There’s a woman living in rural India named Jayashree who wanted to buy a buffalo last year, so I helped her buy one. I contributed only $25 but my small contribution, along with microloans made by eight other total strangers, allowed her to raise the Rs 20000 necessary to buy her buffalo.
Jayashree is about my age but has lived a completely different life. After escaping her life as a devadasi, she’s starting over by buying a buffalo in order to start her own business.
What is a Devadasi? Common in southern India, it’s a system which ‘dedicates’ girls to a life of sex work in the name of the Hindu religion. This system was outlawed in 1988 but still exists in many areas.
An interesting article in The Guardian looks at the lives of some of these women.
According to the author, “Her future, like that of other devadasis, is uncertain. Once they are around 45, at which point they are no longer considered attractive, devadasis try to eke out a living by becoming jogathis or begging near the temple.”
Jayashree is 53 and, hopefully, her buffalo business will enable her to avoid a life of begging near the temple.
Last year I was introduced to an organization based in India called MILAAP and, through this organization, I was introduced to Jayashree. When I was studying the biographies of people applying for a loan, her story touched me and I contributed to her purchase of a buffalo. I think I connected with her partly because we were exactly the same age but living completely different lives.
MILAAP began as a microlending platform for the poor living in rural India, people living in poverty who need a helping hand to make improvements in their lives. These microloans are not gifts, charity, or handouts. The loans are repaid with interest, and once the repayments have been made the money is available to be loaned again.
In recent years, MILAAP has expanded to become a larger online crowdfunding organization. They now represent a wide variety of causes and provide donations as well as low-interest microloans.
When Jayashree applied for the loan last year, she had escaped her life as a devadasi and was working a low-paying job at a local agriculture farm earning about Rs100 per day (that’s about $1.48USD). Her dream was to supplement this income by becoming an entrepreneur, starting a buffalo rearing business. This business would allow her to earn an additional Rs2000 per month.
The terms of the microloan required repayment within 18 months. Since that time, she has repaid $20 of the $25 that I contributed.
The repayment has been credited to my account so now I need help deciding who’s dream to co-fund next. The loan requests are categorized by “Cause” and include education, housing, sanitation, water, energy, agriculture, and enterprise development. Since my previous loan to Jayashree was in the area of “enterprise development”, I decided to expand my search this time to include education and energy.
My top three choices are:
1.) Microloan for Education: Kalyani Sahu, 11
Kalyani lives in the small village of Dunguripali, in Odisha, with her parents and brother. She attends the U.G.M.E. School in Sandhupali where she is in class 5 to 7. Her parents realize the importance of education, especially for a girl, and are committed to doing all they can to provide a quality education.
Their monthly income is Rs 9000 ($132 USD) and their monthly expenses are about Rs 7000 ($103 USD), which leaves little for Kalyani’s education. They are requesting a loan of Rs 30,000 ($441 USD) from Milaap’s partner, the Mahashakti Foundation, with an 18-month repayment term. These funds will provide private tutoring as well as cover expenses for books and school supplies.
Kalyani’s parents support their daughter and want her to succeed in life and escape from poverty once and for all. (I fear where she could end up without an education.)
2.) Microloan for Energy: Sima, 20
At 20 years old, Sima is a mother of two children and lives in a small village of North Dinajpur, West Bengal. She works in the vegetable business and brings in a monthly income of Rs 7500 ($110 USD). Electricity in her area is expensive and unreliable with frequent power outages. Sima wants to reduce the monthly charges for electricity by purchasing a solar lantern, which also will allow her children to study in the dark evenings. She has applied for a loan of Rs 2400 (that’s only $36USD) over a period of 12 months.
3.) Microloan for Enterprise Development: Sumitra, 53
Sumitra, a former devadasi, lives in the small village of Mugalkhod with her husband where she does part-time work in agriculture with local farmers. Their monthly income is around Rs 15,000 (about $220 USD) and expenses are Rs 11,000 ($162 USD) so there is little left over to expand her buffalo raising business. Sumitra has requested a loan of Rs 50,000 ($735 USD) from Milaap’s partner MAAS, with an 18-month repayment schedule. By expanding her buffalo herd she anticipates a monthly increase of Rs 3,600 ($53 USD). (Buffalo are often raised by village women for their milk which can be sold or turned into butter, ghee or curds.)
A few years ago I was involved in volunteering and fundraising for organizations in Haiti and was sometimes asked, “Why Haiti? The US has so many issues, so why help Haiti?” My response was usually something like “there are many needs and very little governmental help. And because people are people.”
So, in answer to the question, “Why India?” – because people are people. And because MILAAP makes it so easy to really make an impact on the lives of people with very simple dreams.
Please comment with your funding choice – Kalyani, Sima, or Sumitra ?
(Someday I hope to travel to India to meet Jayashree and her buffalo in person!)
(Photo Credit: Milaap)