PACS Team with women trained by Internet Saathis in Village Bhagwanpur
Till December 2016, twenty year old Priya Yadav, a MA (Final) student stepped outside her house only to go for her studies. Now she steps outside her house regularly to impart skills on how to use a mobile phone, and is helping rural women access information online. Before December 2016, she had only seen a mobile phone and tablet in advertisements and with some villagers. Her family did not own a mobile phone. Priya is one of the Internet Saathis trained under the Internet Saathi programme which is spreading a digital revolution in four districts across Uttar Pradesh.
The Internet Saathi programme, a digital initiative programme is being implemented by PACS (India) in partnership with Tata Trusts, Google India and Civil Society Partners (CSOs) in seven districts of Uttar Pradesh (Chandauli, Ghazipur, Balrampur, Shravasti, Mahoba, Shamli and Ghaziabad). The programme aims to address the gender disparity in internet use in rural India which puts women in rural India at further risk of getting marginalized in the society. It seeks to do so by empowering rural women and communities in digital literacy.
The programme hopes to achieve the following short term changes in the women who are part of the project (as Internet Saathis, and those who are trained by the Internet Saathis):
The programme’s long term objective is to serve as a permanent catalyst for women to be more aware and ‘included’ in the digital economy. This will open newer avenues and lead to a more sustainable change.
A two-day training :The programme commenced during the third week of December with an orientation workshop and a two day training programme. Training was conducted in batches with twenty five to thirty Internet Saathis in each batch. The training programme included an awareness module, coupled with hands-on training modules aimed at teaching women how to use the Internet, including through mobile devices. Each Internet Saathi was provided with a tablet, a smartphone and a learning kit (online videos mainly on enhancing skills like tailoring and designing). Training, logistic and technical support to the programme was provided by PMG. Training was overseen and coordinated by PACS, and Civil Society Organsations (CSOs).
Reacing out to other rural women:After the training, all the trained Saathis will reach out and impart training in 4400 villages to a total of 7,50,000 rural women, in their own and neighbouring villages. Each Internet Saathi will cover four revenue villages (her own and three neighbouring villages) and reach 700 rural women. A total of 3,09,821 women have been reached till 23 March 2017.
Internet Saathis show their newlcy acquired skills to the PACS team
One of the biggest changes brought about by the programme in the very short span of time since its implementation is breaking the gender, caste and religious divide. Such is the excitement of women, and men in villages to learn more about the internet that they welcome Internet Saathis with open arms irrespective of their caste or religion. “My parents did not stop me from going to a Muslim house because they believe that the project seeks to achieve a good cause. When I first went to a Muslim household the hesitation was mutual. I was reluctant to enter the house, and they did not allow me inside. It took 10 to 15 minutes to break the silence. The males in the family understood and helped in breaking the ice. Now the women wait for me,” informs Pooja, an internet Saathi.
The same families which till now did not allow the girls to go outside the house except for studies are supporting them in their endeavor to reach out to rural women. Suchita, an internet Saathi from the Dalit caste says, “I do not have a father. My mother accompanied me to the villages in the initial stages. When my neighbours objected to my going outside the house my mother supported me.”
Suchita also informs, “This is the first time in life that I met the general(sic) population. Yes, I did have qualms initially. But they (women from the upper households) welcomed me warmly, made tea for me and gave me in normal cups. I felt good.” “ Earlier when I visited an upper caste house, I would get tea in a different cup. Now the same household gives me tea in similar cups as they use. That is not the case now,” says Neelam.
Other Internet Saathis too informed that the programme has helped in improving their social status drastically and they are well respected by the men of their families, and their villages including the village heads. “My brother would not let me touch his phone earlier. Now he comes to me to ask information. I provide him information on different kinds of fertilizers, and that he can access them from Khushali, an agricultural center in the village,” says Meena.
The empowering, positive work of the Internet Saathis has helped them gain an identity and made them an important voice among the community members. “After becoming an Internet Saathi things have changed. Earlier we were unknown. Nobody would pay notice to us when we walked down the village road. Or we were known as someone’s daughter or someone’s sister. Now we have our own identity. When we go to a village, people treat us with respect. Young boys and men come to ask us for information. Women get a chair, dust it, and do not allow children to touch our chair. It feels good”, says a beaming Arti.
It has just been two and a half months since the implementation of the programme, but it is difficult to miss the enthusiasm and the confidence that it has generated in the trained Internet Saathis.
Take Priya for example. For a girl who had not stepped outside her house except to go to college, Priya has come a long way. She travelled alone, a distance of 10 kilometers to Block Balrampur to attend an interaction with the PACS team. Apart from increasing her mobility Priya informs that becoming internet literate has added more meaning to her life and brought in a tremendous change. “It (the project has helped boost my self-esteem tremendously. Now I know I can achieve something. Earlier I had to ask others for clarification of my doubts. Today I clarify their doubts.” There are other gains too. “I did not even know how to thread a needle before attending the programme. The videos on tailoring provided by google during the training stirred my interest in designing and stitching. I stitched two dresses for myself, and now even have nine more orders from the villagers. I have learnt to cook new dishes and have started online shopping.” The confidence in turn is slowly changing her outlook on her life including her expectations about her life partner. “I want to live a life unlike my mother who was dependent on my father for everything. I do not want to be dependent on anyone. I will earn money myself. Earlier I would have agreed for marriage to any boy chosen by my parents. But now I want the freedom to choose. I want a man who would not keep me within the four boundaries of the house.”
Priya Yadav, Internet Saathi, poses with her mobile phone
Hemlata, twenty years old and married is another Internet Saathi who is transforming the skills she learnt to the women in village Bhagwanpur. She takes a lot of pride in helping other women to learn the internet. None of the women in the village own a mobile phone. But that does not stop them from attending Hemlata’s sessions and explore the outside world through the internet. Even the women who are illiterate learn to utilize the voice function to vocally command Google searches. Many of Hemlata’s trainee village women are now very comfortable in operating the mobile phone and tablet, and using applications like Google. She informs us with great pride that even the men come to her to seek her help. “I now know about the various government schemes, and how to enroll online. Many village men including the village Pradhan I even helped my father-in-law apply for a ration card online.” As for Hemlata, herself, the confidence that she has gained during this short period of implementation has helped her set ambitious goals for herself. “I want to stand on my own feet, and get a good job. I have updated my resume, and registered myself on the online site- Job Alert. I also want to set up a business on tailoring and sewing.”
Hemlata, a trained Internet Saathi training another young woman in the village on how to use a mobile phone
Priya Ghusal, another Internet Saathi says, “I had forgotten skills I had learnt earlier in a course on setting up a beauty parlour. I browsed on my phone, and refreshed those skills. I have now set up my own parlour, and can earn till Rs. 2000 per day.”
Another Internet Saathi, Jyoti Shukla, is thinking about setting up an internet centre in her village with photocopying facilities. “Villagers have to go far for such facilities now. I am sure there will be a lot of customers once I set up such a facility.”
The number of stories with transformative positive impact are too many to recount and are only increasing as the Saathis gain more confidence, and the ripple effect of their training spreads.
The programme has already gone beyond the set target till February by reaching out to more than 2.5 Lakh community members. The partners –Tata Trusts and Google (India) have provided a positive feedback on implementation of the programme by PACS. Tata Trusts says, “Achieving the training of 100 Internet Saathis without a single drop out is no mean feat.” Google reinforced the statement, “It (training implemented by Phia) is one of the smoothest training program experienced by us”.
Judging by the positive impact so far, Tata Trusts and Google (India) plan to scale-up the programme to 3655 more villages in five districts in Uttar Pradesh. Plans to expand the programme to other states (Jharkhand and Bihar) are also under consideration.