It had been less than a week since my last field visit, and I was already craving for one more. I called up one of MASS’ field staff to find out about any upcoming SHG meetings. She said there was a meeting scheduled in Katageri at 9:30 am the next day. Katageri is a village in the Athani taluka of Belgaum district. The distance between Raibag, the place where I am put up, to Athani is 47kms; that is converted to a ride of roughly 1.5 hours on a local bus. Except for the heat, everything else seemed appealing. Though I spent most of my time on the bus shielding myself in vain from the sun using my semi-transparent dupatta, I enjoyed the bus ride. I always do. It is funny that I always analyze the direction of the route and the position of the sun, before choosing the left/ right side of the bus (these local buses get crowded in no time, so there is absolutely no chance of changing seats later). It is also funny that I almost always end up sitting on the wrong side. After getting off at the Athani Bus Station and meeting the employee from MASS, I learned that we had to catch one more bus to get to Katageri. I luckily got my analysis right this time; I was in the safe-sun zone. On my way, I found grapevines lined up on acres of land (If only the bus stopped there for a while and I had an expensive camera, I could have posted a visit-tempting picture of the vines). After a brief 10mins-bus ride we reached the village. 8 women loan-borrowers, all former Devadasis, were waiting in an open public hall. They jumped up as soon as they saw us coming. By now, I am used to their excessive hospitality. Over the many field visits, my reaction to their unreasonably high amiability has evolved from the ugly stare of amazement to the much finer thankful gestures. My agenda for the day was to talk to each of these women and to learn how the loan has helped them. From all the field visits I understood that the key to a fruitful discussion with them is not what or how many questions you ask them, or how much data you collect, but in fact a simple element- striking a connection with them. It really reduces to how comfortable you make them feel. In this case, the rapport was effortless. They were a friendly bunch of women- laughing, playfully teasing each other, so much so I suddenly felt a little old. They explained in a local Kannada dialect that they wanted to start the meeting with a prayer song. Unfamiliar with the language, I struggle to de-code the Belgaum Kannada. Most of the times, I just nod to give an immediate response, while still comprehending the sentence. And, that was what had happened that day. A lady started singing- Dorakidala Devi, Dorakidala. I was confused. The rest of them followed and repeated after her. More confused, I looked at the MASS’ employee to find out what was happening, and if we were supposed to sing along. She explained that it was a prayer song and they always start meetings with a prayer. The prayer lasted for 5 minutes, but the positive vibes definitely stayed with me for the rest of the day.I began discussing with each one of them, trying to analyze how Milaap’s efforts on these women materialized. In a nutshell, this was what I construed- they did not turn their lives around miraculously just with the help of a micro-loan, yet their lives were bettered in many unmeasurable ways. Over many discussions that day, I learnt that Lakkavva and Nagavva levelled their farms, Danavva bought a buffalo and now earns an extra Rs. 2500 every month, Chandravva’s future looks a little more promising because of her 2 healthy goats, Yallavva’s business is going smooth, Renuka and Yamnavva can expect a good increase in their monthly incomes, Gunavanthi can be sure about better days. All this was possible just with 8 micro-loans of Rs. 20000. These could look like small changes, but these small changes have large impacts on their lives. These small changes make significant differences – probably a 12-year-old can now hope to continue his education with the extra income his mother earns or probably a 50-year-old single, independent, woman can afford her medical treatment with the help of profits from her expanded business. It’s very short-sighted to limit the measurement of impact to evident and immediate changes, I thought. There I was, witnessing 8 inspiring stories of change. As I left the place, I wondered- What did it take to create such stories? A borrower, lender and a committed team.
A borrower, a lender, and a committed team