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Poor Andhra Women Enable Bypass Surgery Paying 50 Paise Each

Tens of thousands of poor Andhra women have financed the bypass surgery of a fisherwoman costing Rs 60,000 by contributing 50 paise each.//

Thanks to their efforts, B. Hemavati, 35, wife of a fisherman and a mother of two, will undergo a life saving operation at the Tirupati-based Sri Venkateswara Institute of Medical Sciences (SIMS) very soon.

Hemavati, a farm worker in West Godavari district, was diagnosed with a heart ailment that doctors said would cost up to Rs.90,000 with at least two thirds of it to be paid in cash.

A local missionary came forward with Rs.25,000, but there was no way the rest of the money could be found.

That was when Andhra Pradesh's famed Self Help Group (SHG) movement, which brings together the poorest of poor rural women in groups of 10 to secure bank loans on easy terms for income generating activities, came to her rescue following some persuasion by officials of the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA).

Involved in an intense three-week campaign to raise the money was the district's 12,000 SHGs, or a total of 120,000 women. Most were farm labourers, barely earning enough to secure two meals a day.

Each woman was requested by the local leadership of the SHGs to contribute a mere 50 paise so as to raise Rs.60,000. In the end, some gave even one rupee, netting a total of Rs.61,100.

Nobody declined to chip in, despite their own grinding poverty.

"The women were surprised by what they achieved and when they realised what they were capable of," said C. Ranga Rao, an additional project director of DRDA, the agency that implements central and state government policies in rural areas.

At a function attended by the rural women, West Godavari's district collector Lav Aggarwal presented a cheque for Rs.61,100 to Hemavati and lauded the women's determination to come to the aid of someone in distress.

Rao told IANS here: "Fifty paise ca nnot buy a cup of tea. But it is remarkable that 50 paise given by each woman has helped to save the life of a young mother. The women are proud of what they have done, and so are we."

SHGs are very active in Andhra Pradesh and have some eight million poor women under their umbrella. But the effort to save Hemavati was confined to only West Godavari district.

Said C.H. Sridhar, the DRDA project director: "A danger to one woman became a challenge for others. We are hopeful that the spirit of West Godavari will soon spread all over Andhra Pradesh."

When collector Aggarwal queried what inspired them, some of the women related how the humiliating eviction of Mahatma Gandhi from a train in South Africa led him to launch a mass movement against the British.

"Small events lead to great moments," said Rao. "We have suggested that the women should make similar monthly collections that will be useful to poor women facing serious financial difficulties.

"Poor village women lose valuable income when they become mothers. There are problems of getting nutritious food and transport to go to the nearest hospitals. Then there are serious ailments that afflict them."

Added one of his colleagues: "If the rural women decide to make Hemavati's case an example and raise money on their own for such emergencies it will lead to a virtual revolution in rural India."
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