Amrita Self-Reliance, Education & Employment
The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 not only destroyed thousands of lives and homes, it also made a serious impact upon the fishing industry. In southern India, thousands upon thousands of fishing nets and boats were destroyed, putting fishermen out of work. Furthermore, India’s aquatic ecosystems were seriously disturbed. For the fishermen whose boats and nets were still working, this resulted in meager catches for months together.
When the fishermen and their families explained the crisis to Amma, she immediately understood that alternate forms of livelihood were necessary. Amma felt that least one member of each family from the fishing community should become proficient in a trade not dependent on the sea. In order to help facilitate this, Amma launched the Mata Amritanandamayi Math’s first community-based self-help-group (SHG) program. The program became known as Amrita SREE: Amrita Self-Reliance, Education & Employment Program.
What began as a response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami has today spread throughout Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Currently there are more than 6,000 [Statistics as of 2010.] Amrita SREE SHGs. It is MAM’s goal to expand the program to include 30,000 such groups as rapidly as possible.
Amrita SREE’s second big expansion came in 2007. Just as families solely dependent upon fishing suffered economically following the tsunami, so too were families solely dependent upon farming. In places, the financial situation of agricultural families was so dire that suicide was erupting like an epidemic throughout the community. Between 1998 and 2008, it is reported that more than 100,000 Indian farmers took their own lives, seeing it as the only means of escaping debt, crop failure and the rising costs of cultivation. The formation of Amrita SREE SHGs is helping agricultural families avail themselves to alternative sources of income and thereby reducing the economic pressure experienced.
Primarily, Amrita SREE focuses on training women. MAM provides vocational and technical training with the objective of preparing enrollees to engage in an income-generating activity or to start a business, either as a sole-proprietor or with other Amrita SREE participants. The majority of Amrita SREE SHGs comprise 10 to 20 participants. MAM also helps initiate the SHGs’ bank accounts and loans, etc. Once an SHG is sustainable, MAM helps it transition into a completely autonomous entity. The one lakh members are now enjoying benefit of an insurance policy too.
Some of the fields in which Amrita SREE has helped create SHGs include: tailoring, handicrafts, electronic-repair, account systems, beauty-parlor management, feminine-hygiene products production, paper products, ready-made garments, leather products, bakery items, hand-looming, coir-making, garment-making, communal farming, food processing, banana culture and rice-flour production.
View photos of the self help group activities