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Sunday, December 14, 2014

$15 a month is transforming so many lives!!---Visiting NISHTHA programs in West Bengal 1

YGB's last visit is NISHTHA programs in rural villages, South of Kolkotta. Kolkotta was the capital of India during the British Empire and I am amazed to see recent development of the city with new industrial parks, Metro construction, and traffic like Los Angeles! It seems like the economy is booming here at first sight. However, as we go into rural villages, people's lives remain extremely poor. Here, YGB has launched its direct funding program "Sister Aid" in 2010, partnered with a respected local NGO NISHTHA (which means Devotion in Bengali) who has been serving for the poorest women and girls for the last 35 years, reaching out to 300 poor villages in this area, called Baruipur.
Three generations of NISHTHA leaders; Priti Lata Das, Mina Das and Manami Das
For the first time, we met 80 year old Ms. Priti Lata Das whom everyone calls "Shawna Ma" (Golden Mother) with deep admiration. As a young bride herself, Priti saw unimaginable abuse against young child brides in her neighbor communities, which led her to found NISHTHA. At her home, she created a room for nine local child brides to gather so that they can share their experiences in a safe environment, as well as sharing her own knowledge of writing, singing and sawing. Priti just could not tolerate how rural women were treated badly in poor agrarian homes by their own husbands and in-laws.

35 years later, her daughter Mina Das runs NISHTHA with her nieces and about 100 staff, supporting total of nearly10,000 poor girls, women and grand mothers in this region, offering services and support from education, health care, vocational training, day care, ecological education and more. Mina's commitment to empower poor women has truly been a revolutionary undertaking. Mina is dedicating her life to this cause, and she does not take any day off for herself. Mina knows very well that tens of thousands of women's lives are at a danger of being abused at any moment.

Today I am very pleased to witness YGB's "Sister Aid" program's real positive impact.  Last four years, YGB global community has grown tremendously and we now support 209 mothers with micro loans and nobody has defaulted yet!!  This program also offers education fee for one daughter per each micro loan recipient mother. Today, 210 young girls are funded to stay in school to avoid child marriage or child labor. It costs only $15 per month for a mother to start an income earning business or a young girl to continue her education at school. Many of us spend $15 for a casual lunch in the West, while the same amount of money can transform these people's lives so fundamentally. Just imagine, if everyone from the world yoga community donates just $15 per month, how many people can be supported for a real transformation out of poverty, reaching their dreams!

This afternoon, I was so happy to bump into two young micro loan recipients carrying "Yoga Gives Back Sister Aid Project" bag to go to a local bank to deposit their savings. These women never even had a chance to go to a bank before the loan started!!! It took a while for them to feel comfortable to interact with bank clerks, but today, they are very confident with smile. 

NISHTHA Director Mina Das says, "This program is so important as this is the only program to help poor rural women with micro loans for them to start their own income earning work, which is not only giving them economic power but most importantly their self confidence. This program is also very innovative as it does not ask interest to the micro loan borrowers, but requires them to save minimum of 50 rupees per month for their daughters' future education. This is a revolutionary program empowering women and girls."

In three days, we have visited 9 villages out of 18 villages YGB now funds. I am truly inspired to encounter so many women's confident smile, who were so frail and shy a few years ago. When I first met Chaya Naskar, she looked very pale and thin, expressing anxiety about her future. Her husband deserted her and her daughter. She was stuck at her in-law's house who were also not very happy about the situation. She did not even have enough food for themselves. Four years alter,  with a micro loan of 3000 Rupees, she sells vegetable on the street and business is growing. Today, she is making enough profit to care her daughter's heart condition as well as her independence. Though still thin, she looked much healthier and her glowing smile conveyed her confidence and positivity in her life and her daughter's future.

Pompa now hires 150 local women to make ornaments. She built concrete home and toilet.

Some women groups decide to work as a group to make more profit with their business


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  2. So proud of you, Kayoko! Your journey is so inspiring and is having such a tremendous impact on the lives of these women. Keep up the great work! :)