by Isabel Guerrero.

This week an IMAGO team visited Tonk in Rajasthan to look at how the Self Help Groups and Federations are working, as well as to look at the work of SRIJAN in the field. Back in 2006 when I visited for the first time, I was the Country Director of India at the World Bank, and a big event had been prepared for the visit. There were many government and SRIJAN workers, and the women had been prepared for days on what questions to ask and what to say. As we arrived in a caravan of eight cars, I felt there was something wrong with the picture. I couldn’t get a feeling for what was really going on in the lives of these women. But I did get a wonderful impression of the work that Ved Arya was doing through his NGO. And I was inspired by the beauty of so many of the women I met that day. One of them is in many of IMAGO’s pictures. The one here is an example.

 

SRIJAN

Almost ten years later, this week, I went back to Tonk with IMAGO. There were no cars, no government officials, no crowds. We were now able to talk to the women about their lives, how things had changed in the last ten years and what the challenges were for the future as they try to scale the Federations to the rest of the state. They were very warm, had a lot of edge and there was plenty of laughter. I had brought pictures from ten years ago and wanted to share them with the women and tell them how they had inspired me. Most of them were in Jaipur in training.

Geeta Devi But one of them, Geeta Devi, recognized me. She said my face was rounder and I was bigger than ten years ago. After a startled second, I realized this was a compliment. She had been the President of the Federation for many years, and had just stepped down to let the younger women take the lead. The new President was eloquent, dynamic and very impressive. She is clearly going to go far in the state. But it was Geeta that had the strength and the connection with the other women.

She is still beautiful and amazingly strong. She shared memories about when she was younger and learned how to ride a bicycle, and all the women in the village looked to her as a role model. Now her daughter has finished college and is applying for a government job. And Geeta, I asked, what about you? She said: “I want Amitabh Bachchan [a very famous Bollywood actor] to drink the milk we produce in the cooperative, and I know he will. I also want to learn how to drive a motorcycle, so we can come back after a trip and drive together and not depend on men driving us.”

So I left with a full heart, and with the promise to come back soon. I told Geeta that my dream was to see her driving the next time I came back. I think she will!