Buzz Gelathi Asha of Madivala, Malur.
In the dusty back roads of the Malur villages, the Buzz Gelathis shape a quiet revolution
Driving off the Malur main road, we enter the dusty back roads of a small hamlet, Madivala. We’re here to meet Asha, one of the Buzz Gelathis. Asha participated in the Self-Shakti program, the flagship program of Buzz India that combines leadership skills and financial literacy, in 2015. The program targets rural women, encouraging them to challenge their attitudes and beliefs about poverty, while giving them the skills and tools to do so.
Asha says she’s worked to implement every aspect of the Self-Shakti program in her life and in doing so has awakened the inner leader in her. “Earlier, I would just spend money without thinking,” she says. “The program opened my eyes. I understood there is a better way of living life. This year, I paid my son’s school fees without borrowing from anyone, not even my husband. I saved money and paid from my own money,” she says with obvious pride. For Buzz India, this is Mission Accomplished…or is it?
Now, Asha has put up her hand to help Buzz India build its community engagement program that encourages the beneficiaries of Self-Shakti, to give back to their community. She’s no longer a “participant”. She has graduated to “changemaker” in her new role as Buzz Gelathi. What does she do and how does she do it?
“Within my own community and in the neighbouring villages, I meet the women who’ve attended the Self-Shakti program and encourage them to implement it in their daily lives,” she says. How? We want to know. “I tell them my own story,” she says simply convinced that there could be no more powerful motivator for change than being the change herself. As we talk to Asha, other women who’ve attended the Self-Shakti program, trickle in. Conversation veers toward their immediate challenges and what they can do to overcome them. There are plenty of challenges: the village gets power supply only for 3 hours; the area is largely arid and receives little rainfall; the common water pool is contaminated and needs cleaning; check dams have been haphazardly constructed preventing rain water from either recharging the water table or entering the common water pool; there’s no work for daily wagers because the farms are not hiring labor because there’s no water…and on and on it goes.
As we listen to them, we see something amazing happening in front of us. We have suddenly become the facilitators in a passionate community dialogue. The women identify all the challenges they face. We subtly shift our focus to solutions. They’ve hardly noticed the fork in the road but they’re suddenly walking on it. Can water become the unifier that brings the community together to find a solution that helps everyone? Maybe, they agree tentatively. What do they need to make their lives better, to boost employment? Their answer is unanimous: water and electricity. What can they do to ensure their village gets better water and electricity? “Put on your Self-Shakti cap,” we tell them. “Think about what’s in your reach and control.” We can almost see the wheels turn in their heads.
We ask Asha how she travels to meet women in the other villages. “My husband drops me she says,” leaving the obvious unsaid: he too is a believer in the Self-Shakti principle. “And how do you get back after you’ve met the women?” “Oh, he waits for me there and brings me back,” she says casually. That is a 2-hour wait. What is the most exciting thing about being a Buzz Gelathi and what is her biggest challenge? “I’ve become very confident now,” she says. “Earlier my home was my world. I just lived from day to day earning, spending, eating, sleeping. Now, I go out and talk to women and learn about their lives. I like that.” What doesn’t she like? This makes her think for a few seconds. Finally, she laughs “Nothing really,” she says. “There’s nothing I don’t like about being a Buzz Gelathi.”
In Sanskrit, ‘Asha’ means ‘hope’ – and Hope quietly trudges the by-lanes of Malur knocking on doors and weaving its way into the lives of the Buzz women, being a gelathi (companion) to them and supporting their journey toward financial security.