Essential Training to Inspire and Empower Women

PurpleLily Director, Ginette Collin, visits projects: Shivia and Freedom from Hunger in India

PurpleLily Director, Ginette Collin, visits projects: Shivia and Freedom from Hunger in India

PurpleLily Director, Ginette Collin, visits projects: Shivia and Freedom from Hunger in India

In preparation to start PurpleLily in Kuching (Malaysia, Borneo) I went to Calcutta and Bhubaneswar in India. The purpose of my visit was to spend some time with experts in livelihood programmes and life skills training: Shivia and Freedom from Hunger (FFH). Both organisations have been very supportive over the last few months to help me start up PurpleLily.

Meeting Chandrani (Head of Livelihood Programme) and Joe (Head of the Partners Programme) from Shivia was very interesting and useful. Their knowledge, experience and commitment with livelihood programmes were inspiring. Shivia launched a livelihood model in 2011 and is currently running it in 2000 villages near Calcutta. The participants buy a 35 RM “tool kit” consisting of 10 chicks, vaccinations, feed for the first 4 weeks, technical training, daily visits and ongoing support. For the livelihood programme, Shivia contracted a specialist service provider to assist with the operation. The participants in this programme develop new skills and increase their earning capabilities. Often, this is enough to raise the participants’ standard of living above the poverty line.

It was motivating and encouraging to witness the difference that Shivia is making in the lives of many people in India.


I then traveled to the state of Orissa, where I spent a few days with Dr. Soumitra Dutta (FFH). Dr. Dutta was very helpful and explained how FFH creates partnerships with local microfinance institutions and adds value by providing specialised training to complement their microfinance services. I was fortunate to attend health education training in two different villages: one in Orissa and one near Calcutta.

In the first village (Rajakanika, in the state of Orissa), FFH works in partnership with a local microfinance institution called Gram-Utthan (GU). Volunteers are trained to provide health education to GU microfinance clients, who are generally women from rural villages. Each village has a health volunteer who is responsible for facilitating monthly training sessions in the local language and for monthly home visits to all the participants. In addition, the health volunteer is trained to run a medicine point in the village, which is a medicine cabinet equipped with drugs and health products available to anyone at market price. The health volunteer has 24- hour phone access to a pharmacist who is available with advice and recommendations.

FFH offers ongoing assistance to health volunteers by providing the initial training, refresher courses, support, and regular visits. This is a low cost, sustainable and certainly effective programme. An added bonus is that all the facilitators in this programme have become confident women and have earned respect within their villages and communities.

I visited a second village near Calcutta. FFH, in collaboration with Bandhan Microfinance, has developed and trialled a different model of health education programme. In this new model, FFH trains Bandhan full-time facilitators to deliver the health education sessions. Bandhan’s facilitators travel from village to village to deliver the health training sessions and the programme is offered not only to the microcredit clients but also to all the women in the villages. This model also includes a health volunteer per village but their responsibilities are limited to monthly home visits (the microfinance clients only) and being in charge of the village pharmacy medicine cabinet. She also has access to a pharmacist for advice and support.

Given that the facilitators are full-time staff, who are paid and receive weekly training, the sessions of this model are delivered in a more structured and professional manner. However, it is a model that is also more costly as the microfinance institution must fund this ongoing successful programme.

Both classes I attended were excellent. They were informative, interactive and, although I didn’t understand the language, there were a lot of laughs. These classes are very popular with the women in the villages. The community centres were completely full and there were even women outside the building watching the lesson from the windows. I was amazed to see their participation and level of interest.

I was fortunate to talk with the women after the sessions and find out about the impact that these health education and life skills training sessions have in their lives. They told me they are learning a lot from the sessions and they love to attend. They are also benefiting from the microcredit loans to increase their standard of living (one lady proudly told me that she can now send her kids to school!).

I loved every minute of my time in Calcutta and Bhubaneswar. The meetings with Shivia and Dr. Dutta were incredibly helpful enabling me to further define PurpleLily’s direction. The classes with the women in the villages were so inspiring and cheerful. This visit convinced me that PurpleLily can also make a difference and have an impact on women in Sarawak. We just need to be brave and do it!

My only regret is that my time in India was too short; next time I will make sure to stay longer and learn more about these amazing initiatives. In the meantime, I look at these pictures every day and smile!