After a very brief breakfast with the British High Commissioner, we spent our first day in Delhi with an NGO called Saahasee (which means ‘being courageous’ in Hindi). Saahasee has been working for the past two decades to restore the dignity of the urban poor who live in slums of Delhi and other cities.
The programme that we visited was in an area on the outskirts of Delhi called Mangol Puri. Thousands of poor families were relocated here after being moved out of the city by the government. There are now approximately 250,000 people living in a very congested area 2km wide.
Urban slums are characterised by ill health, poor housing, a lack of basic services such as sanitation and low employment. Saahasee has developed a grassroots-led mechanism to address some of these challenges and is working with communities to help people, particularly women, become self-reliant and improve their living standards. They aim to bring poor families out of a cycle of poverty and dependence and into the realm of social and economic freedom.
Saahasee’s model is to develop and support women’s self-help groups. The women identify the challenges that they want to address and are given the training that they need to address them rather than bringing in external people.
Working together, the women have proved to be a formidable force, capable of bringing about significant changes. They have challenged local government officials to provide them with paved roads, electricity supplies and water and sewage connections. Although living standards in Mangol Puri are still relatively poor, we were told that they have dramatically improved and will continue to improve thanks to the tireless advocacy of the women.
Across Delhi, there are more than 25,000 active women participating in these self-help groups. Microfinance and TB control are just two of the many areas that the women are working on. Together, the groups have been able to pool millions of rupees in savings which are then loaned out to individual women. The most common reasons for taking loans are to repay more expensive loans, to fund marriages, to start up small enterprises and to manage their households.
TB is a major challenge for these communities so many women have been trained up to be DOTS providers. We had the privilege to meet some TB patients who shared their stories with us:
Rinky is a 13 year old girl who developed TB at the beginning of the year and started to take her treatment under DOTS supervision. When her grandmother died, the whole family had to return to the grandmother’s village and Rinky stopped taking her treatment for two months. When we met her she had just started taking her treatment again and was being advised that she must complete her course of treatment no matter what happens. She explained that the treatment made her feel sick and dizzy but she understood that she needed to take the full six-month course of drugs. Her sister had previously had TB so she knew she would get better if she followed her sister’s example.
‘Being courageous’ is a trait that all of the women and girls that we met shared. It is also a trait that RESULTS’ members share as speaking out for the rights of the poor can be challenging and intimidating, especially when it requires confronting powerful decision-makers. As these communities have shown, having the courage to stand up for what you believe in – especially when many people come together – can have a major, positive impact.