27-year-old Nagammal hurries down the cemented pathway of her village at Nathapettai. She has just completed her morning chores, sent her seven-year old son to the government school nearby and five year – old daughter to the balwadi (government-run child care centre); her husband has left to find work as a coolie. She is happy she does not have to tag along with him now, searching high and low for some daily – wage work. As Nagammal reaches an open land behind one of the houses, she finds the fellow members of her Udayam SHG working deftly away at making coconut leaf thatches. She quickly picks up half of a moistened coconut frond from a heap and sets about plaiting the leaflets. For the next three hours, the group would be engaged thus.
Typically, in a day, in about five hours, the SHG makes about 75 thatches. It may go up to 120 per day, especially during the monsoons. About 100 such thatches can be easily sold for about Rs 480. Besides, each member receives Rs.150 per day as wages. This engagement is guaranteed for about 15 days per month. Nagammal’s mother, Selvi explains, “Today, each of us has the possibility of earning a minimum sum of Rs 2,000 per month from this group enterprise, thanks to IGSSS.” As a first step after the SHG formation in Nathapettai under the Tamil Nadu Flood Rehabilitation Project, the livelihood options were discussed with the members. It was found that traditionally, the women were adept at making coconut leaf thatches. There also seemed to be a steady demand for the product; the members seemed to know people who could be potential buyers. “So that was how this group enterprise came about,” explains Nagammal. IGSSS deposited Rs. 40,000 into their bank account to cover the material cost and the daily wages for the initial period. “We have already started selling our products. Certain inputs to enhance our savings and business really helped. For instance, we understand the importance of knowing the best place and time to get our raw materials, the ancillary revenue possibilities with broom-making and selling the midrib of the leaf for firewood and so on,” Selvi explains. 73-year-old Govindammal making brooms nearby nods, “I get about Rs 50 per day as coolie for making brooms. I feel good about earning that much at this age. Moreover, when I am here with this group, I feel better, even get my tea and snacks,” she grins a toothless smile. “For us women, to find a regular livelihood within our village are such a boon. Further, this is our business. It is exciting, challenging and quite empowering,” sums up Nagammal.