India: Empowering flood affected women through agriculture and work

By Rina Chunder, ACT International

Kendrapara, India. May 15, 2007. Life is hard for Jyotsna Pradhan. When her husband deserted her she was left to care for her elderly mother and her 4-year-old daughter. Most people in her village are poor and regular work is very hard to find. This past fall, life became even more difficult when heavy flooding struck her village in Orissa, India.

The downpour deepened the suffering and poverty that many families were already experiencing. Many mud homes were swept away and potential farmland was polluted with salt and covered with 2 to 3 feet of sand (0.61 to 0.91 meters). In response to the situation on the ground, ACT members, Lutheran World Service India (LWSI) and DanChurchAid (DCA), are working together to support affected families in the Kendrapara and Jajpur districts of Orissa, India with financial support from the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO).

Jyotsna is not alone in her struggle to survive. At the age of fourteen, Redoni Mahapatra found herself in an abusive marriage. She was not given any food and out of sheer desperation she started eating poultry bones for survival. Her in-laws drove her out of their house saying she had gone mad and she went to stay with her parents. Her parents have since died and now she is on her own, struggling to work and persevere in very challenging circumstances.

Many other women, young and old, are enduring their own hardship and pain. Kamala Nayak is a 37-year-old widow. She has four daughters, of whom the eldest is deaf and mute. She tried to make ends meet by working as an agricultural laborer. However, she lost that work after last year's floods. She and her daughters are barely managing to stay alive with help from Kamala's father who also is poor.

Families are being assisted through projects including housing construction and rehabilitation, safe water and sanitation, agriculture support and food security, through Food for Work programs. LWSI and DCA plan to provide housing assistance and sanitation facilities to 500 families whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the floods. Twelve tube wells are also being installed to provide safe drinking water to affected communities. In addition, 70 metric tons of groundnut seeds are being distributed for agriculture projects and future income generation.

At the young age of 24, Suprabha Behra is fully responsible for her entire family. Some days she was able to find a meager wage by cleaning cow manure from farmers' homes and yet other days she was forced to the streets to beg. She cares for her parents, who are both paralyzed, and for her brother, who suffers from mental disabilities. She was on her own, trying to persevere in very difficult circumstances worsened by the recent flood, but now she has found work through the Food for Work projects by LWSI and DCA.

The Food for Work program was designed to give workers the opportunity to work for 15 days and receive food grains for 45 days. The projects not only assisted with future income generation possibilities, but also contributed to local infrastructure that supports the entire community. Roads were constructed that link small villages, and irrigation tanks were excavated to support local agriculture. Through the program LWSI and DCA are distributing close to 400 metric tons of rice and other grains.

While the needs are still great, both ACT members are committed to the successful completion of the ECHO funded programs. Their partnership with the local communities in the Kendrapara and Jajpur districts of Orissa is making a tangible difference in the lives of women and their families.

Everyday Jyotsna still has to care for her daughter and mother, but in the midst of her situation, she has found hope for the future. "Now I can sleep at night without having to worry about work the next day." And, work means life.