Until 2018, Kavita Angre's days consisted mostly of doing household chores such as cooking and fetching water. Apart from this, daily wage labour on paddy farms fetched Rs 150-200 per day during some weeks. Today, Kavita, or Kavita tai as she is endearingly called, is an entrepreneur who spearheads a successful self-help group in her village and has been instrumental in creating many more in her neighbouring villages. Angrekond was recently celebrated as a Swades Dream Village, one of the 75 to be celebrated in 2022 as part of the Swades Foundation initiative to mark India's 75th year of Independence.
The turning point for Angre was the launching of a Drinking Water Scheme by the Swades Foundation that made clean water accessible to every household via an individual tap at home. Breaking the water woes opened up a new world for the residents of Angrekond – especially the women – who spent nearly two and a half hours bringing home just two pots of water. "We did the bathing and washing by the water but needed at least six pots for drinking and cooking, ensuring that most of the day was spent fetching water," says Kavita.
Once each home got an individual tap in 2018, Kavita and her friends wanted to do more with their time. They had tried papad-making business at a very small scale with the help of the local administration but hadn't pursued it as aggressively as they did under Swades' guidance. "Swades taught us the importance of registering the self-help group, branding it etc. We also learnt the basics of financial literacy during our training here. Until then, our women had never deposited money in the bank. Most of us had never left our villages because we simply didn't have the money for it. Initially, we were very scared to take the bus and go to the market in Mahad and actually sell our produce by the streets. We were also embarrassed about what others might think of us – like we'd exhausted all our resources to sell things on the streets. But being shy wasn't going to feed our families. When the money started coming in, things turned around."
As an Asha worker and member of the VDC (Village Development Committee), Kavita had had some exposure to the workings of a bank, but the other women were new to it. To ensure that each woman is trained in simple banking, Kavita started taking two new members of the self-help groups for each visit. "Earlier, there was no concept of savings among us. Everything that we earned went into daily sustenance. Getting introduced to banking helped women understand the importance of saving. Today, 30 of us have a bank account each, and there are three different bank accounts for each of our SHGs." The women, in fact, took a loan of Rs 1 lakh to buy 11 cows that now facilitate a home-grown ghee business that sells for Rs 850 a kg.
The three SHGs of 10 women each - Samridhi, Pragati and Asha Mahila - deal in papads, organic veggies from home orchards, ghee, poultry etc. The vegetable business alone fetched the women a sum of a little over Rs. 3,95,000 last year. The tales of their SHG's success have travelled across the block, Kavita tells us. "Women and even some men have come to see the success of our Dream Village and SHGs. In fact, 11 more such SHGs have started in our neighbouring wadis (hamlets) since the success of ours." What has served the community very well, Kavita tells us, is the sisterhood among the women. "No one among us fears hard work or labour. The women will stand steadfast behind a new idea, they only needed some guidance."
As part of their Dream Village transition, every house in Angrekond now has an individual toilet. The streets are kept clean by community members who gather every once in 15 days to conduct a cleanliness drive and segregate waste. "Honestly, it has become second nature for us. We can no longer look away from a piece of garbage. But we do gather formally every few days to do a proper drive."
Asking about her dream for the next five years, Kavita says, "We want to expand our businesses – perhaps the ghee-making unit or any other vertical to be able to create a bigger business. We want to ensure that we create enough job opportunities in our village so that youngsters are not forced to seek employment in the cities."