First Person

“I am alive because of the blessings of the women of our Ujaas Sahkari Mandali. They came in tractor loads, 400 and more of them, to see me when I was lying in hospital, my face smashed to bits. “I realised the value of relationships, it is the biggest gift my work has given me. I was thirty two and my son nine years, when my world crumbled. If Tusharbhai, the CEO of my husband’s company, TML Industries had not given me a job after my husband’s sudden death in 2008, I would have been a discarded piece of furniture relegated to some corner of the house.

“I was inexperienced, and had not stepped beyond the umro of my home when I started working in the administration department of TML Industries. A few months later, Tusharbhai asked me to assist the Kutch team doing a baseline survey in the villages around Jambusar. TML was starting Aatapi Seva Foundation. “What is an NGO? I was reluctant, anxious, and unsure if I could deliver. ‘You will learn on the job’ everyone reassured me. I hated the slush and mud in the village. I came home and cried every day for the first fifteen days, cursing my fate. Then I made up my mind, I had to do it, I would do it for my son and myself. My family encouraged and supported me. And I have never looked back. I am paying for my son’s studies. He is studying BE Computer Science.”

The smile on Asmitaben’s does not betray the three plates that hold her face in place. She is one of the backbones of the Aatapi field team. She has learnt by throwing herself into the heart of the situation, watching her team mates in action, visits to other NGOs, multiple subject and leadership training opportunities and the support and guidance of her peers and seniors. She sharpened the theoretical framework of her work by doing her post graduate studies in Social Work and taking a distance learning course in NGO Management. Working as a community mobiliser she learnt the importance of women’s empowerment and power of gainful livelihood, the subtleties of group formation and the power of the collective voice. She mastered the art of drawing out the hidden potential of the women members of self-help groups .

“I tell the women you have to take the driver’s seat. I am behind you. Always there. That is the way the Aatapi sisters trained me, allowing me to find my way, make my mistakes, stumble and get up again. Today I am not afraid of any challenge.”

“Taking the strength of Ujaas from 700 to 1000 members in a short span of three months was my biggest challenge. After that I felt I could push the sky higher, if I had to.”

This is the story of our star performer Asmitaben Shah who handles our projects on women’s empowerment. In fact our CSR projects of women empowerment have been named after her – Asmita. Women’s empowerment is not a concept for Asmitaben, it is her journey from the solitude of her shell to embrace the multitude of the women at the heart of Aatapi’s community work.