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Monday November 4, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday November 4, 2013 MYT 8:42:04 AM
by dinesh kumar maganathan
‘Anybody can be developed and groomed if they are given an opportunity,’ says Dr Selvamalar Ayadurai.
TechOutreach Malaysia aids women in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and now Nepal, with a micro-credit scheme.
SHRISTI is a picture of despair. Had she not blinked, she could have passed for a sculpture of misery. Michelangelo could not have asked for a better model. Sadness and misery rule her life. They have been companions she had not asked for.
It has been five years since Shristi’s husband passed away, and the burden of providing for her two boys weighs heavily on her.
Though Shristi loves the boys dearly, sometimes she envisions a life without them, much to her horror. It provides temporary reprieve from the clutches of guilt. “How am I going to feed them,” became her daily mantra.
The 25-year-old woman sells roti and vegetables and potato soup – traditional Nepalese breakfast – but more often than not, she returns home with meagre earnings.
She has often wondered how she could climb out of the rut of poverty, but financial restrictions and the lack of knowledge are stumbling blocks in her path.
In the face of adversity, a beacon of hope shines brightly from a land not too far from Nepal. And if the winds of fortune blow her way, Shristi may very well receive the aid she so desperately needs to change the course of her destiny.
Founded by Dr Selvamalar Ayadurai, TechOutreach Malaysia (Tech) aids women in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and now Nepal, with a micro-credit scheme adopted from the renowned Grameen Model by Professor Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh.
These women are victims of adversity, whether it is war, abandonment by husbands or illiteracy. And more often than not, they have children to care for, just like Shristi.
What began in Sri Lanka nearly a decade ago has now grown into an entity, albeit a small one, that goes beyond giving financial or material handouts to these women. Tech also trains them in entrepreneurship to ensure sustainability.
Selvamalar, fondly known as Malar, began her humanitarian journey even before Tech was born.
Malar was a PhD student in UKM in 2003 when she followed her then supervisor, Professor P. Ramasamy, to Sri Lanka at his invitation.
“He asked me to come along and see what I could do for the women, the war widows. So, I started my work with the women and introduced micro-credit financing which I adopted from Prof Yunus’ model,” said Malar, 54.
This noble venture eventually led to the formation of Tech in 2008. Though Sri Lankan war widows were their focus, the organisation has since extended micro-credit financing to more than 200 refugees, upon the request of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The international body provides the funds, with Tech as its implementing partner.
Malar shared that she created Tech’s own model, called the TechOutreach Model (TOM), based on the Grameen Model. But unlike its originator, TOM does not charge any interest though the women are required to repay their micro loans.
“The objective is to help them and not make money out of them,” Malar reasoned.
Choosing whom to help is not as easy as it seems. With limited funds and countless helpless women, Malar strongly believes stringent measures are necessary.
The team identifies the women, talks to them about micro-credit financing, repayment of the loan, entrepreneurship management, identifies their skills and the area of trade they want to venture into, and finally, the team would make house visits to authenticate their stories and verify whether these women fall under the poorest of the poor (POP) category. Of course, there will be drop-offs along the way.
The training Malar refers to is a pivotal criterion for eligibility. A 12-module entrepreneurship management programme will teach these untrained women how to go about creating a sustainable business.
“We want them to be self-sustainable. We don’t want them to be reaching out like beggars for a bag of sugar or flour or provisions. I told these women this is not who they are. They are independent, strong and empowered. They should be self-sustainable. And what else gives you self-sustainability more than your own business, I tell them.
"Micro-credit financing leads to self-sustainability and makes you independent. It makes you grow and the scope of growth is determined by you,” Malar enthused.
But running an NGO is no stroll in the park. Finding the funds itself is an arduous and sometimes daunting task. So what keeps Malar and her team going?
“It’s the women themselves because when I first started out in Sri Lanka and saw these women, I told myself: ‘She’s like an aunty from Cheras or Batu Caves. She talks like me and makes puttu and idiyapam as well. She’s like one of us.’
“As I met more of these women and worked with them, I realised that they had a good attitude and they really wanted to learn. They were hungry for knowledge, and they responded really well. This inspired me to do more,” said Malar.
Project Nepal is Tech’s latest venture and it will see 60 war widows, from both Kathmandu and Sindhuli, receiving the assistance they require. So far, only 17 of them had received their loans. The challenge now, according to Malar, is sourcing the funds for the remaining 43 women in Nepal.
The problem is that many corporate organisations and bodies only want to help in ways which are convenient to them, and not necessarily in line with the needs of these women.
“Even in Sri Lanka, these bodies only want to do what they want to do. I told them these women needed clean water and toilets. So give them that. But they said ‘no, we don’t think we can do it’.”
Thus the only thing that is stopping these women from getting out of the mire is opportunity – and that does not come readily for them.
“Anybody can be developed and groomed if they are given an opportunity. In life, the reason why some people do well and some people don’t is because of that opportunity. As I meet more of these women, I realise that they are no different from me, and if I can become who I am, I’m sure they can do much more. The only reason why these women are suffering is because they haven’t been given the opportunity. And I find that very sad,” Malar lamented.
Women like Shirsti are aplenty in war-torn or developing countries. What keeps them in the rut is the lack of opportunities.
Malar may carry on with her crusade but without assistance from people like you and me, with the genuine intention of helping these women, they – and their little ones – will remain trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.
For more information on TechOutreach Malaysia or how you can make contributions, visit www.mytechoutreach.org.
Voices of hope
Tags / Keywords:
Family & Community, TechOutreach Malaysia, Dr Selvamalar Ayadurai, NGO, war widos, Nepal, financial aid, Grameen model
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