Mehbooba Akhter, 32, sobs while recalling the day when her kids were forced to skip meals. The family couldn’t afford to buy household items to prepare a proper meal for them because the family was living in extreme poverty.
Mehbooba, who belongs to the Wachi area of south Kashmir’s Shopian district, says her husband was working as a casual labourer and it was hard for them to make both ends meet. Due to the lack of avenues and livelihood, the family couldn’t even send their kids to school and meet their daily needs.
“We had to sleep empty stomach many times,” she said.
However, the situation of Mehbooba changed following the support by the government under the Umeed (Hope) scheme under National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). She was provided with the platform to help her family financially after joining the Self Help Group (SHG) namely Jhelum.
“I was in a distressing situation and left helpless but the Umeed scheme gave me hope,” she said.
“Earlier, I could help my husband financially to bring our family out of extreme poverty,” she said.
Mehbooba said she had a dream to start her own business but it couldn’t see the light of the day due to poverty and financial crunches.
After financial help through Umeed, she could open her hosiery and cosmetic shop seeing the demand in her locality.
“Girls usually hesitate to purchase cosmetics and hosiery items from shops run by men so there was a huge demand from women of my locality,” said Mehbooba.
“A huge number of girls and women thronged my shop from the beginning and became my regular customers,” she said.
That boosted Mehbooba’s business and she is in a better financial state.
“The period of seclusion and poverty is over now. I have many friends in her group to share the pain and joy,” she said.
Under the Umeed scheme, Mehbooba received Rs 45,000 initially as a revolving fund and community investment fund. She is part of a Self Help Group which is registered under the NRLM scheme to receive the benefits.
In addition to it, she also received help from her SHG and village organization from time to time to upgrade the shop.
Mehbooba admits that Umeed has ignited hope and purpose in her life for her. Now, she is more confident about facing the ups and downs of life and aims of building her business with further support from the group.
Her group members also ensure that she gets a good customer base by purchasing cosmetic items from her shop.
Currently, she is getting an income of more than Rs 3,00,000 per annum through a cosmetic shop. She has employed two persons also from the community.
She is not alone, there are many success stories in Kashmir about the National Rural Livelihood Mission and Umeed scheme which supported hundreds of women and poor families.
In the Shopian district alone, over 5100 persons received support under Umeed.
“Of 16,211 households in the district 5,146 have been covered under the scheme,” said Block Program Manager, Rayees Rathore.
“So far there are 5,190 people, especially women, who are earning their livelihood under 615 self-help groups in the district.
A similar story is of Mehjabeena of Okey Hamlet in Kulgam who prefers self-employment over seeking a government job to end the financial constraints of his family.
She is presently managing multiple small businesses after hand-holding by the National Rural Livelihood Mission.
Her energy and dedication motivate her to establish her own business venture to become a job provider and live a dignified life rather than ending up as a government job seeker.
“I received a share of Rs. 5000 as basic financial assistance through the mission, and immediately started work on assignments with all dedication and sincerity along with other members of Self Help Group established under the patronage of NRLM,” she said.
Mehjabeena stayed focused, got well acquainted in knitting, and started to produce handmade garments at her own knitting unit, and it is from this that the small earnings started to pour in.
“To double the production of garments, I planned to shift to a machine and decided to procure it,” she said.
“I put my savings and raised a loan thus purchased a knitting machine which doubled my garment production and improved my income and now my monthly earnings are more than 20 thousand per month,” she added.
Besides earning for herself, Mehjabeena employed eight members and some workers who too are earning their livelihood.
“I still remember the days when there was no source of income to me but today there is a change,” she said.
Mehjabeena said that presently she also owns a willow wicker works unit and has recently started a Kiryana shop in the vicinity.
She now plans to establish a showroom in the main town and is preparing for it.
“I want to establish a showroom in the main market where I can put my products on display for sale,” added Mehjabeena.
Coming from a humble background, financial constraints were a barrier to make this dream come true, but, the decision was unchanged and the spirit was high despite all odds, Mehjabeena maintained her focus and set her eyes on the target to utilize every opportunity to give wings to her dream.
Umeed scheme is mandated to reach out to all the poor families, link them to sustainable livelihood opportunities and nurture them till they come out of poverty and enjoy a decent quality of life.