Until now, she has been isolated in her community, unable to earn a living and with no knowledge of support schemes that could help her.
With Caritas Australia’s help, she learnt how to access the disability support she’s entitled to and has set up her own thriving business. Her income is growing, along with her confidence. Sakun now participates in village decision-making, her progress motivating other community members to reach for their goals.
Sakun lives with her sister in a rural area of Chhattisgarh, India’s poorest state. Home to 26 million people, where 10 million live in poverty.
Sakun belongs to the Gond tribal community, a historically disadvantaged group who experience higher poverty rates than the wider population of India. She had polio as a child and relies on crutches to move around. An estimated 80 million people in India are living with a disability, around 69% of them in rural areas. Low literacy, few jobs and widespread social stigma mean they are among the most excluded people in India.
As an unmarried Gond woman with a disability, Sakun knew she had to find a way to look after herself.
“Being physically challenged, I was incapable of doing any kind of work. I felt disregarded in my community,” Sakun said. “As well as this, I feel that discrimination, inequality and negligence of vulnerable people by the upper castes of society is the biggest challenge in India.”
In 2018, Sakun joined a Caritas Australia-funded program, which is implemented by Caritas India and its local partner, Samarthan. The program aims to improve the incomes of vulnerable farmers and the most marginalised people in the community, including women and people living with disabilities. It also focuses on strengthening traditional village governance, to improve access to government entitlements.
Caritas India and Samarthan helped Sakun to access a custom-made tricycle, which has helped her get around so she is less isolated. She also undertook training in micro-business development. With a small grant, she set up a kiosk, selling food near the local school.
Now Sakun can move around more freely. She earns her own income and makes a small profit, which goes towards her family’s basic needs. Sakun is also a vocal participant in village governance meetings, sharing her opinions as an equal.
“I can move around my village, visit community members and talk to them, I feel happy and my social life and network has improved,” said Sakun. “It has also given me the opportunity to keep in contact with other people living with disabilities which enabled me to express solidarity with them. Today I am given due respect in the village and community.”
Community members have been inspired by Sakun’s progress. They’re seizing their own opportunities to build sustainable livelihoods and access their basic rights.
Rajesh Kumar Sahu, Program Manager of Caritas partner, Samarthan NGO says that Sakun is a great example for motivating others who are living with a disability.
“Before the program she was not recognised in the village,” said Rajesh. “She did not have any identity in the community. She used to live an isolated life. Now she is self-reliant and not dependent on her family members.”
Nearly 35,000 people have benefited from the program so far. Agricultural innovations, such as collective farming techniques and growing nutritional gardens are helping farmers to adapt to climate change and improving the overall health of the community. Many have increased their incomes by 15-20%.
Sakun’s kiosk is always busy, as she sells to around 900 students. Sometimes she even has to recruit her cousin to help out.
“For the future, I am planning to extend the shop and to establish a permanent shop so that I don’t need to carry all the items from my house,” she said.
Sakun is proud of her newfound presence and voice in the village. “Getting this livelihood opportunity is a proud moment for me,” Sakun said. “I am grateful to all those who sacrifice and support the vulnerable and poor people like me.”
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*World Bank 2016