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After 20 Years
What did Grihini Achieve?

What did Grihini achieve? The obvious answer is that more than 1200 women have graduated from Grihini and returned to their rural villages. More than 1200 women are now proud to say ‘I am a Grihini’. Behind the scenes in the villages, however, we discover some remarkable developments.

The first is in education. 20 years earlier most of the children in these villages either did not go to school or dropped out of Primary school. Now all Grihini insist their children attend school and urge all other children in the village to attend. School and equal treatment at school is now expected. Failure to experience the most basic of education is on the wane and this has become the impetus to ask ‘what next’ for Grihini.

The second development is in leadership. Because of the confidence and awareness created in Grihini women, many move on to lead the struggles of their villages. Grihini have taken the lead in village struggles for gaining access to clean water, clean streets, toilets, roads, land rights and more. Unlike 20 years earlier, many Dalits are now able to take water from the same tap as the caste people as well as having taps of their own.

A third development is in representation. Awareness of their rights as women has led to Grihini women voicing their views not only in local sangams, but as elected representatives on local councils and in public forums. Grihini graduates now elect and compose the program Management Committee which recruits and selects young women for each Grihini program. Recently Grihinis united, with the help of Bastian, a former government employee, to form a publicly registered unorganised workers union to promote the rights of the villagers.

A fourth area relates to health. In spite of the fact that most of these villages still have no government health care centre, the Grihini women have worked hard to improve the health of their families, reducing the use of arrack and improving nutrition. The level of diseases has dropped considerably in the 20 years.

A fifth area relates to employment. Prior to Grihini the employment choices were few. Since Grihini commenced many of the women have been able to gain an independent living using the skills acquired at Grihini such as tailors, Balwadi (childcare) workers and animators. Others have been able to obtain a more reasonable salary for their coolie work, insisting on being paid the basic government wage.

A sixth is economic liberation from oppressive moneylenders through their small savings and loan scheme and through income supplementation of their basic income. Prior to Grihini, most families carried debts across generations because families have turned to high interest charging moneylenders. Now, since Grihini, they have been able to borrow from their own small savings scheme, in times of emergency such as weddings, funerals and illness and to cope with the unevenness of agricultural employment cycles. They are also able to supplement their family income for short periods of time using their craft and tailoring skills to make items that are sold to tourists through their own shops.

Finally Grihini is proving to be a catalyst for changes in cultural and social expectations. The presence of Grihini in these villages has changed the attitudes and lives of many. In the villages where their are Grihini there is a greater tolerance for active participation of women, and a greater tolerance for difference and expectation regarding the possibilities and entitlements for those living in remote villages. Grihini now represent the enlightened women of the village who have a new sense of self-worth and a new respect for others.

The Grihini Program has been committed to remain a small operation that has stayed true to its principles and empower women to change life at the grass roots. As a result, Grihini has become a model of good practice for others to copy and the impetus for an extended program. Now 4 more Grihini programs operated by Jesuit related groups in the plains of Tamil Nadu: two for underprivileged Dalit women and two for Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka.

2009 Evaluation

In December 2009, Anne Benjamin completed a major needs analysis and assessment of the Grihini Project published as The 2010 Grihini Evaluation Report.

The report and its recommendations were discussed jointly by Anne Benjamin, Janice Orrell, Norman Habel, Fr Arokiam, Dency Michael (Director) and other members of the Grihini Trust and Advisory Council. January to March 2010 the Grihini Trust and Advisory Council examined the recommendations further and began discussions with appropriate experts and outside bodies, including the Fr Stephen, Director of Loyola Community College, Madurai, about the staff and structure needed to establish a community college. Fr Stephen continues to be a consultant.

The major evaluation made by Anne Benjamin in the 2009 review was that, partly due to the success of the former Grihini Project, fewer women in the remote villages were devoid of basic education and in need of the basic Grihini program.

A Grihini graduate interviewed in the 2009 Evaluation

A Grihini Graduate interviewed in the 2009 Evaluation

Achievements in Education
From the 2010 Evaluation Report

Education is one of the outstanding success stories associated with Grihini. In interviews with 63 Grihini women, there was an overwhelming commitment to education, expressed mostly in terms of their children’s education. A young pregnant mother of two children under-five, apparently deserted by her husband, but supported by her own family, said: Somehow I will educate my children. (Renuga, 25, 3rd Standard completed, Mandravayal Village)

Another young woman, employed by the Government as a nurse’s aid, had completed her 10th Standard by correspondence through Gandhigram. Completion of the course required that she attend Gandhigram once a week, a three-hour journey each way by bus, which she undertook with her brother. If I had not gone to Grihini, I would not have taken this opportunity (to complete 10th Standard and her nursing training.) I did not feel homesick or fearful in adjusting to a new environment. (Maheshwari, 29, Korankombu Village)

Twenty of the 47 school age (or older) children of the Grihini graduates interviewed are studying (or had studied) outside their own village.

In Moolaiyar village, the women said that there were no unschooled girls. However, they believed that there were still girls in other villages who were not attending school. A similar story was given in Gundupatti, where reference was made specifically to Puthur. In Mandravayal village, the daughter of one Grihini graduate had given up school at 5th Standard and was sitting playing with other smaller children. The father had abandoned the mother and gone off with another woman and neither parent had resisted the girl’s desire to give up school. In Korankombu, (on our return visit), we saw at least two girls with minimal education.

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