Vocal, sari-clad women cram into the downstairs room of the Oasis India centre in Dyaneshwar Nagar, one of Mumbai’s many slum areas. As the afternoon heats up, even ladies more come and find themselves a space on the floor.
They are all federation leaders. Consisting solely of women, the federation is made up of 35 self help groups. Each member must pay in 100 rupees every month to the group account and after six months, she is allowed to apply for a loan at a low rate of interest. The other group members need to approve her request.
Pooja has been a member of a self help group for two and a half years. ‘I feel good when I am saving money,’ she says. ‘Big people keep money in the bank, so now we also feel like we have something. I feel very good because I can take some responsibility.’
Intimidated by banks, many in slum communities borrow from money lenders. They cannot pay back the extortionate interest charged by the lenders, and get themselves caught in a debt trap.
Pooja has already taken out three loans: for health care when she was pregnant; to get a water connection in her home and to pay off the debt she owed a money lender. She runs a small tea stall, and uses some of her profit to pay into the group account.
Oasis India works in slum communities in Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai empowering women with small savings and big dreams. Through these savings schemes and micro finances initiatives, the women are able to pay for their children's education, repay previous loans and start up small businesses.
While in the 6th standard, Dinesh was punished by his teacher. He dropped out of school and started hanging around on the streets. He soon got involved in petty crime. A couple of years later, he was introduced to Oasis’ football training, and there he was also encouraged to study. His English improved and he has now finished school. He also plays for the Bangalore Yellows team under the C division and is very regular for practice.
Sunny is 14 and this is the first time he’s had football coaching. After his parents died, he and his brothers and sister went to live with their aunt. He makes caps from 9.30am until 7pm, Monday to Saturday.
Despite his long working hours, Sunny is enthusiastic about the football camp organised by Oasis India in Chennai. ‘Every day I am getting better. I want to spend every Sunday playing football with my friends,’ he says. And he wants to study more. ‘If I had studied I could have a big dream but I didn’t have the chance. I want to somehow get a basic education and become a policeman.’
Oasis India also works with children and youth in slum communities, encouraging them to stay in school and motivating them to live productive lives. Education programmes, livelihoods training options, counselling as well as assistance in securing employment help young people build positive futures for themselves and their families.
All the work is accomplished using a facilitative approach. This involves helping the community to build Community Based Organisations (CBOs) to take responsibility for their own development. Oasis India helps the communities bring in partnerships which contribute to enhance resources and skills. A rights-based approach is also being worked out to provide training to young people in the communities.