The COVID-19 crisis has spurred an entrepreneurial wave across the country. Rural women, particularly the farmers among them, have also jumped on board. They are, in fact, better placed to cope with the pandemic as their own uncertain lives pose every day challenges and keep testing their resilience. They carry the greater burden of nature’s cruelties and also have the emotional range to come up with amazing responses.

Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) has been one of the front rank nonprofits training rural women in the drought-prone Marathwada belt of Maharashtra to adopt climate-smart and drought-resistant farm practices. These women are now stewards of a new revolution that is resurrecting traditional farming and reviving time-honoured knowledge that has sustained these communities over centuries.

Many of these women saw COVID-19 as an opportunity to scale their work and use their insights to prepare their communities for the long battle ahead and to steer them through the impending food crisis.

Here are a few stories from villages in Maharashtra where women are serving as beacons in the smog that envelopes the hinterland.

Cultivating nutrition gardens during the #COVID19 Pandemic

Jijabai is an Arogya Sakhi from Madki village in Nanded district. With her training on nutrition gardening, she grows her own vegetables and fruits. She has empowered other women with her example to start their own gardens. Today, these kitchen gardens are helping families cope with the hunger crisis.

Arogya Sakhis, Self Help Groups (SHGs) and Community leaders, in partnership with Swayam Shikshan Prayog and government front-line workers, are helping vulnerable families in rural villages by creating awareness about crucial aspects like prevention, hygiene, social distancing, combating stigma and providing dry food and hygiene essentials.

Families in our village are aware about the seriousness of COVID-19, says Geeta Chavan 

Geeta Chavan is working in Mohtarwadi village in Osmanabad district as a Community Resource Person (CRP) with Swayam Shikshan Prayog. She works with the Gram Panchayat in her village as a leader. She has been creating awareness about pre and post safety measures for the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the support and contribution from her Mahila Shetkari Gat (Women’s Agriculture Group) members, she collected grains and vegetables for the neediest families. The group also collected funds from big farmers in her village and distributed them to over 80 families. The members also stitch masks for free distribution.

Leadership is the key to success, says Priya Khot

 

The nationwide lockdown paralyzed the life of the poor, making daily survival difficult. Panchincholi is one such village in Latur District, Maharashtra.

“Why aren’t people coming to help the poor?” asks Priya Khot, a Community Resource Person of Swayam Shikshan Prayog from Panchincholi village, who gave her PDS-allocated food items to three poor families as a sign of solidarity. Motivated by Priya’s action, 14 women from Mahila Shetkari Gat (Women’s Agriculture Group) came forward and mobilized food for 25 poor families. Priya runs a flour mill and provides free service so everyone in the village can grind wheat flour on the 15th and 16th of every month.

A training on mask-making was provided by Bhagyashree Mahila Griha Udyog, an NGO in Nilanga. Priya came back to her community and trained six women in mask-making. The group made 600 masks that are being collected by the NGO for distribution. When Panchincholi Gram Panchayat Sarpanch, Mr. Shrikant Salunkhe noticed Priya’s commitment and actions, he recommended the neighbouring Panchayat to use her skills in community mobilization and relief effort for COVID-19.

“I was so shy to go out and meet people. The changes came over me when I started getting involved in SHG meetings and become a Community Resource Person,” she says. Priya is overwhelmed with the response and recognition she has received. She has encouraged CRPs in neighbouring villages to work with the communities and support the gram panchayat.

“I am proud of what I am doing. Panchayat and community has shown me respect and I must give it back to my community,” says Priya Khot.

Selfless in the times of crisis…

 

Work-from-home has hit the widows – and their children – in Marathwada the most. They had lost their daily wage jobs and small businesses faced closure.

In the neighbouring district of Solapur, 20 widows in Boramani village had no one to look to. They would lose their dignity if they asked their neighbours for financial aid. Seeing their plight, Usha Gurav urged the members of her Self Help Group to step in. She said: “Wasn’t mutual aid the reason why we formed this group?” She motivated her group to dig into their precious savings in order to support 20 widows. In the presence of their Panchayat, the SHG procured and distributed 50 grocery kits, enough to feed over 200 people.

Unstoppable, these female leaders went on to help the Panchayat to look after migrants who have travelled back home empty-handed. “They are not outsiders, they are, after all, our people,” says Usha about villagers who have returned from various cities during the lockdown. Needless to say, these rural women have shown what it means to stay strong and kind in a global crisis.

Moin Qazi is a well known banker, author and Islamic researcher .He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He was Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He has authored several books on religion, rural finance, culture and handicrafts. He is author of the bestselling book Village Diary of a Development Banker. He is also a recipient of UNESCO World Politics Essay Gold Medal and Rotary International’s Vocational Excellence Award. He is based in Nagpur and can be reached at moinqazi123@gmail.com


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