My Story: “As A Food Scientist In Uttarakhand, I’ve Trained 1000+ Village Women To Become Food Entrepreneurs”

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“Six years ago, I stepped into the pristine hilly terrains of Tehri Garhwal, posted as a Food Scientist at Krishi Vigyan Kendra. The mountains and her people welcomed me with utmost warmth. Though I hailed from Rajasthan, I rarely felt out of place among the hill tribes and their minimalistic lives. 

Initially, it took me a while to adapt to the local language, cuisine and lifestyle. During that time, I used to closely observe the village women with astonishment. Their daily lives know no rest – from managing the household and raising kids to farming in the family plots – they do everything without a word of complaint or exasperation on their lips. 

Yet poverty reigned in their homes. The women were hardly compensated properly compared to the amount of effort they put in. Upon keen inspection, I figured out that they lacked in two aspects – direction and connectivity.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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.

Kirti Kumari Food Scientist

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.

Kirti Kumari Food Scientist

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.

Kirti Kumari Food Scientist

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

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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