Time is money for residents at the village of Ahirwas in Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar District. With only about 5-6 hours of power supply a day, villagers like Futa Bai Ramsingh rush against time to complete their work. Powered by electricity, her sewing machine has been the true breadwinner for her household for more than 20 years. Situated about 80 kilometres away from the city of Indore, Ahirwas is largely a tribal area with most people earning their livelihood through farming, coolie work or running small enterprises.
Like many women in her village, Futa Bai never went to school. After her marriage at the age of 18 she began assisting her husband in the family-based enterprises which included stitching apparels for factory outlets and shops in Indore. In recent years, owing to shortage of manpower, apparel units in Indore have approached villagers like Futa Bai to stitch shirts and trousers. Apart from the stitching, the couple also undertook farming to meet the household expenses. In 2009 Hand in Hand introduced its self-help group and microfinance intervention in Ahirwas, and women like Futa Bai saw an opportunity they had been waiting for years — an opportunity to progress. “It is so nice to join a self-help group; women come together and lend support to each other,” she says. After she joined the Preeti Self-Help Group, she obtained a loan of INR 5,000 and bought another sewing machine; the couple was able to stitch more trousers and thereby earn more.
The decision to buy the machine, as she would come to realise, was worthwhile. Last year, Futa Bai’s husband passed away. Despite the personal grief, Futa Bai was determined to continue with the family-based enterprise. Her son joined her and together the mother-son duo marshaled their resources to sustain their enterprise. Encouraged by the ways in which SHG women were strengthening their enterprises, Futa Bai too decided to follow suit. Two months back, she took another loan of INR 10,000. She used the money to purchase 100 pieces of fabric at INR 100 apiece. The factory outlet from where she purchased the fabric has already agreed to buy the readied trousers at INR 200 apiece. “This is such a steep jump in income for me; at one point I used to get paid INR 10 for every trouser that I stitched. I have been able to achieve this thanks to Hand in Hand’s initiatives in my village,” says Futa Bai. From earning about INR 5,000 a month, she and her son, today, earn between INR 8,000 and INR 8,500 a month. This is apart from the income they earn from the farming and the wheat that they grind for villagers. Dete rmined to excel, Futa Bai hopes to expand her enterprise in the years to come.