Roji Begum’s dream of earning money for her family has come true. A resident of Korat Bangaon village in Bihar’s Kishanganj district, Begum completed a six-month course in healthcare from Himachal Pradesh. She now works at Amrit Dhara Hospital in Karnal district of Haryana at a monthly salary of about Rs 10,000. Her job involves looking after patients and assisting the nurse on duty.
But life was not always smooth for 20-year-old Begum. In 2018, Begum flunked in the matriculation exam after which she stopped going to school. She could not pursue any vocational training due to her family’s economic condition.
When she learnt about the Second Chance program where girls could take up short courses at the Himalayan Group of Professional Institutions in Sirmaur district of Himachal, she went to Himachal. Despite a brief disruption due to the lockdown, her course got over in December 2020 and she has a job. For many young women like her, the program has been a turning point.
The Second Chance program is giving marginalized rural women another opportunity in life, be it pursuing short-term education after a break or earning through various initiatives like farming, tailoring and setting up small shops.
It is an initiative of UN Women and Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), a development organization, being implemented in three administrative blocks of Kishanganj. Amit Kumar Thakur of PRADAN said that the initiative started in August 2019 is aimed at providing women the right kind of platform to become independent in life.
The program is benefitting women who are economically weak. Shabnam Ara of Maltola village is one of the women who has benefitted from the program. With a six-member family to look after, Ara’s father, a farmer, found it difficult to support her studies, when the program came to their aid.
Apart from the training course in Himachal Pradesh, the Second Chance program has enterprises targeted at women in the age of 30 and above, who are mostly homebound after marriage. It gives them a chance to explore livelihood options and earn a reasonable amount of money. Women can learn farming, goat rearing or set up small businesses.
“My mother was keen that I should join the course. But my brother and father were not ready to send me so far. They relented after a lot of persuasion,” said Begum. “I took the course seriously and the five girls with whom I shared my hostel room in Himachal were very supportive.”
“Initially it was a huge challenge explaining the girls and their family members about the course in Himachal and motivating them to pursue it,” Thakur told VillageSquare.in. He said that most girls in the district drop out of education after the age of 16.
To inspire such girls, Renuka Kumari of PRADAN, who is also a local resident, acts as the mobilizer on the ground level and explains about the course in detail. She also meets the girls’ family members and urges them to send the girls to Himachal for the program.
Besides Begum, nine other girls from Kishanganj are pursuing the same course in Himachal. Masuda Parveen was idle after completing her education from a madrasa, as she could not afford to go to college. “My mother was reluctant initially, but my family finally accepted that I could work outside my home state Bihar and earn well.”
Homemakers turn farmers
Many women have taken up cultivation through this initiative. “After learning everything related to farming, I teach other women keen to learn the ropes of cultivation,” said Lalita Devi of Chapati village. “I wish this initiative had been started earlier. None of us had any idea on how to improve our lives.”
“I learnt everything from maintaining a nursery to sowing seeds and growing my own vegetables. The first time I just grew brinjals on a small portion of my land,” Lalita Devi told VillageSquare.in. “I now earn about Rs 4000 a month, by selling my produce. I even buy food items for my family.”
She has about 60 decimals of land in which she grows vegetables like tomatoes and brinjals. “Though the land is in my husband’s name, I am cultivating on it,” said Lalita Devi. “Earlier, I just used to sit at home and do household chores. My husband works in a tea estate nearby.”
Devi’s land is adjacent to her house. She finishes her domestic work, sees her husband off and then tends to her farm. “The vegetables I grow are for home as well as for sale,” she said. “Many women have taken up farming and their life has changed.”
“There are two weekly markets and we all earn somewhere between Rs 300 and 400 per day,” said Lalita Devi. Another villager Anita Devi is also doing cultivation, and her husband, who has a wheat flour mill, sells her produce in the market.
Besides farming, the program helps rural women in Kishanganj earn a living through other enterprises. Landless women like Basanti Devi of Chapati village rear goats. Here, as goats are small in size, they animals are not used for milk but sold when fully grown.
Rita Devi has a tailoring shop in the local marketand also stockscosmeticsand accessories like bangles and bindi. She started her shop about a year ago. “I used to be at home but now I come to the shop which is about a km away. I shifted to the market for ready customers. There are three women who have such shops. I set up my shop as I do not own any land and so cannot take up farming.”
Earlier, using her sewing machine she used to stitch clothes at home. “My husband works in a tea garden and I have two children,” she told VillageSquare.in. “Despite my responsibilities at home, I am at my shop from 1 pm to 7 pm every day. I earn about Rs 500-1000 per day.”
Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based journalist. Views are personal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org