THOUGHTS FROM A VISIT TO KALHAT SECO’S NEW HAND IN HAND VILLAGE
In November 2018, a delegation from Seco Sweden was in India to visit the village of Kalhat, which the company is supporting in collaboration with the Hand in Hand organization. One of the visitors was Maria Blomqvist, Seco’s Global Environment, Health and Security Manager. She speaks about her experiences here.
Together with Meena Gagare, Seco’s CSR Coordinator in India, Maria Norén and Veronica Gardner from Seco Sweden, I got on a bus with very bad shock-absorbers for a bumpy ride to the village of Kalhat, some sixty kilometers from Pune. I was nervous about what we would see. Would there be poor people without – as I see it – any quality of life, like the street children I’d just seen in Pune?
After nearly three hours on the bus, we arrived in Kalhat, where we received a fantastic welcome. Nearly all the inhabitants were standing lining the road, dressed in their finest clothes. A few boys were playing the drums, and the women blessed us with incense, marked our foreheads with a spot of colored powder, and hung garlands of flowers around our necks. Together, we walked in a procession through the village to the place where the welcoming ceremony would take place. It was like a large outdoor hall, where the entire village had gathered. At the front was a stage, on which we were placed in a row. We were each given a shawl, a coconut and a rose as welcoming gifts, a somewhat strange custom for us Westerners, but clearly common in India. The boys who had been playing the drums earlier sang a song of welcome, and then proudly and joyfully staged a short play they had written for us.
After the welcoming, we were given a tour to see the work that had been started thanks to Seco’s donations. We came to a classroom in which the women in so called Self Help Groups (SHGs) had gathered. The women meet in these groups to make decisions and to discuss the future based on their own agenda. I had the opportunity to ask questions about the education they were receiving, their thoughts and what they need. I was a little afraid that they wouldn’t dare to say what they thought, but I was surprised about their openness.
Seco’s project in Kalhat will run for thirty months. The objective is for the village to be self-sufficient, not needing to rely on outsiders for an acceptable quality of life. At the time of our visit, the program had been running for six months and the inhabitants were a bit like children at Christmas – all the presents had to be opened at once. But acquiring knowledge about how a community is to be organized and become self-sufficient takes time. It warmed my heart, however, to see how they wanted to get everything in order immediately.
Part of the project for self-sufficiency is providing the women with identity documents. They will then officially become a part of society and will, for example, have the possibility of taking bank loans. Thanks to this, several women have already been able to start their own microbusinesses. One has started a small kiosk with groceries and other necessities. Another manufactures spices, while a third sews clothes. Two women have started farms: one for milk from cattle and one for milk from goats. Plastic bags are prohibited in the province, and a company that manufactures paper bags has been started. The woman who owns that company proudly told us that she had already gotten an order for five kilograms of bags.
When we left for home, I was filled with various emotions. My fears that the people we met would lack faith in the future, however, were ill-founded. Everyone we met had a great drive and great faith in the future. They are eager, committed and want to develop. They want to learn more about marketing their businesses and about new, better technologies. The desire to find things to improve as well as things that are missing have already been planned into the investment program. For me, this confirms that Seco’s donations have been well invested, and that the program contains the right things. I am also convinced that we are investing in the right people. They will manage this knowledge well and use these advantages in the best possible way. I look forward to revisiting them in a year, to see how far the village has developed. Considering how far they’ve come in just six months, I have high expectations.