withdrawn from working with Sandeep and ARD India and the CharitableTrust which is a part of it. We are still operating as ARD Australia. We have dismissed all administrative staff. We have taken over managing the Self Help Groups and are running the program through our very capable field staff pictured above. Our organisation in India is now called Women's Empowerment in Indian Villages (WEIV).

The complexities of starting a new Charitable Trust to work through in India has led us to establish a partnership with a long-standing social organisation called Lok Shakti Shikshan Kendra (LSSK) .
They auspice a number of internationally funded programmes and work in the fields of  Women's Empowerment, Reproductive Health, Schools and Land Rights. We met with them and feel confident that they are an upstanding organisation whom we can trust to receive the money we send, pay the staff their wages and hand over the administration money to Sarika. We have spoken to one of the organisations in the UK that they auspice, and their co-ordinator assured us that he has known the Director of LSSK, Ram Swaroop since 1969, and that LSSK is trustworthy. Our staff have also met their staff and feel confident that the partnership will be beneficial. LSSK will monitor our program and report to us monthly regarding both operational and financial matters and do an annual audit which they will send to us. We will pay them just under $160 per month and we believe it will be money well spent, as we can rely on their years of experience and capacity.

Shrawan (far right), a friend, Raju (third from left) who acted as translator, Sangeeta, a lady lawyer
friend from Bodhgaya and us with some of the LSSK staff
including 80 year old founder of LSSK,
Ram Swaroop
at their office in Paraiya,

And now - A Success Story

This is the real story of Satybhama Devi. Being a member of a Self Help Group has changed her life from poverty to a satisfactory financial condition.

Condition before joining SHG:              
Satyabhama Devi was spending her life with difficulties, her husband was running a very small general store shop with only a few items . She had no source of income. He had a lack of capital for his shop and was earning around Rs. 2000 per month, but it was not sufficient amount to fulfill the minimum essential needs of the family. They were poor.

After joining SHG: She has joined Tanu Nabard SHG, Bahbalpur on 25-05-2011. Our animator Lalmani Devi helped form this group. This group took  a loan of.24,000 rupees ($453 AU)  from the Punjab National Bank, Guraru, on 27-12-2012. The group agreed that Satybhama Devi could have
a 5,000 rupee ($94 AU) loan to increase the capital in her shop . She bought many more items to sell. Now she is selling sweets and samosas with her husband, with a resulting monthly income from this shop of around Rs.5000 (five thousand ) per month. Now she and her family are very happy because their income has been increased from Rs.2000 to Rs.5000. From the profit she is increasing the capital in the shop and repaying regular interest to the bank via the SHG. So we can see that SHGs can play a very vital role in the development of the poor community.

Satyabhama Devi in her Shop

And Last But Certainly Not Least

Our stalwart  Australian local volunteers continue to support us by working at our monthly market stall stocked by goods that all sorts of wonderful people donate. Even while we were in India, Linda, Jozie, Nicky and Micky pulled it together yet another time. Thank you to you all and Bruce who always helps wherever and whenever we ask. We so value you all!
Below is a photo from the most recent market stall. From left to right: Bruce, Linda, Jozie and Wendy posing under the delicious doorway hanging Wendy bought in Rajasthan. There are lots of beautiful new items-fabrics, jewellery, nic nacs. Please check us out at the Old and Gold on June 8th at 64 Fingal St Brunswick Heads or at our next Carboot Market in Lismore on July 7th.

That's it folks, please forward this newsletter to anyone you think may be interested in Empowering Women in India.

Thank you for the trust and support you have given over these past years.

Please remember the ARD website is

Namaste from Graeme and Wendy

Become a supporter of ARD by donating monthly or as a one off. Please visit our website
Volunteer your time, offer your skills, set up an ARD support group, hold a presentation in your home. Please contact us. We'd love your support!
In the Norther Rivers? Check out our stalls at the Car Boot Market in Lismore 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month. Goods to donate? Ring Bruce on 66220485.