Sunday, June 2, 2013

A week on the ground

This week was very stimulating having conducted my first proper field visit to witness some of the ground work Sammaan Foundation has been doing and to get a chance to interact with the beneficiaries i.e. the rickshaw pullers under the program. Most of the field visit however, was spent observing. In order to truly understand the existing need for intervention and change of the condition of Patna’s rickshaws pullers, I had to first realize the initial condition in which many rickshaw pullers persist. Being migrants from the rural districts, these pullers do not have the right circumstances to gain suitable housing while they work in Patna. As a result, we found multiple pullers, some with families, camping by the roadside, having pitched temporary tents and made for themselves an operational livelihood. This is where they reside when they are not working and they are often forced to relocate by the police, as there camps are not fit for the site of some politicians who may drive by these same roads.
Rickshaw puller camps by the side of one of Patna's main roads

The state government had however, intervened a decade ago and managed to build night shelters for the rickshaw pullers. These shelters meet the bare minimum need of protecting them from the rain and much less. With the increasing number of rickshaws in town, these shelters can only hold so many rickshaws so more and more are forced to vacate to the roadside camps. With little financial liberty due to fleet owners having control over their finances, they struggle to gain a means to change their situations and persist unpleasantly in the city until they return to their rural homes for the harvest and sowing season.

 Night shelters built by the government a decade ago

The interior of the night shelters built for the rickshaw pullers

Luckily, that same day we visited, I had the privilege of witnessing five rickshaw pullers, who had signed up to the Sammaan program a month ago, receive their new rickshaws and saving bank accounts at the local state bank. I was able to witness this fascinating process as the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey as they were congratulated by bank managers for having taken special loans to purchase their rickshaws forming a direct financial relationship with the banks keen on assisting them to gain financial liberty. Every fifteen days, rickshaw pullers are signing up under the Samman program and go through the same process of being connected to banks and members of society that will allow them to develop their own personal relationships and give them the independence and confidence to strive to uplift themselves soci-economically.
A rickshaw puller receiving his passbook and Sammaan rickshaw puller ID from a local UCO bank manager
Photo with rickshaw pullers, Sammaan staff and UCO bank staff
Rickshaw pullers about to start their entrepreneurial journey with their new rickshaws and resources

I had also had the privilege of hearing that after five long years, the state government has finally agreed to adopt the Sammaan model and implement it on a larger and state-wide scale, which could potentially affect all rickshaw pullers in the state of Bihar. Government support and funding is key to bringing people such as the rickshaw pullers to trust that enrolling in this program will be a worthwile and positive investment.
As far as my research goes, I am due to visit the field again and perform case studies on individual rickshaw pullers who have been under the  Samman program for some time now, to learn the personal impact they have had since they embarked on this journey. It is difficult to get a hold of them as they are very busy out and about at work and this may make data collection a bit more difficult but I am sure to work a feasible method out with the Samman staff and their beneficiaries.

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