Chetna Gala Sinha is a social activist who works for social change in some of the poorest and most drought-stricken areas of rural India. Since 1996 she has helped women organise educational tools and healthcare necessary to lead a productive life.
What’s amazing is that Chetna is a Mumbai girl. Thirty years back she married a farmer and moved to Mhaswad in Satara district in Maharashtra. They started a goat farm together. In her village Chetna met women who, like her, wanted to buy land and save money, but didn’t know how to. So Chetna founded the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank, a micro finance bank that lends to women in rural areas.
Banks did not want to lend to farmers, particularly women, but Chetna helped them overlook illiteracy in their clients.
“Just because a women doesn’t know how to read doesn’t imply that she can’t manage her money,” she says.
She began empowering women in drought prone areas of rural India by inculcating entrepreneurial skills and providing them access to land and other means of production.
In 2012 Chetna heard of a lady who had mortgaged her gold for cash. The lady had used the cash to pay for fodder and water for her animals, suffering due to a drought.
Chetna asked the lady why she didn’t just sell the animals.
The lady replied, “Would you sell your son if there’s no water?”
The farmers treated their animals like their children, Chetna realised. So if there were a drought they’d starve themselves but not their animals. Animals were, after all, important for farm work.
So Chetna found a way out for these poor farmers. She started a cattle care farm to give animals fodder and water. Despite many challenges, she was able to arrange 300 tonnes of fodder and 400,000 litres of water. Soon the farm was receiving 100,000 animals from 77 villages a week. But many of the animals had to walk for hours just to get basic food and water.
Chetna realised this was counter-productive.
So she found a way to take fodder and water to the animals. She faced many more challenges along the way, including garnering government support and getting through a year where there was no rain and no crop or water. Chetna still found a way to run the camp.
In a year’s time Chetna managed to build seven water dams that served as water reserves for the animals. More than that Chetna has managed to build a community. The disparity and hierarchy that is inherent in this community, as people are ranked by the animals they have, also broke down due to her efforts. Her happiness found way when the locals soon began celebrating Bendur, a festival for animals, together.
The amazing thing is that Chetna is not ready to rest on her laurels yet. She aims to support one million woman entrepreneurs by 2020. Bravo!
Pic Credit: Informed-Giving Dot Org