Adolescent girls take the leap
Growing up has acquired a different meaning and value for many adolescent girls across Gujarat who are involved in neem seed collection for the Neem project. The project has lent a sense of ambition, confidence and expanded their horizon on their future possibility. The project has also given them a grounding in the value of skill development, education and financial literacy.
Adolescent girls from different villages across the districts of Kutch, Gandhinagar, Patan, Bharuch and Banaskantha are getting involved in seed collection in increasing numbers. Most of these girls have studied only till standard VIII and this is their first foray into earning for a living. Social norms and family circumstances have forced a lot of these girls to drop out of the formal education system.
What started initially as an experiment and recreational activity has in the last two years matured into a fully-fledged economic activity wherein the girls earn a steady income for the two months which constitute neem seed collection season. Encouraged by the income that the activity generated in the first year of operation (2015-16), the girls now hire a small van to travel to other villages and their vicinities to collect more neem seeds, thereby earning more income.
Their stories are full of hope and ambition. Nitishaben mentions how she wants to continue with this project and is involving her friends in it too, because of the benefits. She sees the value in skilled labour and is very keen on taking the next leap towards getting trained in a particular skill because she sees the empowerment that it has brought to her.
Many adolescent girls are saving money to pay for the education of their siblings so they do not have to drop out of school and indulging, some say for the first time, in personal luxuries of buying jewellery and accessories.
A story of empowerment
The path is narrow and clean, lined with lush Neem trees. There are bricks and sacks of cement stacked along the way. As we walk along, a beaming Kanchanben, a woman of around 35, points out towards the bricks and cement and tells us with an unmistakable sense of pride that she bought it this year to repair the walls of her house with the money she earned through Neem seed collection. There is a sense of confidence, and a sense of hope and optimism in her tone. Next year, she tells us, she plans to earn more through seed collection so she can pay for her daughter’s senior secondary education. She has already started discussions with neighbourhood women and GNFC officials on ways to optimise collection in 2017.
A UNDP impact assessment study conducted on the Neem Project, reports that women involved in the project have stated that they exert greater decisions making powers in household decisions and financial control over their own earnings and assets that they buy/repair. This has given rise to a sense of empowerment among the women.
Kanchanben earned about seven thousand rupees in May-June this year by collecting and selling neem seeds to GNFC as part of the Neem Project. “This is a dependable and conformable source of income. We all want to be more involved in this. The project is becoming increasingly popular. Last year, when this project was launched in the village only 50 women were involved. This year, because of the nature of work and the money it helps us earn, 200 women have joined by their own accord. Nearly all the womenfolk in our village are now part of this project,” she says.
Unlocking the untapped entrepreneurial spirits of women in rural Gujarat
The Neem project has given rise to dreams and aspirations and fuelled the entrepreneurial spirit of many women in Gujarat. Currently different models have been established to maximise income through the livelihood opportunity that the project offers.
Maltiben Choudhary, from Pratappura village, Kalol in Gandhinagar District, Gujarat has been on the forefront of leading initiatives for women in her village. When the Neem project was announced and explained to her and other women in the village they decided instantly that this was a project that they wanted to be involved in.
Maltiben and other women from her Sakhi Mandali got together the next day and spoke to the labourers who work on the fields. They explained the project to them and the economic potential it holds. The labourers during seed collection season now collect the seeds from the land belonging to the women and their families in the Pratappura. In addition they also collect neem seeds from their own villages are nearby vicinities and sell it at the Village Level Collection Centre (VLCC).
Maltiben and the Sakhi Mandal members are the nodal persons for the project and are the go-between for GNFC and the seed collectors. They take a commission on a per kilogram of neem seed that is sold at the VLCC. On an average the Sakhi Mandal members are earning around INR 8000 a month during seed collection time.
From making soap to making dreams come true
Ramaben Lahane (Age: 50 years), lost her husband in 1997. At that time, she had two children and was pregnant with the third child. Her family members were not in a position to support her.
She had to take responsibility of herself and her three children on her own. She started doing small stitching work and shoe polish work, so that she can get some earning and also take care of her children, since they were very young. As the children started going to school, she started working at various construction sites.
In 2017, she joined GNFC’s Neem Project. Here, she was given training in manufacturing and packaging of various neem products. She is a very hard working woman and very happy to join this project. Her earnings has increased considerably and she is able to live a comfortable life now.
She has supported her daughter in her education with the earnings. Her daughter is pursuing LLB. She has spent days when during rainy days, they had to manage under a small space covered with plastic and passed days by having only tea and bread as their food.. This project has changed their lives.
Rekhaben Vasava (Age: 33 years), from Village Kukarvada, District Bharuch joined Neem Project through the self help group of their village. Her husband is working as plumber. Earlier she used to work in farms on daily wages.
She has two kids. One boy and one girl. After joining the project, she is now able to send one child to private school. Later on, she is planning to send the other child also to private school.
Jyotsanaben Patel (Age: 36 years), from Village Kukarvada, District Bharuch joined Neem Project through the self help group of their village.
Her husband is working as driver.
She has four children. Three girls and one boy.
Her eldest daughter is married. With the help of this project, she is able to send her second daughter to college. Other children are studying in school.
Manjuben Vasava (Age: 41 years) is from Village Paguthan, District Bharuch.
With the help of the income from this project, she is able to send her daughter for computer coaching, after she passed out her 12th standarad.