Image 1: Gowthami

Penned By Board Member Alo Pal

When our social worker on outreach met Gowthami, she started to cry. She was in desperate need of funds. Sharana enquired, gathered details, studied her business plan, and then sanctioned a loan of Rs.20.000/- so that she could buy popcorn, sweet corn, French fries, and quail egg roasting machines for the evening street cart she operated. Today, with a supportive husband who is an electrician who brings home a steady income and her snack business, Gowthami, her husband, and their three children lead significantly better lives.

Due diligence by our team and we change lives. Almost 25 years since its inception, Sharana has worked towards such concrete development and empowerment-oriented models of intervention. But that is not why Gowthami’s story is worth retelling. Her journey has been humbling peculiarly.

Innumerable have been cases where we have helped 10th and 12th school dropouts by enrolling them into viable vocational training programs to ensure better earnings with the upskilling and formal training and certification. We very often orient them toward technical skills and diplomas in nursing, pharmacology, dialysis, and being a lab technician. Over the years, I have documented many cases where such courses have enhanced income and changed lives. But Gowthami, who had completed her 12th and had also completed a diploma in nursing, all paid for by her family, being a recipient of a Social Entrepreneurship Loan for a snack cart was odd.

As it turned out, when she finished her course, her mother fell sick, and Gowthami could not take up a job as she was her mother’s sole caretaker. At 24, she was married, and in due course, she had three children. Today, Gowthami is 32, and these eight years have been one long saga of continuous torment from her father-in-law that even necessitated a temporary relocation to a nearby village. I struggled to concede that the comfort zone I’d sunk into of vocational training equals skilled job equals decent pay did not work here. What was even more difficult to accept was that her studies and diploma were acquired by the efforts of her family without any external aid, and this is the classic profile that does not require Sharana to intervene at all. So why did we help? Why did we need to help? How could we justify our loan when she had a potential fallback option of education that we so prize?

That is when I learnt that circumstances may have made it difficult for her to take up a job at a hospital, but Gowthami, always desired to be productive. She had to abandon the idea of a nursing job, but in the meantime, she had developed an interest in cooking. So, her husband invested in buying second-hand snack-making machines and set her cart up in front of their house about a year and a half ago. They did not seek external help. The couple instead capitalized on her entrepreneurial spirit and started a business – which worked fine till the second-hand machines broke down completely.

It is only at this juncture, after suffering years of mindless torture from her father-in-law, that she set up a business on her own and ran it as best as she could without seeking help till it all came to a halt, as she did not have the capital to replace the machines, that she encountered our social workers and broke down seeking a loan. Her business had finally earned her some respite and respect from the continuous torture from her father-in-law, and she desperately needed a helping hand to restart and regain her peace and dignity.


Image 2: Gowthami at her snack cart

The most striking element of her loan application file was how our social workers appreciated her desire to work and her drive to make a better life and earn respect with her business. She had come a long way alone, ventured into a business alone. Rebooting her business with a loan is a textbook match for a deserving candidate. We help those who essentially know how to help themselves. All they need is a bit of momentum.