Written by our fellow, Kunal who is working closely with our field partner DCBS in Dakshin Barasat, West Bengal. I have settled down in the land of West Bengal and have commenced my first day of field visits with a blast!My first field visit outing encompassed visiting several borrowers in two villages within the environs of local district headquarters, the town of Dakshin Barasat. All of them are village women who have borrowed Milaap-financed loans (through our field-partner, DCBS) to purchase solar-powered lanterns. I was accompanied by several of DCBS’ employees, including their regional manager, Mr. Arun Das. They not only assisted me as my translators, but also facilitated the scheduling of interviews with borrowers, while briefing me on the profiles of each borrower.[caption id="attachment_1566" align="alignnone" width="415"] Interviewing borrowers with DCBS' Regional Manager, Arun Das[/caption]Although I am well acquainted with a fast changing and modernizing urban India, my initial impression of entering these villages was like going inside a time machine that pulled me back to an India of a century before. Superficially, these rural communities mirrored the descriptions of a Rudyard Kipling novel. I am referring to the descriptions of thatched mud huts, encircled by tree-lined dirt roads and tranquil rice fields and ponds, which are inhabited by village women adorning colourful saris and their male counterparts wearing kuta pyjamas, who toil in the fields all day long. Such an image paints a picture of an un-evolving world steeped in centuries of tradition, ancient lifestyle with little signs of modern technology.[caption id="attachment_1568" align="alignnone" width="604"] Curious villagers observing their latest visitor.[/caption]However, these initial impressions were quickly shattered within 5 minutes of my first interview. I began to interact with ladies who were well informed about the outside world, including modern technologies such as the computer and internet, albeit lacking direct access to them. Have I by any chance forgotten to mention that nearly all their homes are connected to the electric grid? My favourite story to remember was when I ended up conversing with one of the borrowers, Roshmi, on Kangaroos, an eminent Australian symbol with which she was familiar, when she discovered I grew up in Australia! Over that, they were professionally dynamic people who were involved in a whole range of professions. During daytime, some of them were jewellery makers, while others embroidered saris or even owned their own apparel stores or tea stalls. But at night, they all metamorphosed into mothers and wives, who would tirelessly assist their children with their school studies and cook for their families.I jotted on my notepad a whole range of their exciting stories. I discovered in my interactions with them that Milaap-financed solar-powered lanterns are profoundly impacting their daily activities. For starters, I learnt that for all of them, solar-powered lanterns have enabled them to carry out daily tasks at night during electric blackouts. The lanterns are of great use when they are cooking or assisting their children with their school homework. More so, they are able to pursue their respective professions in the early evening with the privilege of working under “power cut immune” solar lighting. I discovered that their incomes had increased as of consequence.Prior to owning a solar-powered lamp, nearly all of them used kerosene lamps to deal with power cuts. Yet these lamps were health hazardous and consequently detrimental to their health and those of their families. The most common health problem is eyesores caused by excessive exposure to kerosene oil fumes. Another major issue is their children being unable to study at night because of difficulty of reading and writing in dim lighting.[caption id="attachment_1570" align="alignnone" width="604"] Banita Mondal, an aspiring entrepreneur, is able to sell garments at her store at night thanks to a Milaap solar-powered lantern.[/caption]Thankfully, the solar-powered lanterns have rectified such issues. It was a pleasure to see that Milaap is improving the lives of so many ladies and their families, at least in rural West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas District. I feel happy to see such an outcome, as I facilitate Milaap’s relationship with these communities. I know that we all, including you lenders, have made a difference, when I saw our borrowers smile at the end of each interview. That is the hallmark of not just Milaap’s success, but ours as well.
An Awesome First Field Visit: Seeing Borrowers Light up their Lives with our Solar Powered-Lanterns