It was a dry morning in the heart of Uttar Pradesh. We landed in Lucknow and moved to a white Innova to travel through some of the villages around the city. In a few hours our car pulled up at the Kala Aam village in Hardoi, a small district. My first impressions – a lot of kuchcha housing, people wandering about, some purposeful at the Central Bank branch next to which we disembarked. But otherwise, a really typical village. This is where we were to meet young women who are pushing boundaries using the internet.

Anamika Bajpai, Poornima and Garima Singh, who are digital savvy women of this village, were introduced to us. These are trained Internet Saathis who are changing their fortunes and of others’ by teaching digital skills and other skills. Women and girls in and around the village look at them for inspiration and learning. I spent a whole day with them, their beneficiaries and the village members to understand what it takes to train one woman on the internet and how it can multiply benefits across the whole region.

Although a small village in the interiors of UP, several individuals, including a few young women, mostly college-going and graduates held smartphones. While Google had provided the Saathis with mobile phones which they use to teach other women and girls skills like knitting, new blouse designs, cooking new recipes, singing, dancing, etc., men had bought their phones on their own.

Internet Saathi
Anamika Bajpai, Picture by Poorvi Gupta, SheThePeople

POWER OF INTERNET

In today’s world, having a smartphone is normal in urban areas. But in Hardoi, Anamika got her first phone at the age of 20, which was a keypad phone or what we commonly know as a feature phone. She received her first smartphone through the internet saathi program about a year back when she connected with it. The Saathis get three days of training to learn how to operate the phone and browse the internet on it. Then the program coordinators ask them to educate other girls in their village and other villages around it, about the benefits of digital.

Anamika had already done a computer course where she had learnt how to use the net so it was easier for her to understand the mobile version of it. But since she did not have a smartphone or a computer in her village so her knowledge had never seen practical results. As soon as she got a mobile phone, it helped her in her studies as well as other girls with their problems in studying and otherwise, exploring skills in different fields.

“I was preparing for banking and I used to buy a magazine to study which had news and articles about the previous month but now with the help of smartphone and internet I browse current news very easily. I have helped girls register for examinations and colleges for which we had to go to a shop earlier,” a 24-year-old, Anamika told SheThePeople.TV.

ALSO READ: Online Safety: Take A Leap On The Internet, But Be Smart, Say Experts

She has taught over 600 girls through the internet, going to their homes and teaching them several skills. One of her beneficiaries showed us decorative pieces that they had learnt to make by watching YouTube videos. The other girl had made science projects after looking up the designs on Google. There were several girls like them who had benefited from the program.

Anamika has taught over 600 girls through the internet, going to their homes and teaching them several skills.

Garima, 35 and married, joined the program because of her husband’s persuasion. Although she wanted to do social work but had never got around it due to lack of opportunity. Getting her own smartphone about a year back, allowed her to go from place to place holding workshops. She knew acupressure and even knew some cooking skills. In the span of last seven months she has held workshops in these skills with over 700 women around her village of Rara in Ballia district of UP.

Internet Saathi
Saathi Garima Singh with her homemade momos

INTERNET SAATHI AND THEIR WORK

Garima showed the girls how to make momos, new henna designs and intricate blouse patterns for them to have a better income. “Girls today are earning more for their better designs of henna in marriages. I taught one lady to sew a unique design of blouse through the internet and today she charges Rs 20 more than her usual rate to make that design of blouse. The internet has helped women in villages to scale up their businesses.”

“I was preparing for banking and I used to buy a magazine to study which had news and articles about the previous month but now with the help of smartphone and internet I browse current news very easily.” -Anamika

There is also Poornima, 20, who trains women between the ages 14-40 in her village with handicraft skills.  She makes fans and other decorative items. The girls admit while there is a change in the mindset, several people in the village still hesitate from letting their girls use mobile phones and internet citing safety concerns. As a result, one of the main challenges that the Saathis face is to convince the family to let their girls attend the classes. In India, the normative values around internet usage are still patriarchal. People presume exposure to the internet is bad for girls, though they don’t harbour such views for boys.

THE CHALLENGES

Women trained under the saathi program are trying to explore how to monetize from their skills online. Given there is limited availability of infrastructure in villages for smooth browsing. However, Google and Tata Trusts jointly started this initiative and have announced an employment program in December, 2017 for the Internet Saathis to sustain the learning. This is a good idea given that it is outcome oriented and a tool to convince parents of such girls right from the start that there would be opportunities to work and implement this skill.

Garima has appealed for a tower set up in her village so she and the others get better network for smooth browsing. “We are still working for a tower because that will really help the villages a lot. Recently, we did not have enough electricity in our village and we all women stood up against it. We appeal to the district collector so they listen to our demands.”

For us at SheThePeople this was a truly inspirational journey through the lives of women who are transforming lives with the internet.

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

Email us at connect@shethepeople.tv