Small loans aiding Mumbai's poor

Women in Asia's biggest slum are being helped out of poverty by micro-credit.

    Small businesses generate about $650m
    a year in the Dharavi slum

    Dharavi in the heart of India's commercial capital of Mumbai is Asia's biggest slum.

    More than one million people live in the city within a city which has its own micro-economy, including small businesses producing embroidered garments, leather goods, pottery and plastic,  which generates about $650m a year.

    Al Jazeera's Rajesh Sundaram went to Dharavi to see how a new form of micro-finance is helping to empower women who live and work there.

    Naseem Bano earned just one dollar a day when she got a job at a factory sewing tarpaulin sheets after her abusive and alcoholic husband left her two years ago.

    The money was not enough to feed her family, so she took out a $100 loan to buy a sewing machine and start her own business. Now she earns up to $5 a day.

    "I now know that women are not weak, I am not weak. I may not be able to give my children much, but at least I am able to send them to a good school and can feed them," she told Al Jazeera.

    "It was tough when I had to beg for food when my husband left us. I had to suffer a lot."

    Most banks would not even consider lending money to someone like Naseem. She is rated as high-risk and so she turned to Mahila Milan - "Women Together" in Hindi - a micro-credit project run by women from the slums for women from the slums which offers low interest loans of up to $450.

    Padma Shinde, a payments co-ordinator for Mahila Milan, told Al Jazeera: "Since we interact with women in this area every day we know about their circumstances and ability to pay back, defaults are rare.

    "We charge them minimal interest and they have the flexibility to pay us back in small amounts as and when they have it."

    The group has been so succesful that it has now spread from Dharavi to other slums across India and has a fund of about $3m.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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