Healthcare, slum education, micro-finance, youth and women’s employment… Ahmedabad-based Saath has myriad programmes to improve the lot of the urban poor. In some way, its initiatives can be likened to a complex web that touches every corner of their lives. “This web is not to trap, but a mechanism to uplift the urban poor,” says Chinmayi Desai, Director, Urban Programmes, Saath.
Umeed–Udaan, Saath’s livelihood programme for the youth, has been running for the last three years across Gujarat and Rajasthan. “Our focus is to make youth employable,” says Bhuneshwar Choudhary, Project Director, Umeed–Udaan.
There are 44 Umeed-Udaan centres in Gujarat, of which, 21 are in Ahmedabad. The training fee is Rs 4,500. Of this, the Gujarat Urban Development Mission, which provides infrastructure support through civic bodies, pays Rs 3,500. Students pay Rs 500, while the remaining Rs 500 is borne by the American Indian Foundation.
The results have been very promising. Of the 15,000 students trained across Gujarat, over 12,000 have already been placed in suitable jobs. Monthly salaries range from Rs. 3,000–10,000.
“The program is a good source for readymade talent,” says Pratik Soyantar, Area Head (HR), Eureka Forbes. The company has hired over 75 Umeed-Udaan students. Forbes Facility Services, which will soon require housekeeping staff at Ankleshwar and Sanand (both in Gujarat), is in discussions to hire 300 candidates.
Joshi says Saath aims to train 20,000 youth this year and take that number to 100,000 over the next three years. “The challenge of such youth employment programmes is keeping the retention rate high,” he explains.
In 2008, Umeed Disability was launched to include disabled youth in the programme. Over the course of the year, 143 students enrolled, of which, 31 were successfully placed. Today, the disabled comprise close to 5% of all Umeed trainees. Joshi wants to raise that to 10%. “There are two sets of challenges there,” he explains. “The first challenge is to motivate the disabled person to come and take the training. The second is to convince employers to take on disabled candidates.”
Another Saath livelihood initiative, targeted at women, is called Urmila. It trains women from slums to take on a variety of household jobs and become ‘home managers’. Currently, the programme has 200 such women working under five supervisors.
Garba Time: Ahmedabad’s slum dwellers are leading happier lives thanks to Saath.
Once selected for the programme, the women undergo a detailed medical check-up and a background check by the police. Next, they undergo 35 days of intense training in batches of 25. Skills that are taught include cooking, administering first-aid, using fire-fighting equipment, childcare and housekeeping.
Pushpaben, an Urmila-trained housekeeper works at Oxfam India. Her employers have nothing but praise for her work and for Urmila. “A thorough background check on a housekeeper is difficult for employers,” says Mahesh Kankal, Programme Coordinator at Oxfam India.
A customer has to pay Saath Rs 3,000–5,200 for the services of a home manager. Of this, 90% goes to the manager while Saath retains 10%. In turn, it gives 75% of its fee to the supervisor. Supervisors, who have as many as 40 managers under them, thus earn well over Rs 10,000 a month.
Supervisors seek out clients and ink contracts with them. Often, they visit clients to get feedback on service quality. At the same time, they ensure the employee is not strained. When a home manager is unable to attend work, another fills in for her.
Sharad Shah, a resident of Navrangpura, is all praise for the Urmila programme. His wife Pramila, 70, has undergone five surgeries over the last two years and constantly needs an attendant. Shah had earlier enlisted the services of a contractor who shifted an attendant as soon as she got comfortable in the job. “Now, that is not the case. The organisation is taking full responsibility and my wife has an attendant who is familiar with her needs.”
With top-quality service and no worries about the women’s antecedents, demand for Urmila’s services has been high. “We have a waiting list of 50 clients,” says
Kruti Shah, Operations Coordinator, Urmila. The programme has seen women from Ahmedabad’s slum pockets cater to clients in affluent areas. “These women are trained and it does not matter if they belong to the slums,” says Ratna Baid, an Urmila client. Her daughter-in-law, living next door, has hired two home managers, one of whom permanently lives with them.
“We have demand for home managers even from Hyderabad and Delhi,” says Chinmayi Desai. Joshi adds that Saath is already talking to entrepreneurs in Baroda, Chennai and Mumbai.
The NGO’s other initiatives include educating slum children and providing healthcare. As of March this year, its microfinance initiative had over 10,000 members. Slowly but surely, all these programmes are helping the urban poor live better lives.
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