Introducing The Idea Of Self-Help Groups
They were labouring day in and day out in the fields but they got a paltry sum for their produce in the local market. I would notice them every day after my work hours and deeply felt to do something for them.
I would finish my day’s work by afternoon and head out to meet and sit with the women. I shared with them how skill training in food processing can help them earn a better livelihood. Most of them were intrigued by the idea and thus we started launching small training centres in every village.
Earlier, the government schemes and projects like Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and small-scale co-operatives only existed in official documents. The local communities were either unaware or indifferent towards these. But, once I explained to them how such a structured framework can help them learn and earn more, they consented at once.
How I Put My Food Tech Degree To Perfect Use
Soon, SHGs were formed in every village. Women of all ages, enthusiastic and ecstatic, started enrolling. Being a food scientist, I devised various cutting-edge, unique and all-natural products from the local produce, which could be easily prepared by these women.
I taught them how to prepare jellies and syrups from seasonal fruits like apricot, plum, hill orange (malta) and lemon. I knew that the alpine flower rhododendron had properties to treat cardiac ailments, so I formulated the rhododendron syrup, a popular product among conscious urban consumers.
Rose bushes were abundant in every home in the hills. In fact, people would often be pestered by the dried flowers, petals and leaves cluttering their yards. So I decided to put the flower to better use. Our all-natural rose syrup sells like hotcake from the supermarket shelves of the cities, where finding a rose plant is a stroke of luck. I also trained our women to prepare savoury, lip-smacking pickles from fresh, chemical-free mountain vegetables.
Shaping Future & Saving Lives
My priority has not only been ensuring the maximum profits for these women but also to assure their well-being. In these regions, anaemia exceedingly persists among women and teenage girls. For them, I invented the iron laddoo – a sweet made from millet grains which is prepared by the women in SHGs and distributed across the villages by volunteers of Integrated Child Development Services.
Oorja is another of my invention, which is an energy-rich baby food infused with growth enhancers – a homemade variety for these poor families who cannot afford canned formula.
Besides the products, I also conduct awareness campaigns on hygiene, women’s health and menstruation in schools among teenage girls. Recently I was nominated for Woman For Woman Award by WEFT for my work.
Natural & Chemical-Free Products
Our products are marketed under a series of labels, of which Hilans, named after an exotic hill bird, is the most popular. All the items they prepare are packaged and sent off to nearby towns like Dehradun and Hrishikesh. We have also gained a considerable consumer base in Delhi as well.
These days, consumers are opting for our handmade, country products over established corporate brands simply because of the quality, purity and the magical essence of the hills. These are 100% free from Maida, preservatives and chemicals of all sorts.
Organic Garhwal – our segment of grocery products and Devkaush – the label for sweets and snacks are becoming top favourites among our customers.
Challenges Along The Way
I will say I have trained more than 1000 women across almost 30 villages in Tehri Garhwal. But, unfortunately, 200 among them have succeeded to sustain themselves in 7 of our most active SHGs. Many of them were old who dropped out due to age-related health issues, while others were housewives and mothers who conceded to the societal pressure that frowns at a woman’s independence.
The first three years were hardest for me. Convincing, and mostly sustaining the women were no cakewalk. I was on the verge of giving up, disappointed at myself. But soon, my tireless efforts of three years bore fruit, as the few gritty women who managed to stay behind, raised considerable profit around 2015. As the news of their success spread, more and more women poured in to join the SHGs.
A Commoner Who Reached The Zenith
I never imagined that I would be involved directly with any kind of social work. My focus had always centred around my career and I had little time for anything else. But, now when I look back, I feel that there was a calling inside me which subconsciously inspired me to devote myself to some greater good.
I wasn’t much fascinated by the stories of extraordinary achievers, who were blessed with inborn talent. But, I felt truly inspired by the stories of commoners who have attained unprecedented heights by sheer hard work and zeal. I wanted to be someone like that.
I have received quite a number of prestigious awards – both international and national. My name has featured time and again in the media in the past couple of years. I only hope I can continue with the work I am doing and bring a true change in the lives of these women.”
– Kirti Kumari, Food Scientist, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Tehri Garhwal