June 18, 2019

In Conversation: Secretary of Ekta Women’s Federation, Chandrapur

Chandrakala Uttamroa Ramgirwar, better known as 'Chanda Didi,' is the Secretary of the Ekta Women's Federation in Chandrapur Maharashtra, and a mother of two. In a conversation with Thrive, she talks about her experience and journey after becoming an SHG member and the transformation that this people's institution has brought to women and communities in the district.

How was the Ekta Women's Federation established?
In the initial period, Ambuja Cement Foundation focused only on establishing Self Help Groups and their income generation activities. Later on as more and more women started joining the groups, the team thought of starting a Women's Federation to support the marginal women families in the district, at a broader level. Today, Ekta Women's Federation provides women training on micro-credit and income generation activities linked with local banks. The federation members avail loans and develop a credit rotation plan among group members. Additionally, since the federation is associated with Ambuja Cement Foundation, it plays a crucial role in driving other ACF programmes such as sanitation and village development.

What are the services Ekta Women's Federation offers?

The federation members have employed their collective wisdom and power to fight a range of issues - alcoholism, domestic & sexual abuse, social security for widows, sanitation, etc. Over the years, these women have created a system of mutual support - fighting biases and demanding their rights.

How has your journey been so far?
I have now been associated with Ambuja Cement Foundation for the past 18 years and the journey has been very exciting. Since my husband's business was not doing well, I needed to start an initiative to ensure a sustained income in our family. Sevai, a breakfast option, was in demand in the district and I decided to take a loan to purchase equipment that makes the product. It provided a basic amount of profit but it wasn't enough for our family. I later got to know that the ACF office needed provision with lunch for the team and introduced a Food Mess System for the team members. Meanwhile, my husband had shut his business and we decided to take a Rs. 1 lakh mudra (loan) to practice goat rearing in our household.

Seeing my interest and passion for work, I was selected for the post of secretary to the Ekta Women's Federation; to inspire the women of one village. In 2012-13, we decided to provide an opportunity to women working at all levels for understanding usage of compost and seeds for agricultural farming. With utmost dedication, I connected women to the services of the organization and today have inspired women in more than 30 villages - overseeing projects along the way.

In 2014-15, the organization received financial support from Finance World to develop toilets in the village. It was a challenge to connect with women from a financially weak village. But as soon as we received the funds, I inspired the women by showing them examples of other villages and together we built toilets through loans, empowering village women with uncooperative families. We built 27 toilets in Hardona village and inspired a few more women to start their own ventures.

What are the challenges you faced along the way?

I had initially faced a lot of challenges from my uncooperative extended family since we had an inter-caste marriage which was hampering my work and leading me to not deliver work on time. I was determined to face all challenges including low levels of trust within the family, weak financial condition but more and more challenges kept cropping up around me. Around that time, I heard that Ambuja Cement Foundation forms support committees which eventually led me to break ties with my family and continue an independent life with husband and daughters.

What Next?

Through the support of ACF and Ekta Women's Federation, my daughters are now both working towards become graduates and I will continue to be an inspiration for them. I will carry on my duties to visit several villages and create awareness about the various services like women entrepreneurship, sanitation and animal husbandry. People have gained trust in me and return loans on time. Women from the village are also supporting me along with the local panchayat to make Hardona an Open Defecation Free, setting an example to other villages. We have, today, become a close group of individuals working together to bring change in our villages and want the federation to receive recognition in the whole district.

June 18, 2019

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