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Helping themselves survive

By Heather Cecilia Phanwar

Unemployment in the state is on the rise and the government is struggling to check the intensity of the problem that has put the economy on a shaky ground. At this juncture, self help groups in different parts of the city are trying to provide some succour by training jobless youths, poor women and school dropouts in various skills.
There are 40 self help groups (SHGs) registered with the Shillong Municipal Board but only a few are working regularly. These SHGs make various items like bamboo and cane showpieces and utility items, vermicompost, soap, candles and even jainsem. Sunday Shillong spoke to three SHGs in the city which, despite several challenges, are trying to stay afloat.

Iainehskhem Self Help Group, Marten

Nineteen women, all single mothers, form the SHG that is led by Bibisha Kharnaior. Set amid the city’s dump yard, the group makes organic manure from the garbage collected from the green bins like vegetable peels and fruits.
The work is strenuous as the entire process is done manually. After collecting the garbage, the women segregate the non-biodegradable waste from it. The women painstakingly do the job to make sure not a trace of plastic remains. They work without complaints and are always in a jolly mood.
“We formed the SHG in 2014 but started working in 2017. We are actually rag pickers here at Marten. The Urban Affairs Department helped us form the group. Depending on the garbage we get, we work here for half a day or sometimes full day. We also make money from selling old tins and bottles which we collect,” said Kharnaior.
The women got training in making compost at Bethany Society. “There are three types of organic manure depending on the way they are prepared — trench compost that takes 45 days to prepare, bokashi compost that takes two weeks and vertical compost that takes a month,” said Kharnaior.
The segregated waste is mixed with top soil, wood ash, charcoal, rice husk, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that destroys the foul smell and gold granule, which is a mixture of rice bran, jiggery, LAB and water. The mixture is then taken to a designated place for fermentation. The height of the processed biodegradable waste mixture should be one foot. Then LAB is sprinkled on it before covering it up with gunny bags for aeration. It takes two weeks for the compost to be ready.
The end product is sold at Rs 20 per kg. “Recently, we supplied 14 tonnes of manure to the governor’s house. The Agriculture Department is testing it as well,” said Kharnaior but added that they do not have a proper place to sell the product and “when people want it they call us and we deliver to their place”.
The government has helped them in building the shed where the women work, provided gloves, boots and uniforms.
Kharnaior said despite their hard work, challenges remain. “The one problem that we’re facing right now is that we have plenty of available stock but the business is slow as only a few people know about us.”
Median Lyngdoh Nonglait, who is with the SHG from the beginning, said she has four children to support. “I don’t work anywhere else. This is my only job. Whether the business runs smoothly or not, I cannot leave it because I have been here from the start. I hope that someday the business will flourish. Sometimes we get Rs 3,000 and many a time not even Rs 500 a month. But I am content with it,” she added.
It is the same story for others like Cecilia Nongsiej who has three children. “My aim is to keep food on the table for my family. The business has not been good but I hope it improves in the coming days,” she said.
The group recently went to Delhi for exhibiting and selling the the bokashi compost.
When the group was formed, everyone would put in Rs 50 as monthly subscription. “We get something out of making the manure because it has helped us individually. When someone is in need of money we lend them from the monthly subscription. The money that we make from the product we distribute amongst ourselves,” said Kharnaior.
Icydora, another worker and mother of six, said the work, especially segregating the waste, is hectic but if everyone is present, more work is done. Icydora uses her income to support the education of her grandchildren too.
When asked about health hazards, Kharnaior said she has been working for 30 years now and there has never been any illness.
“We want to spread the business but we don’t have a proper place to do it. Also, if the business flourishes, we would need a bigger space,” she added.

Kyntiewlang Self Help Group, Mawlai-Mawroh

The SHG was founded on July 20, 2017, with six members, all from Jaiaw Langsning.
Lumlanglin Marbaniang, the coordinator of the SHG, said the women make bamboo baskets, candles and jute bags. “The woman who makes the bamboo products is from Syntein village in Mawsynram. We do not have anyone here to make such articles. For the other products like making candles and bags, we have people here to make them. We also give training to youths, especially dropouts. We even call men to work here,” she added.
The SHG was shifted from Jaiaw to Mawroh recently. One has to pay Rs 500 a month to get skill development training because “sometimes youths tend to take it for granted if we give it for free”.
With many people selling bamboo products, the competition is high. So the group is also planning to start making pickles and paper bags.
“I also train youths in various other activities to make them self-reliant. As an SHG we have to think about the activities so that the youths will be interested. Without activities, an SHG will not function. We also call NGOs from Guwahati to train locals, youths, students and dropouts,” said Marbaniang, adding, “The SHG has its own teachers with their own set of skills. Each member has a skill so that the SHG grows.”
The profit that the SHG makes is a paltry Rs 500-600 but it earns around Rs 10,000 a month from supplying the products.
When asked about assistance from the government, the coordinator said there is nothing but their hard work. “There are no schemes available for us. During exhibitions, the government gives us free stalls.”
She informed that the municipal board has a limited role to play and “I have to run around every time there is any training or programme”.
“Having an experience of 15 years with this kind of work I have travelled to Tura, Jaintia Hills and West Khasi Hills to conduct trainings and programmes. I oversee the work and see that everything falls into place. I’m interested in social work so I love what I do,” Marbaniang added.
Kyntiewlang also helps to form SHGs in different localities and has a federation of all such groups.
Rijanai Self Help Group, Mawlai-Mawroh

Rijanai has five women between the age group of 27-32 and they are into tailoring. They started their SHG this year in January. Christilyne Jyrwa, the 27-year-old member, said they work under Kyntiewlang SHG and have started making the products but “we are not sure how we are going to earn profits”.
“The products which we make include frocks, pencil bags, mitten gloves, apron, tiffin bags and children wear,” said 28-year-old Prissila Khongsngi, another member.
The small room where the women work is stacked with clothes and finished products. Lussiana Lyngdoh (32) said they finished their training from ITI in 2014 followed by training at NIFT in 2015.
“As we have just started our SHG, orders are less but we have attended an exhibition Underday- NULM at state central library to sell our products,” said Tracyna Rynjah, the 28-year-old member.
When asked if the government helps them in any way, Cordiality Kharlukhi answered in negative. “Whatever we do is from our own pockets. As an SHG, we want to help other people as well like giving training to youths but due to insufficient manpower and less sewing machines it is difficult to do so,” she added.

Challenges for SHGs

Many SHGs, like Roots in Jaiaw, which had started with much hope and enthusiasm have closed down. Sustainability is a major problem for them and with no help from the government, running the groups becomes difficult. Kristimai Kharbudnah, the woman behind Kristy’s soaps which are sold at Synod Complex, Mawlai and other parts of the city like the shop inside Eecee Hotel in Police Bazar, said her main challenge is that there is no market for the products.
Self help groups can help mitigate urban poverty to a great extent and it becomes imperative to extend support in the form of fund and marketing of products to ensure these groups’ sustainability, at least till the time they become self-reliant.

(With inputs from
Daiaphira Kharsati)

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