It’s been 7 months for me working with Waste Warriors Society now. From my previous blogs, you would have an idea that I am working in a UNDP Project for Plastic Waste Management at Dehradun. Under this project, we work with Nagar Nigam, Dehradun, for better management of plastic waste and upliftment of people involved in the process. UNDP and other prominent IPs (implementing partners) of the project, including a few old NGOs working in this field from a long time, have identified waste pickers as a crucial link to plastic waste management. They are the people who get back all the plastic waste which people like us litter. Therefore, it is imperative to work on improving their life and social identity.
For this, UNDP has given them a respectful name ‘Safai Sathi‘. The reason behind this is to identify them as a friend who helps in keeping the environment clean. They offer their services to us but ironically, not much recognition is paid either to them or to their work.
In this project, UNDP recommends all its IPs to improve the social and economic condition of Safai Sathis, by organizing them into SHGs (Self Help Groups). This is a way to empower them so that they can help themselves. SHG is a group of people who come together to work for similar motive, that can potentially benefit all members of the group. It is formed with people sharing some sort of commonalities. As it is a general belief that similarities lead to deeper bonding, for the success of any SHG, this bonding and a sense of belonging is much needed. Since SHG also involves dealing with money, the members need to trust each other. All members of the group agree on some amount to be deposited every month to the group’s saving corpus. After a few months, when the group feels that the corpus is enough to start internal lending among members, they do that to help each other for growth and in emergencies. The decision to lend money to a member or to charge a particular rate of interest, is taken collectively by the group. Hence, there should to be an understanding of prioritizing different needs of the members.
The motivation to form an SHG can be different, ranging from working towards an improved source of livelihood, raising voice against social issues like dowry or domestic violence or anything else that affects each member of the group.
In our case, we had to first find this common thread that could bring together the Safai Sathis, and enable them to develop consciousness as a group. Most of the waste pickers in Dehradun borrow money from scrap dealers, either for emergency situations or planned events like a wedding in the family. On this borrowed money, they are charged huge rate of interest. In return, all that the scrap dealers do, is fix the number of rounds till which he will buy the waste from waste pickers, at a fixed price which is lower than the market price, at any point of time. For this duration, waste pickers are bound to sell their waste only to that particular scrap dealer. It doesn’t matter even if anyone else is ready to pay a higher price for waste collected by them.
Other than this, cases of physical abuse have been observed in the waste picker community. It is said that Nagar Nigam workers misbehave with them by acts like taking away the jacket and gears provided to them. By organizing themselves in an SHG, they would be able to represent themselves before any administrative authority. At waste warriors, we didn’t have much experience of working closely with this community. A lot of time was initially spent in research. We had to find someone who has an experience of working with SHGs and learn from them. It had become exhausting for us as no SHG could be formed even after months of efforts.
One day, while having lunch, we were discussing the problems that we are facing in forming the SHG. Lunch is generally the time when all of us sit together and share each others’ work progress. That’s when I got an advice from someone, to form an SHG with our own Green Workers (field staff). They collect waste from various businesses, clean the lanes of Dehradun and segregate the collected waste at our segregation centre. They fall exactly into the definition of Safai Sathi. How could I miss them! I should’ve begun with them.
Next day, I held a meeting with Green workers and got to know about situations where they’ve reached out to Waste Warriors for borrowing small amounts like Rs. 1,000 or Rs. 1,500 to meet the needs at home.
Even if they need more money, they just can’t ask it as they have to return it with the next month’s salary. SHGs could be of great help in such situations where they can borrow bigger amounts and return it within the mutually decided time frame. Most of them were receptive of the idea of an SHG as they had noticed its impact in their villages. It was not difficult to encourage them for forming a group.
We reached out to Ms. Sumitra Chauhan to be a resource person for the SHG. She is from Himmotthan, an initiative by Tata Trusts for welfare of people living in hilly areas. She was quite supportive in the first meeting itself. In her personal capacity, she met our green workers several times and elaborated the benefits of SHGs to them. Most of them understood it well. Until now, they were only dependent on acquiring advance from Waste Warrior, upto a certain limit. But now, they will have the potential to lend themselves through the group’s savings. Waste Warriors will also support them with business opportunities of their choice, in future, through knowledge component or incubation assistance. I look forward to all possible means through which we can enable them to live an improved life.