Monday, December 27, 2010

Chronicles of a 'Development Migrant' in Rajasthan

It’s been 4 months for me in Gogunda, Rajasthan now and I am filled with stories from the field. I’m presently working with the Rajasthan Shram Sarathi Association (RSSA) which is a section 25 company started by Aajeevika Bureau in 2006.

My Organisation

RSSA primarily provides general purpose loans and emergency loans to migrant households in the rural tribal belt of southern Rajasthan and destination centers of migrant workers in Gujarat. Other services include linking migrant families with insurance and pension plans provided by the state government and other private entities. There is a general perception here that RSSA is only a loan provider, but part of my role here is to change that image by popularizing financial products like insurance and pension as well as moving towards a ‘wealth management’ approach in our services. My main task is to create a financial literacy model, pilot test it in a few treatment villages and evaluate its impact. The idea is to create a model that can easily be adopted by organizations elsewhere with a few modifications here and there. Furthermore, during the course of my work I am required to identify gaps in financial services for migrant families and if necessary design new financial products and services that are relevant for migrant workers and their families.

What I’ve been upto

In the first few months, I’ve literally been in the field almost every day, with very little time in the office. It has been amazing sitting down with migrant families and understanding their lives and their money management strategies. Every migrant family has a different story and this makes my task seem all the more challenging. How do we reach as many households as possible without running the risk of falling into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach?

What’s more fascinating are the savings mechanisms that exist here in the villages of Gogunda and Kelwara blocks. Gullak Bachat is a common savings tool here. I will put up pictures soon. What RSSA does is provide a Galla or a tin piggy box with a lock. We lock it up and give it to each loan client so that they can save regularly. However, the key is kept with us. On the day of collection, the loan installment is usually adjusted from the savings made by the client in the Galla. It hasn’t benefited all families, but overall it seems to have become an effective tool to not only save but also pay loan installments on time. We are further exploring how we can further use the Galla to encourage better wealth management strategies by households.

Local moneylenders are also considered an effective savings avenue. In the past 2 weeks, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt from the local staff is that a huge process of unlearning is so very essential if I have to understand financial behaviour of households here. For example, I was told that often people save Rs. 1000 with a local sahukar (moneylender) and then receive Rs. 900 at the end of one month. This may seem really stupid to an outsider (just as it did to me), but on closer scrutiny, it was found that the family valued 900 Rs. a month later when they had a baby due than 1000 Rs. today…because they knew if they had the money today they would spend it on unnecessary luxuries. This weird sort of saving mechanism takes quite a lot of time to digest (and I still haven’t been able to do so entirely).

I am the first female member of the RSSA staff and they’re quite thrilled about that. Most of the data that they have gathered in the past few years about financial behaviour of migrant households has mainly been sourced from male members. My role here is to actively involve women and even children in the wealth management process. The women here aren’t as passive as we think. They may be shy and quiet and docile, but they do have some smart ways of saving up cash in the home. Some of the women I spoke to hide money with wheat and corn, between saris, in small cracks in the walls, in earthen pots, in between photographs and where not. Understanding this in my opinion is crucial to developing the financial literacy model.

How can you help?
Please keep forwarding useful literature on financial literacy and financial behaviour of migrant households. I am still taking time to understand the financial dynamics of migrant households and the more I learn, the more complex it seems.

Also I would really appreciate any help on available insurance and pension products, particularly life insurance, personal accident insurance and health insurance for rural masses. I am already exploring the options available here such as RSBY, Rajasthan Vishwakarma Anshdai Pension Yojana, United India Insurance and Birla Kavach scheme. Any more schemes would obviously be useful to know.

On a Personal note…
Everything has been wonderful thus far !!!! I live in a small cozy room right next to the office. I have a wonderful family living downstairs who always have unlimited supplies of roti sabzi. That said, I cook every day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. I even wash my own clothes in the tiny little square that we call a bathroom and clean the place up whenever I find time.

Dhivya has been staying with me for a month because her room wasn’t available…but it is now and she will be moving in a day or two. I will certainly miss having her around and rambling about anything and everything late into the night…but I’m also looking forward to being a little more independent on the personal front.

When you look out my window, you will see corn fields encircled by the Aravalli mountains which are covered with a lush green carpet for now. I do have some rather friendly company in my room as well – two lizards, funny looking colourful insects from the corn fields and honey bees once in a while. I’ve become rather used to them now.

I love the people here. Everytime I go to buy vegetables or groceries I end up having tea with the chai wala or newspaper wala or the mithaiwala or bartanwala or people from the police force or anyone familiar whom I end up meeting. Even when I go for field visits, the villagers always forcefully stuff my bag with fresh vegetables from their fields. I am constantly touched by these little gestures that people here extend. Yesterday on my way back from a village, I met some one on the bus. Within a 30 minute bus ride she was so happy that she gave me a few wild bhindis and chillies that she had just plucked from here fields. Truly touched!

I am so thrilled to be here and spend the next 2 years working in such a warm, friendly environment and I can’t wait to have new adventures each day!!! I’ll just sign off with two lines from one of my favourite poets ‘Lord Byron’ in one of his poems called ‘The Dream’. It constantly reminds me that giving life to a dream is full of mixed experiences and the better prepared we are for it, the more we will enjoy the process!

And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy

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