THE SOCIAL PROBLEM
The Sundarbans, to most Indians and people across the globe epitomise the largest mangrove forest in the world.This beautiful (Sundar) forest (Ban) is also home to four million human beings. For the inhabitants here, life is difficult. The government’s welfare policies hardly reach the villages. The place is under threat from tidal floods, coastal cyclones, and other natural and ecological calamities.The islanders face both visible and not-so-visible challenges.
In the long run, healthcare infrastructure takes a hit, making the already weak system more inaccessible and unaffordable. Simultaneously, climatic shock erodes the opportunities for maintaining livelihoods and triggers food insecurity, sucking people deep into chronic poverty, resulting in malnutrition and recurrent disease. Hence, inhabitants suffer from poverty, illiteracy, poor healthcare facilities, a lack of good infrastructure and common awareness.
ABOUT THE INITIATIVE
Having experienced poverty firsthand and then finding the opportunity to be one of the privileged few to get to access opportunities of hope, a son-of-the-soil Sankar Halder and his team co-founded MUKTI (liberation), to help break the cycle of poverty in the Sunderbans. He started with the hope of ending access to textbooks that he had himself faced, and thus started a book bank project in 2004-05.
MUKTI continues to provide text books to underprivileged students for free.In 2009, MUKTI Organic Farmers Association (MOFA) was formed. MOFA is a part of the worldwide revolt against the unsustainable yet common inorganic farming. 852 farmers joined hands and brought 2,000 acres of land under organic cultivation with MUKTI’s help. MUKTI is now working on strengthening market linkages of MOFA organic products. Further, In the rights and governance space, MUKTI has been operating a Right to Information (RTI Act 2005) project since 2011-2012, covering people at the grassroots in South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal.
The Mukti Community Development Fund (MCDF) program was initiated to create sustainable livelihood opportunities to bring poor families out of the poverty trap. MCDF is targeted at women empowerment as it strongly believes that an ideal village is one where women have a significant role to play in decision making. Further, to help women fulfill their economic and social potential, MCDF was launched to enable them pursue their own small businesses.
The MCDF program has become a strong alternate preference to high interest MFI loans in the area. So far, INR 2,426,500 has been borrowed in the network by 174 borrowers of which INR 673,019 has been repaid. 20 of the 39 women have completely paid off their loans, being powerful examples of change as they have begun to thrive sustainably. We entail some of them.
For example, Brihaspati and Sannyasi Bag took a INR 10,000 loan through Mukti’s MCDF program for making rice out of rice grain. As the Sunderbans is a rice-consuming belt, Mrs. Bag’s average weekly turnover now is close to INR 11,000. Ms.Sahida Seikh took a loan of INR 5,000 from MCDF for creating Zari work on sarees.In the second year itself, Ms. Seikh no longer required external funding.
VKF facilitated funding of USD 3500 which was raised with the help of ICA (Indians for Collective Action). This was spent towards kickstarting critical processes towards the initiatives of MCDF.