Connecting local responses around the world
Santhwanatheeram CBO is promoted by Jawahar Suraksha Project. When the project started its function among the scattered female sex worker community at Alappuzha District, they had negligible savings. The Project identified them with the habit of spending all the income from their occupation instantly, for their squandering life. Subsequently they were in difficulty for money to meet their daily needs particularly when they could not go for sex work due to illness, arrest or raid by police, or other such causes. Habitually they depend on local money-lenders who charge huge interest for instant money, in need. When the project started functioning in the district, they started asking money as loans or donations from the project staff in such crisis situations. Even if it is for justifiable deeds, the project team found difficulty in providing such loans at many occasions. It also observed that such incidences created barriers in establishing therapeutic rapport with female sex workers for expected behavior change, to prevent HIV/AIDS among them.
The thought for initiating a small saving scheme among them emanated from this encumbrance. The professional team of the Project supported Santhwanatheeram CBO to set up a technically viable and functionally feasible savings programme among its members. With the support of the professional team, the CBO has developed a written by-law explaining procedures and provisions of the scheme. The scheme persuades its members to pay Rs.100 per month as monthly installment for the scheme. The scheme offers its members the whole paid amount with a reasonable amount as share of the profit of the scheme after the completion of twelve months. The scheme envisages the growth of money from the interest of small loans distributed among the members in need and from the income of micro-financing initiatives using this savings. All the income generated from these types of activities implemented using the deposits of shareholders are divided equally among them after the completion of the term.
Initially the community was hesitant to join in the scheme. There were only 68 members in the scheme during the initial phase (2007-2008). The scheme returned Rs. 1500 to all the members against their deposit of Rs.1200 in 12 equal installments. By directly observing the benefits of the scheme, i.e., availing money in need to the members of the scheme and reasonable growth of the deposit, attracted more sex workers to the scheme in subsequent years. In addition to this, all the beneficiaries of the income generation programme implemented by ‘Santhwanatheeram’ using the loans from this saving scheme, also become the members of the scheme. There has been a steady growth in the number of shareholders in subsequent years. The membership was 176 during the period of 2008-2009 and 308 were during 2009-2010. During the current period their number has increased to 367 and the membership campaign is progressing. It is expected that at least 400 members will join the scheme, this year.
The scheme is implemented with the rules and regulations approved and accepted by the sex worker community in Alappuzha District. ‘Ensuring maximum transparency in dealings, proper accounting, simplistic procedures for transactions, maximum utilization of the deposited amount, maximum value for deposits, sharing the whole income from the scheme among the shareholders, etc., are the contributing factors to success of the programme,’ the CBO leaders and Jawahar team affirms. Every month a considerable amount is deposited in the scheme that enables Santhwanatheeram to initiate various social development programmes for the welfare of the female sex workers in the district.
As a by-product, the scheme ensures regular visit of female sex workers to the drop-in-centres to pay the monthly installments. It helps Jawahar Suraksha Project to ensure regular services to build safe sex practices among them. The Project identifies the scheme as one of the best strategies to maintain therapeutic rapport with house based sex workers and is trying to get maximum reach among them through this scheme.
With necessary local specific changes, other CBOs and NGOs working among the Core Groups, particularly among female sex workers, can implement the scheme. It will certainly ensure maximum reach and coverage among them. It will also boost the community mobilization and empowerment initiatives, as visualized by the National AIDS Control Programme, phase –III.