EA Learning Journal #2- Interview with the founder of my NGO

An interview with Mr Arasu, the founder of India Volunteer Care, was very important in enlarging my understanding of the depths behind the tool that is microfinance. Whilst all of his answers were provided in great detail, one that stood out to me was what he thought were the primary obstacles that women using microfinance faced. There were two parts to the response provided to the one question, as given below:

“Sometimes, her spouse may take money from her and put her into trouble of borrowing [from money lenders]”. I think there is a lot to be learnt and understood in this one sentence. Firstly, it speaks to the everlasting presence of the patriarchy subjugating women to the control of men, who impose their will on the decisions and actions of women. I think this is one of the chief deterrents to the success of microfinance to achieve one of its aims of female empowerment. It shows that even though there may be the opportunity for women to thrive and earn respect in their community, social factors that play a great role in the way in which women behave or can behave, inhibit the human or personal development of women. In the context of analysing the effectiveness of microfinance as a tool of female empowerment, it represents one of the aspects that I will have to take into consideration, particularly in the cultural and social backdrop of India. Furthermore, Mr Arasu’s answer also reveals to me about the scope for exploitation of microfinance in India, something I was completely unaware about until now. This may be attributable to the fact that no fraudulent organisation candidly reveals their schemes on their website or to the women who may have to use them. This is always why my active engagement was so important in revealing the intricacies that go on in Pondicherry, with regards to microfinance, that may not necessarily be explicit online. This form of exploitation takes away from the goal of female empowerment by converting microfinance into a service for profitability.

“Often being uneducated, a woman may not know how to use the money for the purpose for which it was offered. She may use the money for her own domestic needs”. This is a common problem that I have previously identified through reading online reports or assessments of microfinance. I think this reveals one of the most important factors that are into play while determining the success of microfinance: education. Given that it is rational to assume that many impoverished women, who have likely not received sufficient education in their past, are the main users of microfinance schemes, it must be analysed just to what extent this lack of education has one the success levels of the businesses run by the women, and their subsequence empowerment. As such, I also learn about the importance of banks/NGOs in facilitating regular checks, in order to ensure that the women use the money to generate long-term, sustainable income, which cannot be attained if it is spent on domestic needs for example.

Here is a photo of the founder, Mr Arasu, and I on my final day, where they gifted me the scarf and handed me my certificate for volunteering with their programs.

EA Learning Journal #1 – Meeting members of SHGs

The NGO I worked with, India Volunteer Care (IVC), is greatly involved with the microfinance programs offered in India, linking them with banks and assisting them to secure finances in order to generate sustainable income. In fact, they help 150 Self-Help Groups with roughly 10-20 women within their organisation, which was tremendously beneficial for my engagement, since it enabled me to meet more women involved in microfinance programs, eventually strengthening my knowledge about the program.

I had the opportunity to meet 12 SHGs, which I believe allows me to acquire a broader understanding of the perspective of the women most actively involved in the microfinance program. One of the commonalities between the majority of all the women I had interviewed was that they made all, if not the majority of, the decisions for the family following their participation in the microfinance program. Not only is this a remarkable change that has been successfully created solely by the hard-work and determination of the women, but it speaks to the effectiveness of this program to empower women in Pondicherry. Throughout the interviews, I was in awe of the independence of the women that sat before me, as I learnt about what invigorated them to form SHGs or about the benefits the program has caused to their lives. I think the women have been able to earn themselves respect in their households, especially given their preceding poverty status, because it shows them shouldering the burdens of the household in a more modern and equal way. In small towns or rural areas in India particularly, there is a belief that women are best to remain in the households, caring for the children, whilst the man assumes the role of the breadwinner. However, with the growing presence of microfinance all over India, there is a way for women to generate an income for themselves and their family, even if they haven’t yet had the sufficient education or training required for that field. As such, I believe that microfinance provides women with a way to challenge commonly-held and regressive social norms in a patriarchal Indian society, which inhibit the ability to improve their well-being themselves. Another thing that I learnt from the greater decision-making power of women under this program is that the impacts of empowerment through microfinance are social, and thus culturally relative. In fact, when asked about the familial decision-making power held prior to participation in microfinance programs, one woman said: “husbands stay quiet while women make the decisions of the house”. Since I am from the north of India, where patriarchal demonstrations occur at a far greater frequency, this greater gender equality of the South of India was a revelation for me. I think this allows me to broaden my scope of analysis into my political issue when the time comes to actually write it.

Here are some photos I took during my visits to different self-help groups.

                           

 

EE Reflective Conversation #2

Even after completing 1000 words of my EE, the topic still feels incredibly vast to effectively conquer within its word limit. This has come to be one of the major challenges of my research because there are many ways that I can continue with my topic, so having to trim down paths of analysis makes me feel nervous and doubtful about how my work will turn out after a complete first draft is finished. Additionally, it has come to my attention that even at this point, I am unable to provide an answer to my research question. This is quite a concern for me because I realise that I have spent roughly 4 months on this topic. After some reflection, I realised that this can be attributable to the magnitude of factors that contribute towards my topic, however, this leaves me even more apprehensive about the coming few months, where I have to provide a conclusion for this topic in my essay.

Word Count: 160

EE Day Reflection

As EE Day comes to an end, I realise just how significant it was for my EE process since it directed me towards the starting line of my EE – incidentally, which is something I find extremely challenging to do on my own. Prior to today, I did not have a concise and specific research question, which I found quite a huge deterrent in my research process because it was very easy for me to get “bogged down”, as Ms Wilson (my supervisor) puts it, into information that isn’t required of my essay. Although my new research question (which is not yet completely decided either) came into being due to a meeting with Ms Wilson, I am most proud of this because it allows me to start my EE writing. I find this significant because so far, all my research seemed to abstract for my main issue; so many different aspects of one broad question hindered me from looking into my main issue. When this is put in conjunction with my newfound information on the Global Politics EE, specifically the requirements of the EE criteria as well as having access to exemplars to understand the structure of the EE, makes me feel confident going forward to writing my first 1,000 words. As the EE process reaches its next step, I will be focusing on assembling research (and definitely doing some more) and analysing it through a critical lens of the key concepts/theoretical foundations provided by the Global Politics course.

Thank you!

Ladakh GC Reflection #3

This reflection post focuses on Learning outcomes 2 and 3, which are Challenge and Initiative respectively.

Season 3 of Ladakh was focused on making Shanti Aman Ball a great night for both parents and GCs involved, however, unfortunately, due to the lack of people attending the event, the lack of funding rendered the project infeasible. When Ladakh GC got news about the limited number of people signing up for the event, we responded as quickly as possible to spread awareness of the event in hopes that students encourage their parents to attend. For instance, we even campaigned to the faculty members of the school, giving a talk during a teacher’s meeting about the importance of the ball. I feel like if the same situation presented itself in the future, I would have done the same because this plan was successful in encouraging the teachers to sign up to fill the minimal number of spots required. However, we should have kept in mind that the Shanti Aman Ball could have depended too much on the teachers, and thus focuses on campaigning to students and parents alike. However, the way that we would have responded to such a crisis could have been different. Instead of simply putting up posters, the GCs would be more proactive in advocating about the ball in assemblies, for example, through videos or a speech. I think that the posters were not something we should have relied on for spreading information about the event, because they are largely ignored as students walk past them to their classes for example. Additionally, this also relied on the students to be the messengers of the ball to their parents, which is not a great idea since it is likely that they simply forget about the event by the time they reach home. Instead, I think the focus should have been on advocating to the parents, who would be the attendees of the event. I do believe that it was a good idea to spread the message through the eBrief, however, once again, I don’t think we should have depended on it because personally, I know that my parents never read the eBrief so it isn’t as good of a messenger as the GCs once concluded. Instead, if we were to do it again next time, I think GC members should attempt to speak at one of the parents coffee mornings or set up a table outside of the Parent Teacher conferences to attract attention and incentivise parents to attend the Shanti Aman Ball.

I think that following the news about the termination of the Shanti Aman Ball event, Ladakh GC found it incredibly challenging to regain its footing to make a definite impact upon the UWC community. We were all very disheartened because we had all spent lots of time into making the ball happen in the first place, and knowing that when this ball didn’t come into fruition, many communities back in Ladakh, Pakistan, or Bangladesh were impacted (since the money could have helped better their lives). Although we did our part in the Family Festival, as part of the Green Fingers or selling baked goods, we felt like we made a very limited impact to help the Ladakhi community, which was indefinitely a challenge heading into Season 4.

Thank you!

Migrant Worker Activities Reflection #3

I think this service focuses predominantly on Learning Outcomes 2 and 4, which are Challenge and Commitment respectively.

The fact that this service has been a challenge has been an ongoing theme since the very start of it, back in Season 1. While Season 3 also starting with the similar challenges of lack of time and lack of project ideas, to name a few, the members of this group have worked very hard to transition away from this, towards a more productive service. After lots of deliberation, discussions, and meetings, the group has decided to kickstart an annual photo exhibition done by the migrant workers and for the migrant workers. The project is to be done in conjunction with HOME (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics), where the service members provide photo-taking skills knowledge and a platform for migrant workers to showcase to the expat community their daily lives. This is all done in hopes of better integrating their marginalised community within the Singaporean landscape, which is of utmost importance. However, in regards to the challenge I face, I continue to find it difficult to contribute to discussions and take leadership within the service. Even though the group is very small, I find a lot of pressure for each contribution to be absolutely perfect since we have come across so many different genres of challenges on the way. However, I feel like to address this issue, it would be better if I contribute towards the setting up of this exhibition through organising the materials required or getting in touch with the people who can help our petite service group achieve their large-sized aims. Additionally, I feel that once the details of the photo exhibition have been finalised, everyone’s required contribution will shoot right up because, as I said before, the number of people are just so small as opposed to the workload. I think I would feel more satisfied with my contribution at that stage as I would actually be doing productive work towards the cause of the migrant workers.

Moving on, I think that this service has required a lot of perseverance out of each of the student members. Towards the beginning of the service, I remember that we used to get berated quite a lot by one of our service teachers, to no fault of their own because it really was frustrating that (at that point) since the start of the year, we had got no real progress underway. However, I really felt that this approach was counterproductive because I, personally, felt (at that point) that there was no real worth of me staying in the service but continuing to get shouted at the same time. I really observed that the members did not have a high morale or drive to maintain the service. I think this turned around completely after the teacher stopped doing this and instead gave us very constructive advice that really motivated the students to keep on finding the solutions that had been plaguing our service all year long. I really am very grateful that this happened because it created a constructive space that encouraged learning through mistakes, which I believe eventually lead the team to brainstorm and plan to carry out this photo exhibition. I also think that having moved on from this place, the members and teachers now have trust within one another to carry out the tasks that we required of them.

Thank you!

EE Reflective Conversation #1

 

 

Over time, it became clear to me that I want to write a Global Politics EE, since it would enable me to maintain my curiosity with politics of rape in unstable regions over a sustained period of time. I undertook some research about ISIS, rape as a weapon, the religions involved in Iraq through online reports and articles alongside human rights books to prepare me for our first meeting. However, the foremost challenge I faced was that it’s morally difficult to read about this topic whilst maintaining the level of sensitivity it requires and not being dehumanised to this issue by treating it as a general occurrence. Additionally, having a research question that is too broad poses another challenge because it requires a further in-depth reading of material that may not be incorporated in the end whilst simultaneously creating a feeling of unease in my mind, since I had expected to have the research question finalised by this point.

Word Count: 159

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