How Urmila rebuilt her life after losing her husband to cancer | Milaap

How Urmila rebuilt her life after losing her husband to cancer

Today, I woke up in a small village called Mayureshwar in the Bhirbum district of West Bengal, which is about two hundred kilometers away from Kolkata. The best way to get there from Kolkata is by taking a train known as the Shantiniketan Express and getting off at the Sainthia stop. Shantiniketan, which is a stop before Sainthia, is famous for its association with revered Indian Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore lived in this area for many years of his life and penned some of his most famous works during his time here. I had come here as a child many times and visited Tagore's home and the other various monuments erected in his honor. This time around, I was here strictly to meet the local people and to gain a better understanding of their lives and their successes after receiving a small loan through Milaap and its partner Sreejan.
 
This morning, I was accompanied by the branch director of Sreejan, Mr. Arup Ghosh, who was very excited for me to meet some of the borrowers he has been helping for years. While sitting on the back of his motorcycle, we travelled through the main bazaar, and it seemed that every other person greeted him with a smile and a hello. "At Sreejan, we've tried to build strong relationships with the people we work with, we don't want them to think of us as intimidating people, but really as friends, concerned with their well-being," explained Mr. Ghosh as we made our way through the market place.
 
We then took a small dirt path off the main road which lead us to a small cluster of homes surrounded by vast fields. This is where we met with Ms. Urmila Hazra, who has been taking loans through Sreejan for some time. Urmila is 58 years old, and has been through many experiences in her life. She explained to us that her husband had passed away about five years ago from lung cancer, "He loved smoking beedis too much, and it most likely damaged him inside". Since then, times were very difficult for her, but she has been supported by the rest of her family and other women that live in her community.
 
She and her younger brother had recently taken a loan through Sreejan, with the support of Milaap lenders, to start a tea stall business in the nearby bazaar, which had been lacking one for a while. With the loans, she was able to purchase all the goods needed to start a proper tea stall like tea, milk, pots, biscuits, clay cups called bhars, and other various items. She exclaimed with a bright smile on her face that business has been going extremely well, because most of the visitors of the bazaar are "always in need of some chai while they purchase their days-worth of groceries," she explained. Her son, who used to work as a day laborer, has joined the business and is much better off working at the tea stall. "We are now looking to expand our business, and are thinking about getting into the cloth business, which we could supply to local tailors here," Urmila explained. I could tell I was now talking to a bonafide entrepreneur because she could see what the local demand was and how to supply it.


Urmila (3rd from the left) with the other ladies in her self-help group