LAHAN, April 25: Within just five years of marriage, her husband brought a second wife. It was hard for a mother of two to shoulder the responsibility of her children after being separated from the estranged husband. But she still stayed strong and kept going.
Phul Kumari Yonjan, 53, of Dhangadhimai Municipality of Siraha has been moving forward on her own by pushing aside all the bitter experiences of life. But with her strong will and courage, she has not just empowered herself but has done a commendable job by making the women of marginalized community financially independent.
Nineteen years ago, 37 women of Musaharniya collected an amount of Rs.28, 000 and started Briddha Mahila Bachat Tatha Reen Sahakari Sanstha with the initiative of Yonjan. Since then, there has been no looking back. Currently, they have Rs 259,700,000.
On December 30, 1998, Yonjan registered the organization with the objective of making women financially independent and eliminating poverty from the village. It was not an easy task to create awareness among the Madhesi women. She had to deal with a lot of obstructions as a lot of male members of the society openly tried to disrupt her campaign to empower women. But she continued doing what she always wanted.
Journey of struggle
Her eyes still flood with tears when she remembers an incident which occurred 22 years ago. She had never in her wildest dreams thought about having such a bad experience. According to her that was the worst day of her life.
Yonjan, who was a mother of three, was living a wonderful life until her husband brought a second wife. Unlike most women, she preferred living a separate life on her own with her kids. Though it was hard for her to take the decision, she still continued to struggle with her little children.
During her journey she met some women who were very supportive towards her. There was a time when the illiterate adults started taking informal education. Phul Kumari also joined the classes along with her friends. After six months, she started recognizing words. Then, she wanted to participate in women empowerment trainings. Day by day, her confidence was increasing. Her maturity and decency made her the leader of the women community. Yonjan, who once was a victim of domestic violence, was now empowering hundreds of women like her.
She knew that a woman cannot be empowered unless she is financially independent. That is why she started a campaign to involve women in economic activities. She then united 37 women and formed a committee. But that was not enough as it was impossible for them to fulfill their dreams without money. Then Yonjan started visiting various offices to seek help. That is when she reached the Division Road Office (DRO), Lahan which was conducting a forestation program near the highway. Then she urged the DRO to give that responsibility to her committee. DRO agreed to do so which gave her a great relief. She knew exactly what her aim was so after the completion of the task, all the women decided to collect their earnings to form a fund for the committee. It was a difficult task for those women to dig roads and move large rocks in order to plant trees. But as they say, no task is impossible if there is a strong will. At last, they were successful in earning Rs 28,000 for the fund.
After that, she reached the Forest Office for help where she found out that the government had allocated budget for forestation alongside a river near the Chure range in Dhangadhi. Yonjan again convinced the office to hand over the job to her committee. They were again successful in earning an additional Rs 20,000 for their fund. Then Yonjan started thinking about establishing a co-operative. But she had no proper idea about it as she had only learned to read a few words. But she didn't give up. She joined a six-month training on co-operative management. Though all 37 members of her committee were ready to establish the co-operative, some of them didn't have citizenship as at those times a lot of husbands refused to get citizenships for their wives saying that had no use for women. After much struggle, Yonjan was able to provide them their right to nationality.
Finally, they started a co-operative and officially started collecting savings from the women of rural areas. In the beginning, there was Rs 28,500 in the co-operative. Yonjan not only taught the women to make savings but also made them aware about various things on which they should not be wasting money. Following in her footsteps, many women started campaigning against things like alcohol, cigarette, and tobacco, among others. This helped them save a lot of money as the main motive behind banning these things was to increase savings.
Till that time, their co-operative was like a newly born baby and the circumstances were still not leaving their way. Collection of money was also increasing with the increase in number of members. Then, Yonjan started dreaming about a house for her little family and within a few years she became successful in owning a house. Soon, the co-operative was shifted to a new building.
Currently, there are 2,289 female members in the co-operative. They have a total sum of Rs 259,700,000. “Women are learning to be self-independent which is the biggest achievement for me,” said Yonjan. According to her she is very happy with the fact that society has started appreciating her and many women like her. “There was a time when I was itching in the eyes of a lot of males but now I see respect in those eyes,” added Yonjan.
‘Phul Kumari Didi’
People in the village call her 'Phul Kumari Didi (sister). She has been encouraging women to participate in various economic activities. As of now, women employment has been her major motive. “I don't want any woman to go through the bitter experiences that I went through,” said Yonjan, adding “I have visited police stations several times to support women, mostly victims of domestic violence.” She further said that the co-operative has been conducting a cleanliness campaign in the village. They are also making public toilets for the marginalized communities.
“Women are the ones who are suffering the most in absence of toilets. So, we are making public toilets in public areas,” Yonjan said.
Even after so many years of leading the cooperative, she has not been questioned by her colleagues even once. There has not been a single controversy and dispute in the organization in her presence. The men who once were creating obstacles on her way now can't stop praising her. She has not just earned a house and money for her living but most importantly she has earned respect. Now, she has become an example for all.