Empowerment through education and employment
The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 not only destroyed thousands of lives and homes, it also made a serious impact upon the fishing industry. In southern India, thousands upon thousands of fishing nets and boats were destroyed, putting fishermen out of work. Furthermore, India’s aquatic ecosystems were seriously disturbed. For the fishermen whose boats and nets were still working, this resulted in meager catches for months together.
When the fishermen and their families explained the crisis to Amma, she immediately understood that alternate forms of livelihood were necessary. Amma felt that least one member of each family from the fishing community should become proficient in a trade not dependent on the sea. In order to help facilitate this, Amma launched the first community-based self-help-group (SHG) program. The program became known as Amrita SREE: Amrita Self-Reliance, Education & Employment Program.
What began as a response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami has today spread throughout Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Currently there are more than 11,000 Amrita SREE SHGs with more than 130,000 women participating across India. In the Andaman Islands, we have established an additional 1,000 self-help groups.
In providing vocational education, start-up capital, marketing assistance and access to micro-credit loans and microsavings accounts from government-regulated banks, M.A. Math is working to equip unemployed and economically vulnerable women with the skills and means to set up small-scale, cottage-industry businesses. Research has shown that empowering women with equal economic opportunity is one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty throughout entire communities.
Self-help groups are based upon a formula established by the Reserve Bank of India identify each targeted community’s particular needs and existing skills and resources before launching a phase of vocational training. Courses are selected from proposals that emerge from the targeted communities and offered at reputed vocational institutions. Finally, self-help groups are formed according to geographic proximity, each consisting of approximately 20 women. (Men who are family members of the women in the group are also eligible to receive vocational training.)
While the self-help groups operate autonomously, M.A. Math nurtures them towards successful independence. In addition to providing vocational training, M.A. Math helps each group come up with a viable business plan and assists in packaging and marketing the group’s retail products. Some of the fields in which Amrita SREE has helped create SHGs include: tailoring, handicrafts, electronic-repair, account systems, beauty-parlor management, feminine-hygiene products production, paper products, ready-made garments, leather products, bakery items, hand-looming, coir-making, garment-making, communal farming, food processing, banana culture and rice-flour production.