By Abner Manzar
Chouttupal is a one hour drive from Hyderabad on the Hyderabad-Vijayawada highway. Jagdish, Digital Empowerment Foundation’s project officer in Chouttupal had sent me the location of DEF’s centre in Chinna Kondur village near Chouttupal. As I drove on the busy highway I wondered why DEF had opened a centre so close to the city as we are known to be present in remote locations. All my doubts about this centre’s location were assuaged as I turned left from the highway at Chouttupal. The 6 kilometre drive from the highway till Chinna Kondur is through a forest, the one village that comes before Chinna Kondur seemed like a rural village in the heart of a forest. That’s when I realised- in India the remotest location need not be far, they will still be unconnected. Just 60 kilometres from Hyderabad this small village is located in the middle of a forest.
DEF’s centre in Chinna Kondur is located at the main chowk of the village making it accessible to all. Jagdish and Vamsi, the project officers for DEF in the region took me around the village. An old woman saw us walking on the street and she shouted “Vamsi!!”, we turned and walked to her house. She said to him “when is the doctor coming? I am supposed to have a consultation this week.” DEF has ten centres in the region and one of the centre’s is run by a medical professional or ‘HealthPreneur’ as we call them at DEF. He visits all the ten villages of DEF and provides medical consultation to the patients in the village at a minimal price. Vamsi explained “this woman has a long-drawn medical problem for which she needs regular medication and consultation. Unfortunately earlier she didn’t have access to this consultation because the nearest hospital is far away and it is too expensive for her to travel there every other week. When we organised a health camp and told the villagers about our health program she was very excited. This is why our HealthPreneur makes a visit to Chinna Kondur every fortnight because there are patients like her waiting for him. He not only serves this village but all the ten villages in the district where DEF is present.”
When we returned from the visit to the village and came back to the centre I saw a group of girls practicing embroidery. Deepika, the embroidery trainer who was herself a student earlier has been training girls for the last 2 years. The embroidery training enables these girls to earn a livelihood for themselves. This allows them freedom and helps them make their own decisions and their families are not apprehensive about sending them for the training because Deepika is well known in the community now so they trust her and the work she is doing. Apart from generating a livelihood for the girls, this training program has also made Deepika an entrepreneur. She has been given space at DEF’s centre to do the training but she is not paid a salary, her income is the fee she charges from her students. The fee ranges between 2000 and 2500 depending on the duration of the training and all in all she is able to earn about 8000 rupees every month. During Covid this income has become all the more important for her and her family as her husband doesn’t have a stable job, so her income has helped the family through the pandemic.
Governance & Finance
Bhagyalata runs a SoochnaPreneuer centre (digital service centre) in Chinna Kondur. With one laptop, one printer and one biometric machine she serves the community by providing digital skills that would have been inaccessible to them. Most of the people in the village and some people from neighbouring villages as well visit the centre to apply for government schemes and entitlements. Bhagyalata said “on an average I get 40 to 50 people every single day. If the government launches a new scheme then there is a long line at the centre for the next few days. Hundreds of people come to apply and they come here because this is the only centre in a radius of five kilometres. If this centre was not there they would have to travel to Chouttupal town to get this work done.” There isn’t even an ATM close by so Bhagyalata has taken a license from the bank that allows her to become a mobile ATM. People can withdraw and deposit money at her centre. She makes transactions worth 800,000 rupees on an average per month. By providing these services Bhagyalata is helping people gain access to information, financial services and governance services and along with this she is also able to earn money every month. The fee she charges for these services is minimal but because of the high footfall she is still able to earn 12,000 rupees every month. Being a SoochnaPreneur (Information Entrepreneur) has helped her support her family financially.
DEF’s presence in the rural parts of Chouttupal has enabled it to serve the community in a way that is sustainable. We believe that providing people access to information is the most important thing and digital happens to be the most efficient means of doing that. Along with information, people gain access to e-Health, online education, livelihood training, financial services and government entitlements. All of this is possible with digital tools and training. By identifying members of the community to become SoochnaPreneurs, DEF has actually just given digital training and digital tools to the community to empower them in such a way that they are not exploited, their basic rights such as right to information, right to healthcare facilities and right to government entitlements are taken care of and more than anything, they are given the power and means to make decisions that can help them better their standard of living. Without information people don’t even know that there are government schemes in place for them and by providing access to all these facilities using digital tools DEF has been able to empower the whole community in rural parts of Chouttupal.
Abner Manzar is part of DEF’s Media and Communications team. A filmmaker and writer, he is travelling across DEF’s clusters to document the impact that DEF has had in those regions.