An Inspiration to the Community – Overcoming Disabilities

The Salim FamilyIrfan Salim is from the Puthenjunnu village in Bathery, Kerala, South India. He is a shy but determined man who was born physically disabled and has no use of either of his legs. To help earn a living for the family, his wife Hafsa cleans houses. They have two children; an elder daughter, Tahseen, who is studying fifth grade and a younger daughter, Asifya who is studying second grade.

Both daughters suffer from tuberculosis and need expensive medicine and treatment, which the family cannot afford. The FDP staff members have worked with the family to find a suitable income generation project for Irfan that would give the family more financial stability.
Repairing Bicycles

Irfan was able to attend a bicycle repair workshop and was motivated to begin a small business using his new skill. As he gained momentum and excitement, he expressed his desire to start a small snack shop near their house as well, as there were none in the neighborhood. Now he is successfully operating both of his businesses and has accessed a government resource that provided him with a three wheeled motor bike, allowing him to complete his tasks more quickly.


He is not only an example of how this program can allow a family to become self-reliant, but he is a source of inspiration for others in his community. He does not allow his disability to limit him.

Three Wheel Motor Bike


Towards Equality

“Men and women ought to recognize their intrinsic unity and should be able to cherish a life of mutual love, service and respect, togetherness, cooperation, and reciprocity rooted in human dignity and based on equal partnership. Only then will true progress, peace and development be brought about.” – Kerala Catholic Bishops Council of India (gender policy, 2009)

“Men and women ought to recognize their intrinsic unity and should be able to cherish a life of mutual love, service and respect, togetherness, cooperation, and reciprocity rooted in human dignity and based on equal partnership. Only then will true progress, peace and development be brought about.”
– Kerala Catholic Bishops Council of India (gender policy, 2009)

“A woman is now raped in India every 20 minutes…” A statistic from the National Crime Records Bureau of India, which made international news this year with relation to the horrific cases of rape and violence towards women in India. Sources show that rape cases in India have doubled between 1990 and 2008 and that 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011. The real situation in India is that the number of cases of gender-based violence is much higher, it just goes unreported.

The issues around why this culture of abuse and violence towards women exists are extremely complex. This is not a recent trend but one that stems from a deeply rooted and inherent preference for boy children and an undervaluing and lack of appreciation of girls and women. These statistics are more than just numbers to Save A Family Plan (SAFP), as the women and girls within our programs face this discrimination on a daily basis. We have seen the faces and heard the stories of those who have very real experiences with acts of emotional, physical and sexual violence.

SAFP is committed to the empowerment of the poor and marginalized people of India, and to promoting a society where women, men, boys and girls are valued equally. We recognize the important role that women play within their families and communities. Our programs encourage and support them to become decision makers within the social, political and economic spheres of their lives. As women gain confidence to fully and meaningfully participate within their families and communities, they can no longer be seen as objects of burden.

Women participants of the Family Development Program in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh celebrate their strengths and success through song and dance at an Annual Family Gathering.

Women participants of the Family Development Program in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh celebrate their strengths and success through song and dance at an Annual Family Gathering.

Our programs also show that women are more likely to give back to their families and communities once they feel they are contributing members. Statistics show that when women can make an independent income they will give 90% of it back to their families and communities. The story of Kavitha shows the personal change and growth that is possible through SAFP’s Family Development Program.

When Kavitha was born, she became the youngest of four girls in her family. Her parents were faced with the burden of paying a dowry for all of their daughters. At the age of eighteen Kavitha’s marriage was arranged, but after three months they had to separate. If she stayed in the marriage her life would have been in danger. Her husband was an alcoholic who physically and mentally abused and tortured her. After her separation, she became depressed, her community ignored her, and as a result she did not have the confidence to leave her parents’ house. She was traumatized by her experience and could not work or speak to anyone.

One day a social worker came to the village and gave an awareness training on the economic and social program available to the community. From this, she was motivated to join her local self-help group where she heard about SAFP. She became excited by being a part of this community of women and attended the meetings regularly. After some time, she was selected by the group to become a participant of SAFP’s Family Development Program. Through financial support she received from SAFP, she was able to begin her own clothing sales business, where she went door-to-door in the village to sell clothes. Kavitha explains how these small successes began to motivate her: “From this business I received a good income, which boosted my confidence. I received training in tailoring, and with all of these skills I planned to start up a tailoring unit.” Slowly her business grew. Initially, she used her home for a shop but eventually she had saved enough money to rent a store front nearby and purchase two more tailoring machines. She is now running her own small business, continuing to sell clothes within the community, and earning approximately $140.00 a month.

A participant of the Family Development Program from Marthandom, Tamil Nadu co-owns a tailoring business with her husband, which they named after their daughter.

A participant of the Family Development Program from Marthandom, Tamil Nadu co-owns a tailoring business with her husband, which they named after their daughter.

Kavita expresses the change in attitude and confidence she has experienced and how she hopes to help others in the community do the same: “I am proud to say that through my small business I’m able to employ another girl from my village from a very poor family background. I am now able to help people who are also in difficult situations. Through my experience, I wish to teach tailoring to other widows and abandoned women in our community, so that they feel the same confidence and pride that I do.”

By Laura Stinson
SAFP Canada Staff

Increasing Food Security in Illikkananam village

Distribution of Seedlings
Illikkananam is a small, remote village located high in the hills of Kerala’s western ghats. Agriculture is the main occupation in this fertile area. Since some families have only a very small piece of land of their own, many people depend on daily wage labour in local cardamom plantations to support their families. Heavy use of pesticides in cardamom production is very harmful to the workers’ health and many families still struggle to meet their basic needs.

When Illikkananam village became a partner village in the SPED III Program, the community came together to identify and analyze the issues affecting the village. They noticed that many villagers had access to loans through the bank as members of self-help groups and were incurring high levels of debt just to meet their basic needs. By using tools to analyze this problem, they learned that many families buy the majority of their food items from the market, which are more expensive and less healthy than locally produced food. In Illikkananam village, there is a heavy focus on cash crops and only 15% of the community’s food needs are met by their own land. The community decided to prioritize this issue and take steps to make a change.

Members of the local Village Action Team took the lead by raising awareness about the issue and organizing village-level planning. As a result of their efforts, the community gradually developed awareness about the problem and started to take action. They decided to try growing their own vegetables. Two members of the local self-help group took responsibility for planting vegetable seeds and creating a nursery with the support of the SPED III Program.

Community members are eager to plant seedlings

The seedlings from the nursery were distributed to 45 families in the village. In order to promote eco-friendly practices, the families decided to use only organic manure made from kitchen waste. They watered the plants regularly using kitchen waste water to conserve water, since the area faces regular scarcity.

This action provided a successful model, which encouraged another local self-help group to start a group farming project of tapioca, yams, and bananas in the village. Now more community members are inspired to cultivate at least few types of vegetables in their own yard and they are requesting more seeds to start own kitchen garden. To respond to this need, the community is planning to start a seed bank for their own use and also for their neighboring villagers, instead of buying seeds from the market.

The initiative taken by these community members to solve their issue had a big impact on the village. Here are some of the changes they experienced:

• Increased unity among the community members.
• Change in attitudes around agriculture practices and a gradual movement towards more eco-friendly farming methods, including using organic manure
• 45 families developed their own kitchen garden, leading to increased food security and food safety
• Reduced dependence on the market for buying vegetables
• Decreased food costs, increased savings, and improved income among community members
• Reduced use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers for cultivation
• More families are inspired to start own kitchen garden
• Provided opportunities for local self-help groups to develop a nursery, start a group farming unit, and create a seed bank
• Children were also interested in helping to care for the gardens

This story offers an example of the power of an action to spark new ideas and inspire others to take action as well. SAFP extends our most sincere congratulations to the community in Illikkananam for working together to make change and address the issue of food security and low income in the village.

Caring for Plants Many thanks to the Highrange Development Society in Idukki for sharing this story!

Protecting the Forest in Raipur, Chhattisgarh

The SPED III Program acts as a plaform for communities to organize themselves, make connections with local leaders and institutions, and address a variety of poverty-related issues.  Here is a wonderful story of a community defending the environment from one of our NGO partners, Raipur Diocesan Social Welfare Society, in Chhattisgarh, India.

In the village of Attarahgudi in Chhattisgarh, the villagers regularly meet to discuss their problems as part of the SPED III Program. During one meeting, the community examined a serious issue that emerged. The trees in a nearby forest were being cut down regularly, which was leading to environmental damage to this important resource. The villagers identified that those responsible were members of their own community.

After some serious reflection, members of the village committee, sanghams, and the local government decided to form a Forest Protection Committee. This committee was given the power and responsibility to safe-guard the trees in the forest.

However, even after taking action, they found that trees were still being cut down. This time, those responsible were coming from another village and could not be caught.

Once again, a meeting was called in the community to address this issue. With the support of the local government officials from the nearby villages, the community members decided to impose a series of sanctions. Anyone caught cutting down the trees would be penalized Rs. 500, their bicycle and axe would be confiscated, they would be socially isolated within the village, and any wood collected would be auctioned to support the Forest Protection Committee.

A few weeks later, a powerful person from a nearby village sent five of his thugs to cut teak from the forest. When the Forest Protection Committee came to know about this, a group of women went to protest their action. But the thugs would not stop and threatened the women with terrible consequences from their powerful boss.

The women returned immediately to the village and shared the story with the community. Together with the local government officials, they took up sticks and succeeded in chasing away the thugs. The next day, they registered the incident with the police.

The women were so affected by these events that they wanted to take some meaningful action to protect the forest in the future. In India, it is a tradition for girls tie beautiful silk threads called Rakhi on their brother’s right hand as a symbol of their emotional bond and their commitment to protect and care for each other. The women decided to tie Rakhis on the surrounding trees as a symbol of their solemn promise to protect the forest as a part of their own family (see above photo).

The action taken by the community of Attarahgudi village provides a wonderful example of environmental protection at the local level and the power of communities to make change when they act with unity and determination. The community did not give up when difficulties arose, but continued to work together to solve their issues. This provides a strong foundation for this village to continue making change in the future and a great example to inspire other communities to take action.  

Gambling with the Monsoon

India is an agrarian country with 52% of its people employed in the agricultural industry.  As I rode the train between some of India’s southern states during my last trip there, there was no shortage of evidence of this.  Outside of the major cities in rural areas, you are surrounded for miles by farm crops specific to each state.  Coconut and pineapple trees, mango groves, fields of bright red chilies, cotton, maize, and the deep dark green of the rice paddies, form the squares of the quilt which this country is covered in.   The livelihood of millions of people in India are dependent on farming and consequently on the weather and environment.  Agriculture in India is often attributed as “gambling with the monsoon” because of its almost exclusive dependency on this season.  There, you are at the mercy of the environment, and often victims of it as communities struggle through droughts, floods, land degradation, poor growing conditions etc.   This can be seen in the situation of the Korku indigenous people, living in the village of Hettighat, in the Melghat Mountain region of Maharastra State, one of the areas where Save A Family Plan operates.

On the morning of my visit to Hettighat we set out on a bumpy, unpaved road, dodging pot holes, goats and wooden carts being pulled by oxen.  I had left behind the lush green crops that I frequently saw in other states, and instead was surrounded by dry and barren hills.  We passed through a small village at the bottom of the mountain that had a small market and the only water access in that area.  I was told that in past years the mountains had been more heavily forested and rivers were flowing for longer periods of the year.  Due to deforestation the density of the forest reduced and the availability of water became limited.  For the last few years, there has been scarcity of water due to reduced rainfall and erratic Monsoon seasons.  These poor environmental conditions make agricultural livelihoods impossible in Hettighat.  As a result, families are forced to migrate from the area for employment during harvest season.  Migration forces families to uproot their lives and is the source of many safety and human rights violations.  It takes away from villages’ attempts to create a sustainable economy and it forces children to be removed from school which contributes to illiteracy.  For women, there are high reports of violence and sexual abuse, and they live in small tents for months with no access to water, sanitation facilities or health services.  There is no regulation of pay or labour laws to protect women.  They work longer hours than men and are paid less.

Through Save A Family Plan and the Jevan Vikas Sanstha Social Service Society, the community of Hettighat is being given the opportunity to diminish the need for migration and to create healthy, sustainable communities.  Our Family Development Program encourages locals to start small, innovative, businesses through a micro-credit program.  Businesses such as snack shops and animal rearing are becoming successful as they do not rely on the agricultural industry, erratic monsoon rains or the poor growing conditions.  Through the program and community participation, the local economy strengthens, and the skill training offered by staff members provides opportunities for new jobs and businesses to be created.   In building and strengthening their community through participation, there is no longer a need to migrate and children can stay in their community to attend school.  Their health and safety situation has improved and they are able to budget and rely on a stable income.  We are excited for the community of Hattighat as they grow and strengthen their community through economic justice and empowerment of their people.

By Laura Stinson
SAFP Canada Staff

Understanding Caste in Development

SAFP Canada Staff Cassandra Griffin writes from the field in India.

For a foreigner who is an outsider to Indian culture, the concept of caste can be extremely difficult to comprehend. While the effects of this cultural practice may not always be easily apparent, it can be very difficult to reconcile with our own values and beliefs when we do encounter it. We may have contact with caste structures in simple ways, such as having your laundry done by a local dhobi, a low caste person whose traditional occupation is to wash clothing. Or we can find that caste relations become a major challenge to the development process when working with rural communities to overcome their problems, as can be the case with communities participating in the SPED III program.

The caste system has been deeply ingrained in many aspects of Indian social life for centuries and can be broadly described as a social structure that places people into different groups based on their traditional occupation. A person’s caste can dictate what job they can pursue, who they can marry, where they live, and what kinds of social interactions they can have. Different castes are ranked in a complicated hierarchical order and low caste people continue to face hardship and discrimination, especially in rural areas, despite many efforts to bring them into the mainstream.

Caste issues recently became an obstacle to development for the people of Bhutikuna, a small village in Uttar Pradesh near to the border of Bihar. I came to this village to meet with members of the Village Action Team, which had been recently formed as a part of Save A Family Plan’s SPED III program. The women and men of the village told us about the many problems they were facing, including not having a proper drainage system in the village. They showed us where all the waste water in the community was currently collecting in a pond in the village, very close by to some of the villagers’ homes. It was easy to see how this situation was causing many difficulties for the community members, including increasing health and environmental problems.

We were delighted to find that the community had taken up the challenge of the SPED III program with great seriousness and conviction. They had already elected a new Village President from amongst themselves, who spoke to us passionately about his commitment to improve life in the village. With the assistance of the local field staff, the people had also made an application to the local government to request funds for the construction of a drainage system in the village that would dispose of the wastewater in a safe way. The application had been approved and the construction was ready to begin.

But the villagers faced one more problem. The drainage channel would run along the edge of a piece of land belonging to a high caste family and the family was refusing to give permission for the construction since the channel would carry waste from the homes of low-caste people as well as high-caste people. In accordance with their rigid beliefs about the caste system, they found this contact with people of lower castes completely unacceptable. Despite this problem, the local field staff were not deterred. They encouraged the community to discuss this issue with the high caste family, while offering to help them to build awareness about the importance of this project for all the members of the community.

A few weeks after my visit, I received news that the community had been able to overcome this problem and the drainage system had been completed with the agreement of the landowners. The whole community was happy that the wastewater was removed from the village through their effort and cooperation.

Although the caste system in India has deep historical roots and will likely continue to impact communities for years to come, it is important that we begin taking steps to challenge the negative effects of caste and to promote a society where all people are valued. We congratulate the people of Bhutikuna for taking this meaningful step to promote change and unity across caste lines in their community through the SPED III Program.

Grassroots Action leads to Change in SPED III

SAFP Canada Staff Cassandra Griffin writes from the field in India.

The road that led to the village had never been paved. It was narrow and rocky, and as our driver navigated it with both skill and courage, we were tossed and shaken around in the jeep. We had already driven many hours like this to find the remote village of Mane Goan, but all that was forgotten when we saw the large group gathered outside the only building in sight, waiting to greet us. These were members of the recently formed Village Action Team and other interested community members who were meeting to discuss the community’s problems and search for possible solutions as part of the SPED III Program.

The SPED III Program (Sustainability Through Participation, Empowerment, and Decentralization – India) is currently being implemented in 580 villages all across India. The people who benefit from this program belong to 10 different states, speak a wide variety of languages, and come from different religious backgrounds, tribes, castes, and political parties. The SPED III Program asks them to stand together to gain access to the many programs provided be the Government of India to assist communities in overcoming their problems and realizing their basic rights.

The people of this particular village are from a tribe called the Gonds who long ago ruled a large part of the area that is now Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisghar. Now, they face discrimination from mainstream society and many live without access to basic facilities. After we were greeted in the community with the washing of our hands, a traditional song and dance, garlands, and of course a cup of tea, we discussed some of the activities that had been going on in the village.

The villagers explained a long list of issues to us, some of which they had been trying to overcome for more than a decade. The SPED III program asks the village to select just one or two issues to address each year, so this community had chosen sanitation and cooking fuel. There was not a single family that had a latrine in the village and no public toilet was available, so the people were simply using open areas. This practice can lead to many health issues and makes problems of privacy for women. They also had difficulties finding firewood for cooking, since the land in the area is very bare.

With local government representatives present, we discussed the possibility of accessing government resources to overcome these problems. We learned that the government will pay half of the cost of constructing a sanitary latrine for anyone living below the poverty line, which included more than half of the villagers. They would need to contribute a small amount of savings, along with their labour. There were also grants available to support communities in accessing more effective types of cooking fuel. Beyond this, local governments have large funds available that can be allocated for these types of projects that will benefit impoverished communities in their area.

Each year, large portions of these types of funds go unused because communities do not have the knowledge or the capacity to access them. Other amounts are lost due to government corruption. It is important for communities to increase their awareness of these types of programs and to understand that these provisions are not charity, but a part of their rights as citizens of the country. By standing together and making their voices heard, they can work to make their local governments more effective and accountable and create lasting change in their communities.

We look forward to sharing in the success of the people of Mane Goan and all the other villages participating in the SPED III program in the coming years.