The Finance Wiz

When she was forced to work as a coolie, little did Kamala know that from easing the burden of luggage, she would go on to ease financial burdens of the poor. In her new avatar, her motto is that all the poor be empowered and ensured of sustainable livelihood with dignity.

This is the story of Kamala, a resident of Rajiv Nagar colony in Kuppam of Andhra Pradesh. She was born in a poor family of 10 siblings with her parents eking out a living by doing coolie (daily wage worker) work. She could not go beyond 7th standard of schooling due to their poor economic conditions and she was driven to join her parents as a coolie at the very young age of 12. She also got married early to Suresh, a film operator in a local theatre and her family grew big with addition of four children. To make ends meet, Kamala worked as housemaid in a few houses and thus supplemented her family income.

In this meantime, one big incident was waiting to burden her both physically and mentally. Her husband was affected by stroke which led to disability of his two legs. So, the family’s total responsibility fell on her head. In order to meet the medical expenses of her husband, she suffered a lot. At that time, she accidentally attended a meeting run by the NGO in her village. That meeting was fully about the awareness and benefits of joining the Self Help Groups (SHGs) especially for poor women members.

After the meeting, Kamala - who was on the lookout for some economic activity to supplement her family income - had organized a women group in the name of ‘Omsakthi Grama Lakshmi Group’ under the aegis of “Velugu”, a government initiative in 1998 with the support of that NGO. This was the turning point in her life.

Then, she herself was groomed as a community leader in that village zone in 2000. That was the start of her empowerment. The doctrine of that group being “Savings First,” she initiated all her members to do a monthly saving of Rs.10 each and the corpus mobilized was used for internal lending. She herself took the first loan of Rs.1,000/- from the group and invested in a saree business. Then she availed a second loan of Rs.15,000/- and invested in household vessel business and gradually improved her family income. When she was in dire need of money for her children education, a group loan of Rs.30,000/- came in handy. In the same way, she could refurbish her dwelling with concrete roof by availing fourth loan of Rs. 60,000/-. No end to availing credit when the group exists, she availed her fifth loan of Rs. 70,000/- and accomplished her daughter’s marriage in a dignified manner.

Soon, she being a group leader and blossomed as a micro-banker. On-time and adequate credit made available at affordable cost as per the demand of members and ensuring their prompt repayment kept private money lenders at bay. Under Kamala’s leadership, the organization continued to remain as a model group because of her vibrant leadership. All systems that are iconic for a well-run group having been well placed in it. Not merely confining to her group activity, she took active interest in resolving the issues of other groups, actively participated in overdue recoveries, gave leadership training to leaders of other groups, organized health camps, skill training for livelihoods support activities and became instrumental for many group members to move out of poverty.

Impressed by her proactive role in the cluster activities, Kamala was then elevated as Vice Chairperson of the Federation in 2006. As a fallout, she was given many exposure visits, workshops, trainings and policy seminars organized at various centres like Madurai, Puri, Bhopal etc. She vividly recollects that only such exposure visits, leadership training programs and similar opportunities provided by that group have honed up her skills and shaped her as a successful community leader.

As the Vice Chairperson of Federation, she motivated all member groups to contribute towards Federation Building Fund and with huge fund mobilized; she joined hands with Federation coordinator in constructing the Federation Building as well. She struggled for over eight years and ultimately brought entitlements like Paavala Vaddi, Vaddileni Runalu, Revolving Fund etc. for the group. It was no surprise, that Kamala was the natural choice as Advisory Board Member of the Federation in 2009.

By virtue of her long experience - beginning at the group level first, then graduating to cluster level and now matured at federation level, she also developed her training skills and she has now emerged as a Master Trainer by which a larger number of upcoming leaders of other groups get trained by her in the Regional Level. As a true leader, she never feels self-contented on what she has achieved in the past and she only looks at the wish-list that goes very long with projects/activities like health project, agriculture and livestock training programs for members, a garment factory for federation, tuition centres for the ward of group members, old age home etc. On her personal end, she would like to support the education of her grandchildren and also to run a provisional store with only fair price tagged to all products sold in it for the benefit of customers.

All would agree that the growth trajectory of Kamala in emerging as community leader is something unique and amazing. Her motto is that all the poor are empowered and ensured sustainable livelihood with dignity.

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