Vijubai Patil is a 35 year old woman residing in Bhilali, a remote village in Maharashtra, India. She was married at a young age of 19 but was immediately shunned by her in-laws because they deemed her ‘slow witted’. She continued to stay with her brother and sister-in-law despite the fact that she was married. Life was not easy for her. Oftentimes she was denied standard meals and was subjected to torture. Trying to escape her situation, she joined a women’s self help group (SHG) to stitch quilts. As she did, things started to take a turn for the better. She now earns about 150 rupees per day – enough to take care of herself. She’s managed to save enough to buy her own house and her brother and sister-in-law have newfound respect for her.
Vijubai is amongst thousands of other villagers who have similar turnaround stories. The credit of their lives stabilizing is ascribed to Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan (BNGVN), a social organization started by Nileema Mishra in the year 2005. Nileema Mishra proclaims that "everyone willing to work to earn his/her living must get an opportunity to do so". She has worked tirelessly for over two decades to lift over 25,000 families out of poverty.
Nileema Mishra was born to a middle class family and she’s always had an avid interest in social welfare of the village of Bahadarpur, Maharashtra. As a child, she was distressed with ominous poverty, farmer suicides, and the plight of widows and the elderly. At a young age of 13, she decided to dedicate her life to the welfare and upliftment of people. She completed her master’s degree in clinical psychology in 1995. She returned to the village with a dream to transform the lives of the downtrodden. It didn’t take her much time to realize that the biggest problem stemmed from the lack of money in hands of rural families. She started BNGVN with a dozen women who were vulnerable in an impoverished society.
Today the movement has placed more than 10,000 women in several self help groups, where they engage in micro-credit, production of food products and export quality quilts. BNGVN also helps train the rural women to manafacture income-generating products teaches them marketing, accounting, computer literacy, procurement in bulk at better prices, building warehouses etc.
Nileema Mishra was awarded the Magsaysay Award in 2011 for Emergent Leadership; the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. She was honored with the Padma Shri in 2013, one of the highest civilian awards of India.
Not Always A Smooth Journey
As with any great leader, Nileema has faced her own share of challenges which she has matched by repeatedly putting her own savings at stake. In the year 2000, Nileema didn’t have enough funds to take her activities to the next level. Without a moment’s hesitation, she sold her mother’s ancestral jewels to garner about Rs. 3 lakhs and thus created a revolving fund to start new income-generating schemes and acquire basic infrastructure like computers. She also put her parents’ life savings into the venture. This was no big deal for Nileema, who even as a child always saved her pocket money to give it to poor villagers. In the year 2011, she directed the entire Magsaysay Award prize money of Rs. 22 lakhs towards her social venture.
Check out more success stories on her website here .
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