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International Day for the Eradication of Poverty 2010

From poverty to decent work – bridging the gap.

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Around 1.4 billion people, including over 50% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa, live on less than $1.25 a day - the World Bank’s measure of poverty. And the recent financial crisis has resulted in 64 million more people living in poverty, compared to a no-crisis scenario.

In 1993 the United Nations declared 17 October as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. It presents an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and struggle of people living in poverty and a chance for them to make their concerns heard, as well as reaffirm our committment to reducing extreme poverty and hunger.

This year’s theme focuses on illustrating ways in which access to decent work and opportunities for learning and training can be developed with people in poverty.

The case study below features Kaushalya, a tribal woman from Padhariya Rajadhar in central India, who was able to change her life around, from chasing monkeys for a living to getting children into school, thanks to the training she received.

A woman makes her mark

Kaushalya, a 40-year-old mother of five children, lives in the village of Padhariya Rajadhar, in the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India. Born into a poor tribal family, unschooled, illiterate, and married off at 15, she earned a living chasing monkeys from the fields of rich farmers.

But Kaushalya was determined that her children’s lives would be different, so she insisted they went to the village primary school. Here Kaushalya was first nominated to join the school’s parent teacher association (PTA), and then found herself elected president.

The school was in a sorry state – teachers were often absent, many village children weren’t enrolled, or failed to turn up. There was no drinking water, clean toilets or decent lunches. And Kaushalya was disappointed to discover that, at meetings, she was expected to listen while others spoke.

But then Kaushalya was invited to attend training (under an Indian government programme supported by UKaid from DFID). Reluctant at first, she discovered during the course how, in her capacity as PTA president, she could actually improve things. She grew determined to transform her moribund school into one of the best in the region. Kaushalya began with a recruitment drive, using a theatre group which spread the message: “Let’s go to school!” This was followed by a door-to-door enrolment campaign.

In just three years, the number of girls in school more than doubled. Kaushalya then established regular checks to make sure teachers attended school as well. She then lobbied the village council to provide clean drinking water, and embarked on a school health programme. Soon, school lunches became more nutritious, with Kaushalya randomly tasting the food to make sure it was up to standard.

Eventually she even managed to convince government officials to upgrade her school to secondary status (the nearest secondary school was 40km away). Her success has broken many social barriers. Eating food from her kitchen or shaking hands with her is no longer the taboo it once was because of her tribal status. The villagers readily listen to her, and the local government authorities consider her a force to be reckoned with.

Kaushalya was trained by the Capacity Building for Poverty Reduction (CBPR) Programme, which has up to now trained another 21,259 grassroots government workers. Based on the success of this programme, the government of India has made a commitment to train another eight million workers across the country.

This article originally appeared in Developments magazine.

Updates to this page

Published 17 October 2010