A NEW IDENTITY : Lieut-Colonel Prathipati Victoria . (This article appeared first in 'Global Exchange')
"We used to be confined to our homes with no involvement in decision-making in the community. Today we can meet openly to discuss the problems we face and decide on the course of action to be taken in solving them. Our thanks go to Didi Kanak Nayak for enlightening us about self-help groups" said a member of one of the self-help groups (Didi means elder sister in Hindi).
"As wives and mothers in the community we did not have enough money in the home, nor could we get a loan from the banks, but today we have money for family needs and can also get loans. As members of self-help groups our situation has changed for the better," the women proudly told the visiting women's ministry leaders. There was confidence, enthusiasm and hope reflected in the faces of the women who were gathered together. The women in Orissa, like women in other parts of India, have acquired a new identity of their own. Women like Kanak have been the change agents in bringing this new identity to poor and illiterate women.
Women's Development Officer
Captain Kanak and her husband Captain Benjamin Nayak are the corps officers of Puranghad Corps, a village 12 kilometres from the town of Angul in the state of Orissa (an area that has suffered drought, mega-cyclones and violence during recent years). Kanak is also the women's development officer (WDO) for the Orissa region, appointed a year and a half ago. Becoming an officer along with her husband, a lawyer, she has served in the corps, among the tribal people, for the past six years. They have one daughter and two sons. Her children support Kanak as she continues to work hard for the women in that area.
The women in her village
Kanak saw the suffering of women in her area, caused by poverty and the constant drunken state of their husbands, and decided to try to help these women. With encouragement from territorial leaders, Kanak worked hard in motivating women to come together to identify and discuss openly their problems and possible ways to find a solution.
She succeeded in facilitating the formation of 20 self-help groups (SHGs), each having 10 women as members. Education and training towards independence was given at the women's annual development workshop.
Easy access to locally made liquor in the villages contributed to the drunkenness of their husbands.
So the women decided to arrange for a bank loan for the family who sold the liquor, in order to help them become financially solvent. Then they simply asked their husbands to stop drinking. With the cooperation of the police, the bank and the government officers the women of Orissa have achieved great success with their efforts.
Making use of the state government scheme of women empowerment called â€~Mission Shakti Making use of the state government scheme of women empowerment called "Mission Shakti" (shakti means power, the Sanskrit word ascribed to women in India), the women's self-help groups approached the banks for loans. Five SHGs have received revolving funds (loans), thus enabling the women to start micro-enterprise projects. These include a goat farm, the packing and sale of spices, the repairing of roads and much more. It was Kanak who made the initial contacts with the government, the banks and local officials to help women apply for the schemes that the government have initiated for women's empowerment.
Hopes for the future
Kanak's goal is to extend women's empowerment to other villages and form about 100 self-help groups. She sees a great opportunity to witness to the saving power of the gospel in her work as women's development officer. She also believes that corps can grow as a result of members of SHGs joining the home league and being introduced to Christ. Building up her own corps and others in the Angul district through contacts with the women from SHGs is also her vision. Recently a district officer and a district director of women's ministries have been appointed and Kanak receives encouragement and guidance from them.
The Army in Orissa
The Salvation Army started work in Orissa long before independence (1947), establishing work among the disadvantaged people, the dalits, in the Angul district. From these Salvationists came a good number of young women and men who became officers and who are serving in different parts of the India Northern Territory. This geographically large territory comprises 10 northern Indian states, from Orissa in the east to Jammu and Kashmir in the north-west, stretching a distance of 3,000 kilometres.
The Army continues its spiritual and social ministries in both rural and urban areas in Angul with plans to strengthen and expand the work. The sprawling mission compound in the town of Angul has the district headquarters office, a hostel for girls and the central corps.
Working with government and non-governmental organizations the Army's commitment to respond to the needs of the people is evident by its diverse socio-spiritual ministries. The appointment of Captain Kanak Nayak as the women's development officer to facilitate the empowerment of women has been the most recent commitment of the Army in Orissa.
Kanak's work recently received the recognition of the state government. One of the SHGs won a prize in the district of Angul. Both national and international leaders have appreciated her work, as have the local women. For those similarly engaged in women's development programmes in other parts of the Army in India, Kanak's work and successful experiences are a great source of inspiration and training.
Women's development in India
The Army, as one of the non-governmental agencies in the forefront of poverty alleviation, is proud of women like Kanak. Women's development officers in other territories are making similar efforts for the empowerment of women. This is only possible through the cooperation of the six Indian Territorial Presidents of Women's Ministries and with the guidance of the Zonal Secretary for Women's Ministries of the South Asia Zone. The Executive Secretary of the Women's Advisory Council in India continues to train and encourage the officers serving as development officers. She visits the territories to meet the directors of women's ministries and territorial leaders to assess and encourage those committed to women's empowerment.
We pray that many more Kanaks would arise to become change agents to bring a new identity to marginalised women!
(Lieut-Colonel Prathipati Victoria is the Executive Secretary of the Women's Advisory Council in India.)