After over the last 34 years since 1986, more than 2000 young women have graduated from Grihini. Most have returned to their remote rural villages, but increasingly graduates are finding work in offices and factories as well as in other women’s’ development programs and as balwaddis (childcare) workers in villages. Not only do they find employment, but many choose to enrol in further education in nursing, social work and other studies. In the external evaluations conducted in the 20th and 30th years of the program more than 2000 women were proud to say ‘I am a Grihini’ and revealed some remarkable developments.
The first is in education. Over 30 years earlier most of the children in these villages either did not go to school or dropped out of Primary school very soon after only achieving one or two years of education that failed to assist their literacy development in their native language of Tamil. Now Grihini graduates who are mothers and grandmothers, insist that their children attend school as well as urge all other children in the village to attend. School attendance and equal treatment at school is now an expectation. Failure to experience the most basic of education is on the wane, which has become the impetus to ask ‘what next’ for Grihini. Grihini has established awards to support high performing graduates to go on to further studies in community colleges and universities to become nurses and social workers.
The second development is in leadership. Because of the confidence and awareness created in Grihini women, many move on to contribute to the leadership in the struggles of their villages. Grihini women have taken initiatives to secure victories in village struggles for gaining access to clean water, clean streets, toilets, roads, land rights and more. Unlike 20 years earlier, many Dalits (untouchables) are now able to take water from the same tap as the caste people as well as having taps of their own.
A third development is in representation. Awareness of their rights as women has led to Grihini women voicing their views not only in local sangams (womens’ groups), but as elected representatives on local councils and in public forums. Grihini graduates now elect village women as members the Grihini program Management Committee which recruits and selects young women for each Grihini program. Recently, with the help of a former government employee, Grihini graduates united to form a publicly registered unorganized workers union to promote the employment rights of the villagers in the cardamon and coffee plantations.
A fourth area relates to health. In spite of the fact that most of these villages still have no government health care centre, the Grihini women have worked hard to improve the health of their families. They have a had an impact on reducing the use of arrack (local alcohol that is highly toxic) and tobacco and in improving family diets and nutrition. The level of diseases has dropped considerably in the past 30 years.
A fifth area relates to employment. Prior to Grihini, the employment choices were few. Since Grihini commenced, many of the women have been able to gain an independent living using the skills acquired at Grihini to become tailors, Balwadi (childcare) workers and animators (within Grihini and in other programs). Others have been able to obtain a more reasonable salary for their coolie work, insisting on being paid the basic government wage.
A sixth is economic liberation from oppressive moneylenders through their early small savings and later through the government loan scheme for women and through income supplementation of their basic income. Prior to Grihini, most families carried debts across generations because families have turned to high interest charging moneylenders. In the initial years of Grihini, they were able to borrow from their own small savings scheme, in times of emergency such as weddings, funerals and illness and to cope with the unevenness of agricultural employment cycles. It was notable that they were always diligent in repaying their loans. They are also able to supplement their family income for short periods of time using their craft and tailoring skills to make items that are sold to tourists through their own shops. Today the Indian government provides funds for village women to form and resource action and support groups. At this point, Grihini ceased the small savings scheme not wanting to overshadow the important Indian government initiatives.
Finally, Grihini is proving to be a catalyst for changes in cultural and social expectations. The presence of Grihini in these villages has changed the attitudes and lives of many. In the villages where there are Grihini, there is a greater tolerance for active participation of women, and a greater tolerance for difference and expectation regarding the possibilities and entitlements for those living in remote villages. Grihini graduates now represent the enlightened women of the villages who have a new sense of self-worth and a new respect for others.
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