When the complete lock down commenced in India on 26th March 2020, SEWA started reaching out to its over 1.9 million members through various technology platforms like WhatsApp, Kaizala, Zoom, Facebook etc. We formed multi-level chat groups to enable smooth and efficient two-way flow of information, from ground all the way up to National Leaders and back. This information helped leaders design and deploy appeals, initiatives and relief and rehabilitation activities and also advocate with authorities to fill the gaps in policy outreach.
SEWA successfully connected over 10,000 grass-root members across 9 districts in Gujarat through WhatsApp and Kaizala Groups. While members shared their issues and concerns with SEWA through these groups, SEWA used these groups to reach out to members with posters and voice-based messages regarding Covid-19 precautions, pros and cons of Loan moratorium – EMI due dates etc., specifications on masks stitching, E-modules for agricultural trainings, price and stores for seeds and fertilizers, Procured 210 tons of wheat harvested by small farmers through RUDI, Facilitated members across Gujarat with orders for over 2,00,000 masks – thereby generating alternative source of livelihood, Engaged children of members in creative, interactive and educational activities, Facilitated access to fair-price grocery to member at their door-step through RUDI, Liaise with Local authorities to address the members challenges, Provided members with access to tele-medicine services and facillitated linkage to various Govt schemes and benefits.
Over 2/3rd of SEWA's membership is rural and agriculture still is one of the major occupation in rural areas. However, challenges like lack of information and access to affordable and reliable energy, modern tools and equipment, direct market and lack of awareness about various govt programs, infrastructure and subsidies is leading to increasing precariousness in agriculture.
Therefore, in order to safeguard the farmers against increasingly frequent climate shocks and market shocks, SEWA has launched its agricultural campaign in 1995. As one of the part of this campaign, SEWA launched its model farm pilot in Anand district of Gujarat in 2019 with the objective of introducing modern labor augmenting agricultural technologies and inputs - which will help small and marginal farmers to improve their yeild and reduce their input cost.
The activities for the 2nd year of model farm pilot kick-started with demonstration of modern tractors to over 150 small and marginal farmers across 4 villages in Anand.. Unlike other dealers, SEW provided farmers with an opportunity to actually and personally field-test the tractor and also allowed them to attach their own attachments... SEWA's members from districts of Mehsana and Chota Udepur also visited the model farm and tractor demonstration.
SEWA member Aashaben from Mehsana district said..."On 10th Sep, we visited SEWA's model farm in Anand district where saw 5 different tractor models... the local farmers were even field testing the tractors by attaching their own attachments... the best thing I liked about this tractor is that unlike other tractors, this has power steering... so maneuvering in field is very easy"
Various other agricultural inputs and technologies like seeds, pesticides, sensor technology etc. will also be introduced in this pilot during this year
Anyone visiting the SEWA website, would be familiar with the name of Ela Bhatt, who founded SEWA in 1972. The three little words that sum up her life’s work are Women Work and Peace. This is the title of a book, that has a collection of selected speeches, edited and introduced by Margie Sastry and published by Navajivan Trust. The 27 speeches of Ela Bhatt in the book WOMEN WORK AND PEACE cover a span of 40 years and give an insight into her wisdom and her work of giving voice, strength and self-esteem to thousands of self-employed women across India.
You can read about the genesis and evolution of Sewa in Elaben’s own words but also “hear” many concepts that she has espoused, including the Hundred Mile Principle, The Grihini Model of International Relations and the Economy of Nurturance. The Centrality of work, Microfinance and Microinsurance are the themes of some speeches but also included are her Convocation speeches, where she shares her ideas with the graduating youth going out into the world. Khadi, Natural markets, Hawkers and Vendors, as well as the humble Jhadu or broom as a symbol of sustainability,Unions are incomplete without Cooperatives, are a few of her favourite things and get due coverage.
Each of the 27 speeches has a short precis giving a glimpse of the theme and some of them have a candid conversation between the author and the editor captured during the making of the book.
Renana Jhabvala, who has been an associate, friend and sounding board of Elaben for 35 years, has written the Preface. The introduction by the editor Margie Sastry gives a rare insight into the heart and mind of Ela Bhatt, the gentle revolutionary. The book jacket has been designed and illustrated by Somnath Bhatt.
Women, work and Peace would find relevance with those working in women’s empowerment, with development, microfinance, microinsurance or with the so-called unorganised sector (which Elaben prefers to call People’s sector), However, it is recommended reading for anyone interested in finding simple, practical and people centric solutions to problems around them. Although the book and the speeches predate the pandemic, the book holds many kernels of ideas that can open your mind of looking at the world anew. It is available at Navajivan Trust website. http://www.navajivantrust.org/