It was raining, it was pouring, but no one was snoring. By the time I stepped out into the heavy rain at about 6 a.m., the small suburban town of Dakshin Barasat was alive and bustling. The open bazaar near my residence was already packed with people picking out the freshest fruits, vegetables and fish. From under a sea of black umbrellas, customers heatedly haggled with the sellers for the best price. The monsoon season is in full swing in West Bengal, but the torrential rain does not stop anyone from getting on with their daily activities. The rains are actually welcomed by the residents, because they allow for a brief respite from the brutal sun. The rain is also important, because the majority of the residents in the outlying regions are farmers, and the monsoon rains are crucial for their harvests.
I finally made my way past the maze of vendors and customers and met Krittibas, the manager of the Dakshin Barasat branch of the local MFI called DCBS. I hopped on the back of his motorcycle, and we started our journey to a small hamlet in the outskirts of the town to meet Firuja Molla. The whole journey was smooth, (except for the part where our motorcycle slipped on the slick, rain soaked brick path and we flew off the bike – no injuries, just a lot of mud) and, of course, the rain let up just as we arrived at Mrs. Molla's residence. All the other ladies in her group were waiting for us on the large veranda attached to the small yet quaint home.
Almost all of the ladies of the group "Nabarupa" were involved in some type of tailoring or embroidery work. The people of this region of West Bengal are known for a particular type of embroidery work known as "Chikan & Zari". It requires very delicate needlework and focus, and the labor-intensive process produces beautiful, shimmering designs for saris and other clothing.
Firuja Molla, the lady in the center of the frame wearing a black sari, is the leader of "Nabarupa" and is very skilled in the "Chikan & Zari" business. She is the mother of three young boys and one girl; her older son and daughter are currently enrolled in class 4. Her husband unfortunately passed away, and she has been raising her four children on her own, and with the support of the other ladies within her group.
For Firuja, her work is very important to her, because it is her sole income, and raising four children on her own is financially straining. Still, she told me that she is getting by fine with her business, and the only thing that holds her back are the frequent power cuts that often leave the entire community in the dark for hours a day. Before, Firuja and her group members had to rely on archaic and inefficient kerosene lanterns. These lanterns provide very little light and create a myriad of problems. For starters, she told me that it's nearly impossible to do delicate needlework under the dim light and that working near the flames was hazardous for the women and their work. Even more importantly, these kerosene lanterns are dangerous for her young kids to be around. During power-cuts, her children were forced to do their homework under the kerosene lantern and Firuja was constantly worried about her children getting burned by the flame or inhaling the noxious fumes.
Fortunately, thanks to the kindness of lenders like you, Firuja was able to receive a loan through the partnership between Milaap and a local micro-financing institution called DCBS (Dhosa Chandaneswar Bratyajana Samity). After receiving the solar lantern, Firuja told me in Bangla that "all things are much easier to do" during the long power-cuts. Along with doing her needle work and supervising her children's studies, daily tasks like cooking and cleaning are easily done under the bright light of the solar lantern.
She has also convinced many of the other ladies in her group and community to switch to solar light. One thing I really liked about their eagerness to switch to solar was that they had an acute understanding of environmental issues, and the sustainability of solar energy. It showed me that these women are very intelligent and aware of all the variables that go into making big decisions like this. They hope in the future that they will be able to completely switch to solar energy for all their electricity needs and are extremely grateful for the support from people like you.
Firuja Molla (center) sitting with other ladies in her group