Last week I was invited by Google to spend a day in rural India and check out their program - Internet Saathi. I joined five other people to meet four Internet Saathis and their facilitator in the village of Thotlavallur, an hour from Vijaywada. This is how Andhra women are using Internet to transform their lives.
Through the Internet Saathi initiative Google India and Tata Trusts are aiming to bring digital literacy to women in rural India. Since July 2015, more than 36000 Internet Saathis, in over 135,000 villages across 13 states use the Internet to learn something new everyday. Google provides them with internet skills and the devices to access the internet. The Internet Saathis are responsible for teaching, guiding, and mentoring 600 women each which results in millions of women using the internet.
Read about stories of Saathis like Anamika Bajpayee | Rohini
Parveen Begum, the facilitator, took on the challenge of training Internet Saathis as she wanted to do something for her community. She could not take up a job or start her own business, unlike the other women, as she has family constraints. But she loves teaching the women of her village and other villages to access the internet and start their own businesses. She said until a few years ago, no one knew her but now she is famous.
Parveen Begum, the facilitator, took on the challenge of training Internet Saathis as she wanted to do something for her community.
One of the Internet Saathis, Madhavi explained how she uses the voice feature to research bangles made from silk thread. Today she and her friends sell handmade jewellery worth Rs 1 lakh per month and the profit is almost 50% of the amount. She has personally helped over 1000 women access the internet in the past one year and they have improved their income generating abilities. Many of these women were seamstresses, stitching saree blouses for Rs 100. Now using their internet skills, they have accessed fancy blouse patterns and have a repertoire of designs which fetches them anywhere between Rs 400 - 750.
Most of these women come from very poor backgrounds and their villages are quite remote, cut off from the facilities large cities have access to. As they explained to us, initially there was a lot of resistance as to how the internet could be useful to them. But they were attracted to the voice feature, which most of us in the cities might not have even thought of much. They immediately used it to experiment with words in Telugu and got access to tons of resources. Today many of them are retailing their products online including to customers in the United States.
Internet Saathi Padmavati was motivated to become digitally literate as she felt left behind when others could use the internet and she could not. Today she has her own business making lemongrass oil which she researched as the best option for her. It needed the lowest investment but gave the highest returns. Her first harvest yielded 100 kgs of oil which is sold at Rs1200/kg. She is now trying different combinations with tulsi and pamerosa. Earlier to this she was just a “housewife” in her words. Now she is excited and passionate about her business and has great plans to expand it.
Listening to their stories and watching the passion with which they told them, I could not help but realise that when you educate a woman, you actually educate the entire village.
Whilst Mridula and Sridevi have trained over 2000 women across 2 villages to use the Internet. Mridula has graduated to being a facilitator helping people get their Aadhar cards, open bank accounts and book rail and bus tickets. Sridevi now plans to research farming practices so that she can help her village farmers improve the yield of their crop.
Listening to their stories and watching the passion with which they told them, I could not help but realise that when you educate a woman, you actually educate the entire village. Through these five women we met, thousands of other women have benefitted and through them tens of thousands of others. A simple skill of digital literacy is opening doors in ways they could never have imagined. The aspiration to improve their lives and others around them is a motivational driver for them to invest further in improving their own skills.
The #DayWithASaathi truly inspired me and gave me lots to think about especially the Power of One and its multiplier effect.