The rise of the woman’s self help groups
Veema has lived in the Pettai gypsy community for 33 years. She only roams about two or three weeks in a year then she comes back to live in the area which we helped the traveler community buy. The gypsy community are just one of the many “unreachable groups” with whom we work to bring stability.
With education, gypsy girls are less likely to marry as young
Veema was among the first 25 gypsy children to be offered informal education by us more than two decades ago. The gypsy community is very close knit and inter-marriage is high. If girls marry into other communities then they are outcast. Veema got married to her cousin at 13. She was 15 when she had her first child, a boy who died very young.
She went on to have two daughters and one son. Her eldest daughter is going to secondary school and she is very happy. Veema thinks her daughter’s life will be different. She is attending an all-girls school and her mother is keen for her to study, perhaps going on to train at our teacher training college. If her daughter is educated, she will be a good role model for other students.
The women’s self-help group does much for the gypsy community
Vmeena is the head of Pettai’s women’s self-help group. It is an democratically run group which is run by village volunteers like Veema, and supported by our team of animators, who regularly visit the groups to share knowledge and training on a range of different activities from health to education.
One of the first priorities in each self-help group is to start a savings club so that people can borrow money from the group rather than from elsewhere. Earning money is not a problem for the gypsy community. However, outside of the women’s saving groups – which provide low-interest loans for personal and business use – others borrow from the money-lenders and are forced to repay debts with 120% interest.
Without the need to pay high loans, it means the villagers can afford to invest in other things that the community needs. One such example is Pettai housing project. For one house, each family needs to contribute RS17,500 and then we will provide RS25,000 with the rest of the money coming from a government subsidy of around RS70,000.
There are many ways we help a community
The new housing project and educational opportunities for the gypsy children are just two examples of the wide range of activities we employ to help make villagers and their villages more self-sufficient.