Anastasia told me she lived high in the mountains, about an hour from where we were meeting. It was a remote location and she was happy about that. She was ashamed of being seen by people: she was illiterate, dirty, has no clothes to go out in public, and only one pair of shoes that she wore once or twice a year. She had four children but they did not go to school. She fed them one meal a day. She and her husband worked as farm labourers to provide the little they had and she had no dreams that the future could be any different.
Then two people from an NGO came to her home to invite her to a community meeting for the start up of SHGs. She told them that this was not for her. That she was not accepted within the community. They told her that there would be other women there just like her but then they talked with her about savings and loans and small businesses. They did not understand that she did not know about these things. But they came again to invite her and this time, she gave in and went along to that first community meeting. That was February 2014. As she tells me this story, I struggle to reconcile the back-story with the woman sitting before me: clean, beautifully dressed, articulate and confident. Today, just 20 months after that first meeting, her four children go to school, she feeds the family three balanced meals each day, she has built a new home of 42 corrugated iron sheets, she owns 4 goats and a cow, and runs a small petit business. She is a member of the Village Cluster where she helps lead 10 SHGs or 200 women. And she likes shoes. She loves shoes. They keep her feet soft. She’s happy about that.