Beedis are small, thin, hand-rolled cigarettes. Any visitor to Sangeetha’s home is immediately hit by the overpowering smell of beedi leaves. For someone unaccustomed to it, the air is suffocating and unbreathable. Sangeetha, however, is cheerfully resigned to this. She’s been making beedis for twenty years, she says, and she’s used to it.
Sangeetha is a luminous, happy woman, someone who seems unaffected by the routine mundanity of her work. She is one of those people whose smiles pervade their being, infecting those around them and brightening the atmosphere.
She wants to give her children the best possible opportunity to get ahead in life: a great education.
“We will educate them for as long as they are able to study. We want to educate them more, we want them to study further. We have that desire inside. We are working hard to improve their future. We will educate them as much as possible. They can study as much as they wish to. We will support them.”
Under that glowing exterior lies a steel determination to give her children the education they want and deserve.
Years of experience have given her agility and an easy expertise: Sangeetha makes a thousand beedis a day. Yet, she used to make only ₹110 a day because the beedi company she sold them to deducted ₹50 as payment for the leaves they supplied.
Sangeetha didn’t see why she had to lose that ₹50.
She knew that taking a loan from Vaya would be a hassle-free process. She wouldn’t have to travel miles to the nearest bank, multiple times. Vaya would come to her village. With her ₹14,000 loan, she bought her own beedi leaves. Now she earns ₹50 more per day. Even after paying her loan installment, she has additional monthly income, which she puts towards household expenses and her children’s school fees.
Repaying loan installments from her own earnings gives Sangeetha great pride.
“Now, I don’t have to ask my husband. I can take care of it myself,” she beams.
In fact, Sangeetha appreciates what the loan has done for her so much that she has become a "center leader." She reaches the bi-weekly center meetings (at which members repay their dues) half an hour early to make preparations and to set up. She ensures everyone is present and involved in the proceedings. If for any reason a member falls short and is unable to make her repayment, the rest of the members pitch in to cover for her. Not only is the group-lending system a tried-and-tested substitute for collateral, it also provides Sangeetha and the other customers with a support system and a sense of camaraderie.
In their busy lives, center meetings are a way for them to catch up with each other, giving each other the strength to take a first step towards fiscal independence, and ultimately, empowerment, as they take charge of their lives.